Outdoor Snacks and Drinks

6 December 2014 · 13 comments

in Early Years Outdoors, Health & Wellbeing, International, Technologies

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‘”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.

Outdoor Snack Japan 5

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.

Outdoor Snack Japan 2

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.

Outdoor Snack Japan 1

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.

Outdoor snack 4
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.

Outdoor snack 3

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.

Drinks

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.

Snacks

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.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Kierna December 6, 2014 at 18:55

Some lovely ideas, like the warm apple juice one & definitely will try this some week. Popcorn is favourite snack for outdoors & of course marshmallows. We have snack outside every day so it is just the norm for the children but so far toast is their favourite thing.

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Juliet Robertson December 6, 2014 at 20:47

Indoors or out, toast works well… I think the smell tantalises the tastebuds!

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Karen December 7, 2014 at 09:43

Hi,
I’ve cooked jacket potatoes(inside)then wrapped them in lots of foil and had these at forest school with lots of butter and hot chocolate. The children love it and really tuck in

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Juliet Robertson December 8, 2014 at 08:50

That sounds really sensible as the potatoes keep their heat for a long time when wrapped up well.

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Coombe Mill December 7, 2014 at 20:28

There’s some really great ideas here for parents to help their children experience more! It’s great that each child carried their own sitting mat in their backpacks and knew not to put their wellies on the mats. Thanks for linking up with Country Kids.

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Catherine (Adventure Togs) December 13, 2014 at 10:33

Wonderful to see the children enjoying healthy food together in the outdoors and also developing their social skills. It’s sad that so many meals are taken in front of screen these days with no family conversation…..we have always encouraged family eating around a table in our household, whether indoors or out. Litter-free snacks are also so important for the environment, it’s great to see a list of lots of ideas to keep litter to a minimum. #OutdoorPlayParty

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Linda December 15, 2014 at 20:07

LOVE the fact that the Skogsmulle-concept has spread to Japan! I grew up grilling “bread on a stick” as we call it in Sweden and now share that tradition with my girls. Hot chocolate is another staple that we love to bring outdoors for our picnics. Thanks for linking up to the #outdoorplayparty!

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Julie Watson October 11, 2015 at 20:18

we have a pan with an extra long handle for cooking popcorn on a fire. It has a grill on top to stop the popcorn jumping out but you can still see it.

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Juliet Robertson October 11, 2015 at 20:38

Thanks for the suggestion Julie. I like this idea – I’ve also seen whirligig popcorn making pans from the US which have a turner to stop the popcorn from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Amazing invention!

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Erin Kenny October 12, 2015 at 18:03

We bring a thermos of hot water and the children add edible forest items ( fir and cedar needles, huckleberry leaves, lichen) which then steep until snack time. We pour the hot tea into the children’s water bottles and the children carry the hot water bottles with them as they drink the contents. We also bring hot potatos, wrapped in foil, calling them our edible hand warmers. The children break open the steaming snacks, warming their hands as they slowly nibble the treat.

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Juliet Robertson October 12, 2015 at 18:33

Hello Erin

Your comment reminds me of my time in Canada working in an outdoor and teaching children how to make cedar tea. Our Scottish equivalent uses fresh Scot’s pine needles.

I love the concept of edible hand warmers. I hope this inspires others to consider this idea too.

Thank you for your contribution and wishing Cedarsong Nature School every continued success in its work with children.

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