It’s almost June, national What You Think About Grows Month. Also Dairy, Country Cooking, Soul Food, Fresh Fruit and Veggies, Great Outdoors, Camping, and Candy Month. Common denominator? Food.

Alternately, June is National Headache and Migraine Awareness Month and Effective Communications Month—understandable, as families head into a big shift with kids home (or still home) from school. Just thinking about planning the week’s food can be a headache. Families who prepared more meals at home this year may have become more conscientious about family nutrition. Now let’s extend that focus to avoid some summer food anxiety about empty calories. Summer is a great time to communicate effectively with our kids about sometimes swapping candy and ice cream for soul food, fresh fruits and veggies!

Germinate on this idea: Start with food values, family traditions and experiences we’d like to cultivate. How much candy do we really need while camping? Is ice cream a passion, a tradition, a battle we don’t want to fight? Are our family experiences with fruit and vegetables positive?

If you could wave a magic wand and re-do your family food reality, what would it be like? Envision: How about reimagining food in the great outdoors? What are a couple of simple ways you can shift sugar or empty carbs (candy, chips) for nutritional energy alternatives (a veggie spread)?

As a mom, nutritionist and nature lover, I find it contradictory when kids eat processed foods while frolicking in forests. I’m not saying go forage for food--though that may very well fall into your idyllic vision. But who doesn’t love picking wild huckleberries and adding them to campfire oatmeal or finding morels and folding them into an elk stroganoff? That is soul food and, for many, the epitome of Idaho country cooking. The foraging adventure connects us with nature, and it’s the perfect recipe for good communication about food.

Once kids are in the woods, the fairies and gnomes come out, the game is on and a legit adventure unfolds. If kids balk about eating mushrooms, we can respond with, “It’s OK! They’re a bit weird and wrinkly, right? What else do you think about them?” This is the perfect science opportunity to talk about “leave no trace,” about touching (and what not to touch), smelling and—someday—tasting wild foods. Then, at dinner time, allow kids to say “no” to trying morels, and serve them anyway. The very exposure to something new—from nature—will be memorable and is helping children sprout their food wings.

Maybe every outdoor excursion isn’t premeditated with a three-hour fungi hunt, but even simple treks present opportunities to learn about food. As for traditions, Smores are wonderful, but do kids need to eat them every night while camping? With your kids, look up other desserts to start new traditions! Grilled peaches, anyone?

This summer, let’s sprout forth nutritionally, grounded by intentional food experiences and meaningful traditions. Otherwise, what are we teaching our kids when offering candy on a hike, soft serve every time we go to the lake and hot dogs as summer “soul food”? Let’s sprout new traditions with good ol’ trail mix on day hikes, chilled watermelon at the lake and seasonal veggie kabobs over the campfire.

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