‘”Hot soup was a jolly good idea, it’s so very cold this morning but then it’s very early, the sun is only just coming up – look!” They finished their breakfast watching the blue water turn to dancing gold, even the rocks gleamed in the sun.‘ Enid Blyton – The Adventurous Four.
With the winter weather having finally arrived, it is a timely opportunity to consider what snacks and drinks work well in cold conditions. There is something rather nurturing about a warm drink or snack when the air is crisp and the frost is sparkling.
Two years ago, when I visited Japan for an international Skogsmulle conference, I had the opportunity to participate in the final Skogsmulle session in one nursery. It was an exciting event, even without the international visitors. Skogsmulle made an appearance and played some games with the children. Then we all had snack. As you can see from the photo above, huge bread dampers were created on bamboo sticks and cooked over a raised fire. These accompanied homemade soup which was brought to the site and heated up. The parents oversaw the snack whilst the children and staff were busy with Skogsmulle.
Each child had their own backpack. Inside each one, the child had a large sitting mat. They were very fancy tarps with a range of colourful designs. Here in the UK I’ve only found plain blue ones. I really liked this approach to fostering independence. The children had to get out their mat and stick their back pack on it before getting their snack.
If you look at the photo above and below, the etiquette is to keep your shoes off the mat. Some children removed their wellies altogether and kneeled or moved freely on their mat. There was enough room for their snacks too.
Creating opportunities for children to eat outside, provides a broader range of eating experiences. Not every child may get to enjoy a picnic, cook food over a fire, have a barbecue or feel the steady warmth of a hot drink sipped on a cold day. They may not have opportunities to transfer the skills acquired through eating snack inside a school or nursery to other contexts. Many children’s experiences of food may be screen-based as they watch TV or the computer whilst eating, thereby losing out on the social aspect of eating and sharing a meal together. Even MacDonald’s now have in-house computer games for children to play whilst eating.
To help you plan and prepare outdoor snacks, I took the opportunity to seek wider opinions. Many thanks to those on the Forest Education Initiative Facebook Group who responded with suggestions for litter-free outdoor snacks when I put a request up a fortnight ago. I am aware that many of the suggestions do not conform to Government recommendations on healthy eating, particularly for very young children. However, outdoors in winter, the emphasis has to be on eating and drinking that keeps us warm, nourished and gives us more energy than is needed when playing inside. Please use your professional judgement when deciding which of the suggestions below are appropriate for your setting.
These are easy to prepare in advance and take outside or on a walk in thermos flasks.
- Warm juice – try adding a touch of cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice and cloves for a festive addition to apple juice (thank you, Julie Watson)
- Hot chocolate – warms the soul. Be decadent and add marshmallows and other treats. Experiment with other additions such a mint leaves or even a dollop of ice cream and watch it melt. An internet search will reveal all sorts of decadent treats.
- Soup – I rather like the idea of children being able to help make a soup before taking it on a walk or outdoor adventure.
- Simple herb teas – Many children like peppermint tea. Here in Scotland, our Scot’s Pine needles can be washed and added to hot water with a little bit of honey. When I worked in Canada, we made a similar drink using cedar leaves. Both provide a source of Vitamin C during winter months.
- Hot smoothies. I’ve never tried any but I’m rather intrigued by the concept. Some are cold but have warming spices. Others are made with hot milk or juice.
“Supping a warm drink leads to wonderful reflective chats. One of the Year 2 classes (aged 6 and 7) I work with regularly asked me, whilst I was handing out flasks for them to carry, “How do the flasks keep the hot chocolate hot?” Brilliant question! It led to a wonderfully inspiring couple of days of science experiments led by their teacher and myself. They made their own versions of insulated flasks. We took them out in the snow with thermometers and we measured which insulating material kept the hot chocolate hottest! Of course we had a “control” of a metal flask (or five) full of hot chocolate too. Such gorgeous sessions and they discovered SO much. All the “incidental” stuff around the snow and ice was wonderful too. Back in class they carried on and then created charts on the computers and shared their findings with the whole school.” Claire Simpson, Stories Under Stones Artist and Forest School Leader.
Cooking over fire or with a camping stove is such a big topic that I could set up another blog entirely devoted to the subject! Given that not everyone is in a position to immediately do this, I thought it would be better to share simple snack ideas which practitioners find work well outside without the need for a fire or heating up the food.
- Raisins in little cardboard boxes. Then children can use the little boxes to collect tiny little treasures which they find on their outing. (Thanks to Helen Robinson for this idea)
- Oatcakes, rice cakes or other plain biscuits. Have a selection of spreads available for self-spreading. Some children are quite happy with a bit of bread and butter.
- Slice up some cheese for eating with plain biscuits. Or have cubes to nibble.
- Pitta , ciabatta and other types of bread which can be sliced up and ready to eat.
- Vegetable sticks such as carrot, celery and strips of red, green or yellow peppers.
- Fresh fruit. It may be easier to cut and prepare before leaving the school or nursery.
- Dried fruit including apples, apricots, dates and figs.
- Hot oat cereal. Add hot milk from a flask and mix well before eating. A few pieces of banana mixed in can be a nice treat.
- Instant noodles. Add hot water. Drain any excess and add flavourings of your choice.
Finally, I’m sure you may have some great ideas for snacks outside. It would be great if you were willing to share them through commenting below. 🙂 I’m particularly interested in litter-free suggestions where re-usable or recyclable packing is used.