Yes, that’s right, my four-year-old son had Jello for breakfast today. And I was okay with it.
Believe it or not, the backstory of this breakfast starts about 20 years ago, but don’t worry, I will keep it brief. Sometime around 1997 when my husband and I were first dating, we had a fantastic dinner at a Greek restaurant and talked about how we wanted to go to Greece together. It has always remained at the top of our travel wish list. Two decades later, joined by two little boys, we finally made it to the Greek islands. And they are just as beautiful as we hoped they would be.
Along with the amazing scenery, there is the delicious food, which doesn’t disappoint.
But as much as we looked forward to this trip, I will admit that there have been moments when I have wondered if we should have just stayed home. That’s what I was thinking yesterday at lunch in a taverna when our youngest, who is nearly 2 years old, threw rocks, his sandals, and eventually himself onto the floor. With white linen shorts covered in sand, dirt, and meat sauce, he promptly fell asleep in the car afterward. This explained his behavior but surprised us because he had already had a nap in the late morning.
If you are also a parent of little ones, I bet you know what it is like in those moments when your vacation suddenly doesn’t feel so fun anymore. Even if we can’t prevent random kiddie melt-downs, as parents, we quickly figure out what works and what doesn’t with the kids and adjust our travel styles to lower the chances that we ourselves start to melt down. For our family, this means less time sightseeing and more time digging at the beach, and less time sitting at restaurants and more time having picnics. Sound familiar?
Our kids do best when we try to keep some of their same routines in place when we travel, including what they eat. We try to find vegetables they like at each meal and not let them go too crazy with sweets. Of course, it’s vacation, so we don’t mind if they have some extra treats. But especially with our youngest, we try to still keep sugar to a minimum. This can be challenging when you are in a place where people are especially friendly to kids and show affection by giving sweets.
Much like we experienced when living in Italy, we have found that the store keepers in Greece love to give kids candy. At the port, my youngest was given a lollypop and a pack of taffies in two shops back to back. He cried when I told him he needed to save them for after lunch, but then forgot about them entirely, so we were off the hook there. Later that day, the hotel receptionist gave him a hard candy and he unwrapped it and swallowed it whole before I could politely decline and explain to her that it might be a choking hazard. Oh well, no harm done. Don’t get me wrong, I love the warmth and hospitality. I just sometimes find it tricky to graciously accept the kindness without always accepting the candy.
It is much easier to set limits with our oldest because he understands the idea of saving things for later or skipping them altogether if he has already had a treat. What works the best is to involve him in figuring out compromises that still allow him to have what he wants without overdoing it. This brings me to the breakfast buffet and the Jello (not to mention the Cocoa Puffs.)
At home I am a big proponent of a completely non-sweet breakfast for my kids, as I have noticed how much it improves their behavior and reduces their requests for sweets and snacks later in the day. But here on vacation, I need to realize that this just isn’t going to happen, especially with a hotel breakfast buffet that includes cookies, cakes, chocolate croissants, Nutella, Cocoa Puffs, juice drinks, and little glasses of Jello and custards.
Upon scanning the breakfast buffet options on our first morning, my oldest went right for the Cocoa Puffs. He has never tried them but has noticed them in the store. How can I tell him that he can’t have any when all of the other kids at nearby tables are eating them and piling up plates of the other sweet stuff, too? Our compromise was to help him create his own custom mix of cereal with some Cocoa Puffs, plain corn flakes, and muesli. He enjoyed dispensing the cereals and making his own combination. I also tried to balance things out by suggesting a handful of raw almonds after the cereal, which he was happy to eat. Adding a source of protein and healthy fat to his breakfast helps to stabilize his blood sugar and keep him feeling full for longer.
After finishing his cereal, he was also very curious about the Jello. I explained that Cocoa Puffs and Jello together might make him feel sick and not as able to keep up his digging at the beach. We came up with a plan that he could try the Jello the next day when he didn’t have other sweet things.
So today he enjoyed this plate: scrambled eggs, olives, cucumber slices, and pineapple Jello for “dessert.” He was thrilled, and I was happy about the solution we came up with together. Not ideal, but not too shabby for a breakfast that includes Jello, right?
I don’t want my kids to feel deprived. I want them to enjoy themselves, especially when on vacation. It’s all about figuring out how to keep an overall healthy balance. When our kids eat well, they feel better, are more pleasant, and we enjoy spending time with them more. Also, we will have an easier time re-adjusting to life at home if we don’t totally overdo it while away.
To you other parents out there, what are your best tricks for helping your kids eat well on vacation? What kind of compromises have worked for you in terms of special treats?