It’s the summer school holidays! I expect you’d think this would be one of the hardest times of the year to start a healthy eating regimen and try to lose weight. With the children under your feet 24/7 plus holiday food, restaurants and chilled white wine on a balmy summer’s evening, it can be a time of expanding waistlines and self-conscious feelings when donning your bikini on the beach! BUT…. I have a plan for you! Turn this situation around into a positive one. With your children at home you can use this as an opportunity to share home-prepared food three times a day and enjoy the great conversation when sat around the family dinner table. Yes, you may end up spending more time in the kitchen and perhaps more washing up than on a regular school/work week but the rewards will be amazing! Planning and preparation is the key to ensure you don’t spend your day chopping and cleaning when the sun is shining.
Whatever your children’s ages, there’s plenty for them to do on this quest for better health and nutrition. Toddlers and young children can happily (and safely) pop fresh peas out of pods, slice bananas with a plastic knife, arrange slices of fresh fruit and vegetables on a plate, make funny smiley faces with chopped veggies and fruit or plant cress seeds in eggshells to make funny heads. Young children can also get involved with laying the table, making place settings for each other, putting ice cubes in beakers and arranging flowers in narrow jam jars. Primary school age children can be trusted with chopping food under supervision and stirring stir-fries, making omelettes or scrambled eggs and doing little jobs like turning on the electric oven or setting a timer on their iPod! Writing menus for the table (rolled up like scrolls and tied with ribbon) will keep their creative juices flowing while practicing spelling, handwriting and using their imagination. Children of this age should be given the opportunity to plan a meal and help with shopping (including carrying bags, unpacking at home and counting money at the till. All good life skills.) Teenagers could be given more responsibility, perhaps including planning the meal and writing a list, being left in the supermarket to shop on their own or with siblings, preparing, cooking AND cleaning up afterwards!
It’s important when you’re eating at home that you set a calm, relaxing environment. It doesn’t matter if you live in a small flat in the centre of a busy town or in a beautiful period property in the countryside – wherever you live can be turned into a positive eating environment. Ideally, sitting around a dining table is most beneficial to health but over the summer holidays, picnics in the garden, on the beach or in the park make a welcome change. Presentation is really important – don’t expect your children to be enthusiastic about food if it’s just dumped in front of them while they’re watching TV and has no variety in its content.
So, back to the Summer Holiday Masterplan! Plan a menu based around raw fruit and vegetables, lean meat and fish (salmon, cod, mackerel, skinless chicken, fillet steak, lean stewing steak), plus eggs, plain low fat live yogurt or Greek yogurt, seeds and nuts (not salted or covered in honey!). Learn to make your own dips such as hummus (chick peas and tahini) or tzatziki (plain yogurt with cucumber, mint and garlic). Try blending your own curry pastes and making fresh curries with coconut milk. Drink LOTS of water and use cordials and juices sparingly (or avoid if you have lots of weight to lose). Make this programme INCLUSIVE for all the family. Try new flavours and foods and make every mealtime a positive experience for everyone. If your family are very stuck in their ways they may resist for a while, but keep going! You will all benefit in the long run.
Eat three meals a day, plus two snacks. Keep yourselves busy in between meals – don’t let your life become focused on food. Plan in advance and buy ingredients for at least three days at a time in order to make the most of your time together as a family. If you’re lucky enough to live walking distance from a farm shop or local greengrocer then it can be fun with young children to buy daily and use the walk as an activity – a chance to talk, learn about plants and trees, get some exercise and, of course, the walking bit is free!! Don’t nibble anything in between those meals and snacks. Keep drinks to plain water or herbal teas and the occasional black coffee – everything else just contains empty calories with little nutritional value.
When your diet is rich in raw, natural produce, you don’t need to worry too much about portion sizes. It’s unlikely you’ll overeat apples, carrots and lettuce enough to put on weight! However, the average woman (9-12 stone) will need no more than a 4oz cooked portion of meat (4-6oz of cooked fish) for dinner or lunch. Carbohydrates (rice, pasta, potatoes etc.) should weigh no more (cooked) than your portion of meat or fish. With yogurts, the small, individual pots are ideal, or about 3 dessert spoons if eating from a larger tub. Try to avoid white sugar as much as possible as it has little nutritional value and has been linked to cancer, obesity and diabetes.
If you follow these guidelines, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t lose around 1lb a week – making you virtually half a stone lighter before the new term in September! If you’re significantly overweight you could lose a stone in that time – amazing!! If you have overweight children you should notice an increase in energy levels (which will ultimately burn more calories and fat if they’re running around more or at a higher intensity) and you will certainly see improvements in mood and general happiness. Some stubbornness or tantrums will subside and sleep will improve. Those are seriously great benefits for all the family!
So make your summer holiday diet ‘Fresh and Exciting’ and enjoy the health and weight loss benefits!