By Guest Blogger Sarah Kotelnicki

Ah, sweet summer vacation! Even though I work full-time, I try to make summer feel like a vacation for the kids. It’s important to me that our kids, 8 & 6, have memories of the summer being relaxed, carefree and fun. That means a variety of camps during the week with evenings and weekends filled with bike rides, hikes, water fights, bonfires and trips to the pool. It also apparently means it is “eat-whatever-sugary-foods-I-want-whenever-I-want-them” season.

Anyone else feel like it’s near impossible to go somewhere, especially in the summer, without sweet treats at every corner to tempt our little ones? There’s the snow cone truck at the pool, amusement park funnel cakes, festival food trucks, movie theater candy, ballgame concessions, campfire s’mores, and the list goes on …

Here are some of the strategies I use in creating a balance between “Mean Mom” and “Cool Mom” when it comes to summer snacking. Before proceeding, here’s my list of disclaimers:

~ I am not a nutritionist, doctor, health expert, certified fitness guru …

~ I am not perfect, I believe in balance.

~ I have THE biggest sweet tooth and am often seen indulging right alongside the kiddos (which, is actually intentional).

Get the right products

I have a handful of products that really help me when we’re on the go. These items keep me from defaulting to the drive-through or concession stand with some level of sanity still intact.

Insulated cooler bag
This is the single most important item to me in the summer because it gives me no excuse to not pack our own food! Keep it handy and visible so you’re reminded to pack your treats rather than wing it when you get wherever you’re going.

Divided food containers
I LOVE these for kids and grown-ups. Seeing the different compartments for different food groups keeps foods from mixing and helps ensure all food groups are accounted for. A checklist and lunchbox in one!

Water bottles
My daughter loves selecting water bottle styles and designs. I indulge her on this with a new bottle each season because the more she likes the bottle, the easier it is to get her to use it, thus reducing the incessant begging for sugary juice, soda or Gatorade.

Bring the kids shopping
I bring the kids to the grocery store with me two times a month. I let them each pick out two snack-y foods that are reserved for the weekend. Last week they picked Pringles. So those Pringles are in the pantry waiting to be portioned out amongst healthier options in the divided containers when we hit the pool, the trails or the park. There is ownership, balance and a lesson about portion size all wrapped up in this strategy.

Delegate the food prep
While I’m running around like a crazy mom packing towels, sunscreen and goggles, I have the kids dig out the divided containers and pack up their snacks. They know they need a protein, veggie and fruit. Then they count out their portion of their snack item and it’s done. Allowing them to do the packing saves me from whining and complaining about what’s been packed.

Find better-for-you swaps

While I am proud that I can frequently find my son snacking on a bowl of raw broccoli, he’s just like most other 8 year olds when it comes to treats. We have worked hard to find some healthier swaps for traditionally junk-y foods. Of course these are very subjective but if you’re willing to try new things, you may surprise yourself about what you find your family liking.

~ Instead of soda, try kombucha.

~ Instead of candy, try raisins or other dried fruit.

~ Instead of chips, try nuts. (We love the Blue Diamond flavored almonds and pistachios.)

~ Instead of popsicles, try frozen fruit.

~ Make them use their own money.

If we’re going somewhere I know there will be concession stands or food trucks available, we often indulge. (You can’t go to a baseball game without enjoying the ballpark hotdogs in my opinion.) If we’ve had a week full of treats and extras, I tell them that they can have a treat but that they will pay for it with their own money. This often helps change their mind about the treat being a “necessity”.

Early in my parenting journey I read an article about only having 18 summers with our kids. I am down to 11 summers with my son before he leaves the nest. When I think of it that way, I am committed to making these fleeting seasons full of as much joy as possible. If that means ice cream every night for the summer, then so be it.

Sarah Kotelnicki is a wife and a mom of two. She is passionate about prioritizing her family while developing a successful marketing career and cultivating her “incredibly-important-to-her friendships”. The Kotelnickis make their home in Kernersville. Follow Sarah on Instagram at @sarahkotelnicki.