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How to Navigate the Summertime Treats

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Whether at the pool, beach, or on a hike in the summer a question many parents face is how to navigate summertime treats.

ice cream bar and how to navigate summertime treats

I think it is pretty safe to say that we have all been there: you pack a carefully thought out meal to bring to the pool, beach, picnic, or other fun summertime outing—salads or sandwiches, veggies and dip, cut up fruit, ice-cold water—you are feeling virtuous and well-prepared. When suddenly the ice cream truck’s song floats across the wind, or the snack counter opens its window ready to dole out chips, candy, and ice cream bars. And then the whining, pleading, and negotiating begins. Incredibly frustrating, right? So then the question becomes: how to navigate summertime treats without unnecessary drama and stress?

How to Navigate the Summertime Treats

Summer is a time of looser rules, more laid back schedules, gatherings with loved ones, and fun excursions. And for many of us, special food treats are also associated with summer fun. As a parent, finding the balance between relaxing the rules, celebrating summer, and still keeping our kids healthy can feel like a challenge. Here are some approaches you can take that might help you navigate this inevitable summertime struggle:

ice cream cone and how to navigate summertime treats

Set limits

As a parent, it’s your job to decide ahead of time what you’re comfortable with. Depending on your comfort level with treats, and your own family’s food norms, what will and won’t fly will vary, but having clarity on what your limits are will help you to be consistent and clear with your kids. As long as healthy food is also eaten, one treat a day, one treat a week, only for special occasions, only with grandparents or visiting friends, or never are all expectations that can be laid out.

What it comes down to is that there is no right or wrong answer here, but establishing what you are open to will help you both to be clearer with your kids and to stick to your decision if (when) the whining starts.


Talk it through ahead of time

Once you have that clarity in mind (and are on the same page as your partner, if there is one in the picture), then it’s time to communicate with the kids.

You can tackle these conversations in different ways.

One option is to have a family meeting to come up with an approach that will have everyone’s buy-in. This allows for consistency across situations, which for some kids and parents is helpful. If you go this route, offering reminders on the way to excursions can be helpful.

Another option is to discuss the expectations of the day on the way to your outing. This approach allows for more flexibility depending on the situation, if that is helpful for your family. Having the conversations right beforehand can also help to keep expectations at the forefront of people’s minds.

No matter which way you approach the conversation, though, making sure everyone is on the same page ahead of time and then sticking to your guns when (if) your kids ask for an exception is really important.


Bring a substitute

If you know that treats you are not going to want the kids to eat will be around, then bring a fun substitute that you are comfortable with. Here are some examples:

  • Popcorn instead of potato chips
  • Frozen smoothies instead of popsicles or ice cream bars
  • Homemade pizza instead of delivery
packed food in lunch boxes

Separate treat time from meal time

After years of treat negotiations with my own kids, one thing I have learned is that things go more smoothly and more of the food I brought gets eaten when we separate treats from meals. I have found that not only are my kids less likely to rush through their meal to get to their treat, but they are also more likely to enjoy the meal if they aren’t anticipating what comes next.

There are different ways you can do this and it will largely depend on timing and the flow of your day, but here are some options:

  • Get the treat out of the way right away, let them run around, and then offer the meal.
  • You set the expectation that the meal comes first, then some more fun, and then a treat later.
  • You serve a meal before you even leave the house. That way when you are out and about the treat is the only item on the menu.

No matter which path you choose, separating the two so that your kids aren’t faced with an either/or situation will serve you well.

How do you handle summertime treats with your kids? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Want to take the stress out of feeding your family? Try a our family-friendly meal plans to see how simple getting family-friendly, delicious food on the table can be.

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