Don't make a meal of it: Keeping food fun and fitness-focused over the school holidays

Posted in: Wellbeing Last updated: 30 Jun 2016
Children and mother sitting for a healthy meal

  • Set up your week with a healthy food regime that’s fun and tasty.
  • Understand your recommended daily allowances (RDAs) – getting the balance right is crucial.
  • Don't forget to stay active – it's the cornerstone of healthy eating.

Our best memories of being a child during the school holidays are often typified by overindulgence: that time you had three ice creams in a day, played videogames from dawn to dusk, or had a full-size pizza to yourself and were unable to move for the rest of the afternoon.

Yet these are, obviously, exceptions to the rule – which is what makes them so memorable. The rest of the time, having a consistent regimen of healthy eating not only keeps kids and the family at large healthy, but happy too.

If you've been looking to kick-start a healthier eating trend for you and your family, then there's no better time to start than during the summer, when your kids are at home for a number of weeks. Here are a few things to consider when organising your own food plans for the sunny season.

Recommended daily allowances

The thing about recommended daily allowances – or RDAs – is that they should only ever serve as a guide. Not only is it incredibly hard to get the "exact" balance of the key constituents of RDAs, but everyone's different; metabolisms vary, lifestyles differ, and some people respond to different types of food in different ways.

Below is a breakdown of the eight major nutritional groups in food that labels will likely display on the back of the pack. This is normally alongside percentage nutrition value labelling that is becoming more common on the front of food packaging. Please note: on compact tables, women's typical values are displayed as the standard. We have broken down these food groups at the end of this article.

Guideline Daily Amount Values
 Typical values  Women  Men  Children (5-10 yrs)
 Calories  2000kcal  2500kcal  1800kcal
 Protein  45g  55g  24g
 Carbohydrate  230g  300g  220g
 Sugars  90g  120  85g
 Fat  70g  95g  70g
 Saturates  20g  30g  20g
 Fibre  24g  24g  15g
 Salt  6g  6g  4g

Watch out for unhealthy "healthy" products!

The wonders of marketing mean that many products appear healthier than they really are, so regularly checking the label is a vital habit parents should adopt. Examples of guilty products include:

  • Fruit Shoots – which can have as much sugar per 100ml as "full fat" Coca-Cola1
  • Child-targeted yoghurts, such as Frubes, which contain not only a large amount of sugar, but additional sucrose syrup as well2
  • Kids' cereals – over one-third of a bowl of Frosties is sugar!3

Setting up a weekly plan – ideas

One of the best ways to establish a healthy eating routine is to set expectations for the family. Great ideas include:

  • Meat-free Mondays: As something promoted by Jamie Oliver (with recipes to match), meat-free Mondays are a popular choice for a lot of families looking for healthy treats to kick-start the week!
  • Fish Fridays: Supermarkets like Waitrose offer discounts on fish for Fridays, so why not take advantage and cook some seafood to see the week out?
  • Make a pizza day: Avoid processed meats and heavy cheeses and go full-blown Ready, Steady, Cook with the family, creating a healthy pizza from scratch with your own chosen ingredients! Find some inspiration here.
  • One-pot days: As an excellent way to use leftovers, as well as masses of vegetables, one-pot cooking is a great way to get the family eating cheap, healthy stews, curries and casseroles. Here are a few great ideas for you.

Healthy food pairings

Sometimes, it's hard to know what goes with what. However, by already having the basics – rice, grains, pasta and potatoes – it's just a case of looking into food pairings.

Getting the flavours right has been found to get kids more likely to eat vegetables;4 with this in mind, here are some great resources to get you going on the healthy side of things:

Don't sideline treats…

One way to make the kids pine for treats is to withhold them completely – so incorporate them occasionally. However, don't reward children with them, warns Great Ormond Street Hospital's experts, as this can result in creating bad habits down the line.

…and remember five a day

Five a day is the government's health initiative to get people eating five different fruits and vegetables every day. It gives a great shot at giving you a wide range of vitamins and minerals – and as you can see here, it can be very easy to factor into any daily regime.

Make exercise fun, not mandatory

The great outdoors is even greater during the summer. Don't dodge the opportunity to make the most of the weather – consider the following ideas to get kids fit to add to their healthy diet (and counteract those treats!):

  • Summer's a time of garden parties, encourage kids to stay outdoors for longer by investing in some garden and outdoor games to keep them entertained and active. Car boot sales are great places to pick up a bargain.
  • Bike rides are a staple of good old-fashioned family fun: set off from your house, or load up the roof rack, to create an all-new adventure.
  • Treasure hunts are a favourite of ours, and if you do it right, you could have your young ones working alongside you as a team to win points and prizes – and maybe learn something along the way! The website Geocaching is great for adding some mystery to your hunt for both kids and the adults!
  • Consider getting the kids to do chores in return for pocket money. The likes of washing a car, tidying a bedroom, walking a dog, or going to the corner shop for a loaf of bread will burn calories.
  • Even videogames can play a part in giving kids exercise. Alongside the likes of Microsoft's Kinect technology – which offers games based on movement – music games like Rock Band have drum sets, and the Wii is all about getting those bodies moving. You can make it competitive with the whole family!

