In Defense of Vacation Food

We just spent a week at the beach, and every morning my kids would hop out of bed and run to the kitchen. For a bowl of Lucky Charms.

You might be wondering why a dietitian like myself, who is no fan of artificial food dyes and sugary cereal, wasn't intercepting them with plates of eggs. But every year for our annual family trip, my dad brings an arsenal of cereal—the likes of which my kids don't see any other time of the year. And I'm okay with it. Because it's vacation.

Vacation is when we throw a lot of routines and rules out of the window, and food is no exception. Though I definitely try to keep some of our healthy habits in place—and my kids eat plenty of healthy foods at the beach too, like farmstand peaches—I'm a lot more relaxed about ice cream cones with sprinkles, a glass of cream soda, and yes, those sugary cereals in the morning.

And I'm not alone. Dietitian Jill Castle, MS, RDN, author of Eat Like A Champion, says her family indulges on summer vacay too. "Cocoa Puffs is a never-miss occurrence that my kids and husband look forward to. We also do white bread, potato chips and packaged cookies—solely vacation food. The kids are always excited to go to the grocery store when we arrive so we can all shop together and load up on those foods!" she says.

Dina Rose, Ph.D., author of It's Not About the Broccoli, a book about feeding kids, does something similar. "Every summer I let my daughter buy that value pack of sugary cereals. It's a tradition she looks forward to, even though she's now old enough to read the ingredients and complain about how much sugar those little boxes contain," she says.

There's actually a good reason to indulge kids in special vacation food. Allowing these kinds of foods on vacation means you're putting them in their rightful place: As occasional foods, not every day foods. Instead of banning foods outright, you're showing your kids how to find a balance. Rose says that value-pack of cereal serves an important purpose. "It's a way to neutralize the power of those cereals," says Rose. "They aren't forbidden, they are just saved for summer. No arguments. No complaints. And when the last little box was gone, so were the sugary cereals."

It also doesn't mean you're permanently wrecking your kids' eating habits. "When we return home, we are back on our usual routine," says Castle. "And by that time, my kids don't even ask for those foods, so it has worked well for us overall. It's been a nice way to break from our usual healthy diet. And I personally don't feel that it has impaired their health at all, and perhaps it has given a positive spin to their well-being."

Ditto for us. When we returned home, my boys didn't ask for cream soda or cereal with marshmallows in it. They know we don't keep those foods in the house. They also know they'll have them again sometime, so they don't need to fixate on them.

And guess what they asked for that first Monday morning back at home? Plates of eggs.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook Twitter Pinterest, and Instagram. She collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

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Image: Girl eating cereal via Shutterstock

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