Breaking down the RDAs

First things first: calories are a linear yet easy means of keeping track of the energy you need to healthily maintain your weight. The system takes into account a basic, sedentary lifestyle – for instance, if you don’t really walk about, or you have a desk job.

If you exercise more, you can eat more to maintain your weight, if you choose to stick to RDAs and exercise, you could see gradual weight loss.

Food groups explained

Protein – RDA

 Women  Men Children (5-10 years)
 45g  55g  24g

Found in: Meat, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds, milk, yoghurt, cheese. A three ounce serving of fish (cod, haddock, tuna, flounder, perch and halibut) has between 19g and 26g of protein, while the same potion of beef or pork contains 18g to 27g.5

Good or bad? Protein is the building blocks of muscle, making us big and strong. It's also a source of energy that helps repair cells, make new ones, and keep your organs running in good condition. What's more, proteins help children grow and develop properly. Just don't overdo it – too much protein can affect your gut and liver and joints, making summer that little bit less active!

Carbohydrates and sugars

   Women  Men Children (5-10 years)
 Carbohydrates  230g  300g  220g
 Sugars  90g  120g  85g

Found in: Bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, oats, beans, lentils, cereals, fruit, soft drinks, chocolate, and sweets.

Good or bad? Carbohydrates are what give us long-lasting energy, and are usually best eaten in the morning to offer people what they need to stay bright throughout the day. Too many carbohydrates and not enough exercise can result in weight gain – and carb-heavy foods are often high in calories – so keep the balance right! Also be aware that a lot of the time, sugars are listed alongside (or part of) carbs, natural sugars are good for you in moderation, but processed sugars are to be avoided when possible – not only for waistlines, but teeth as well.

Fats and saturates

   Women  Men Children (5-10 years)
 Fats  70g  95g  70g
 Saturates  20g  30g  20g

Found in: Dairy, eggs, fatty fish, red meat, nuts, oils, avocados, fried goods

Good or bad? There's a certain level of fat that the body must get to stay healthy. In fact, fat provides more energy, gram for gram, than anything else.6 A healthy, balanced amount of fat in your diet means better skin, better use of nutrients and vitamins, and healthier brains. However, too much fat is, as we all know, bad for your health – especially saturated fats (commonly found in fattier meats, cheese, whole-fat dairy products and fried foods), which can result in high cholesterol levels.7


 Women  Men Children (5-10 years)
 24g  24g  15g

Found in: Wholemeal/wholegrain products, beans, brown rice, pulses, bran-based cereals, fruit, vegetables. For example, one piece of wholegrain toast has about 6g of fibre. Half an avocado has 7g of fibre. A cup of beans has 15g.

Good or bad? More fibre means a better digestive system – and it can make you feel fuller more quickly, meaning it's great for weight loss.8 However, too much has the opposite effect – and can lead to bloating and dehydration, among other less-desirable issues.9 Yes, flatulence, we’re looking at you.


 Women  Men Children (5-10 years)
6g 6g 4g

Found in: Ready meals, pre-packed sandwiches, preserved meats and fish, cheese, nuts, soy sauce – and a lot of other things! Remember: the allowance for children of 4g of salt is equivalent to less than a teaspoon10 - but luckily, salt is always displayed as one of the five key colour wheels on food packaging!

Good or bad? While salt makes things taste nice, eating too much can raise blood pressure, in turn heightening the risk of heart disease or stroke. Even without adding salt to food you've made, you could still go over your RDA, as the NHS estimates that "three-quarters of the salt we eat is already in the food we buy, such as breakfast cereals, soups, breads and sauces".11

Note: Whilst we take care to ensure Hub content is accurate at the time of publication, individual circumstances can differ so please don’t rely on it when making financial decisions. OneFamily do not provide advice so it may be worth speaking to an independent financial adviser about your own circumstances.


[1] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2384488/Parents-shun-healthy-fruit-drinks-sugar-Coke-children-water-instead-say-experts.html
[2] https://healthyfoodiebaby.com/2013/04/12/sugar-content-in-fromage-frais-and-yoghurt-for-children-babies/
[3] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/shopping-and-consumer-news/11373080/The-10-most-sugary-breakfast-cereals.html
[4] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-kids-vegetables-idUSBREA151TI20140206
[5] http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/much-protein-fish-have-6418.html
[6] http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/feeding-eating/family-nutrition/facts-about-fats/why-you-need-fats
[7] http://www.nhs.uk/chq/pages/1124.aspx?categoryid=51
[8] http://www.webmd.boots.com/healthy-eating/high-fibre-food
[9] http://bembu.com/too-much-fiber
[10] https://www.reference.com/science/many-grams-salt-teaspoon-bba02154f5bf84b8
[11] http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/eight-tips-healthy-eating.aspx#salt