Dibs on Leftovers

14 Classics That Should Be On Your Kids’ Summer Food Bucket List

From sweet to super messy, they’re uber-nostalgic seasonal necessities.

Written by Elizabeth Narins
Originally Published: 
A young redheaded girl eats corn during the summer.
Martin-dm/Getty Images

It recently dawned on me that my 3-year-old son had never had a s'more — the poor, unfortunate soul! So, I sent him to the yard to fetch a just-sharp-enough stick, let him stab his own marshmallow, and fired up the barbecue so he could roast the sh*t out of pure sugar. He couldn't have been more surprised by his good luck, and I felt like the best mom ever.

But the experience got me thinking about what other summer foods he's missed out on by virtue of him eating solids for so few summers and me knowing just enough about nutrition to be dangerous. Hot dogs are full of nitrates, ice cream's always messy, juice is enemy No. 1 — since when has summer been so serious!?

Lest your child surface post-summer feeling deprived, consider borrowing the bucket list I'll be working through with my little guy this season... until we get started on eating our way through autumn.

1. S’mores

Finding the roasting stick, accidentally lighting your first marshmallow on fire, getting so sticky that the only way to undo the ick is to lick each and every finger — that’s summer, people! Teaching your kid to singe a marshmallow might not be a survival skill, but it’s the ultimate campfire activity (no “Kumbaya” required).

2. Freezer Pops

Comprised almost exclusively of high fructose corn syrup and artificial coloring that should probably be illegal to consume, there’s nothing like a freezer pop to cool a kid down on a blazing hot day. While the scent might bring you back to camp infirmary, and arguments over which color is better (none) will never truly be resolved, your kid deserves a pop and a semi-permanent blue-, red-, or green-tinged mouth — their choice!

3. Watermelon Slices

Yes, you have to buy the whole 15-pound watermelon and make like Baby from Dirty Dancing as you haul it from your trunk to the kitchen. Extra credit for letting your kids spit the seeds in the yard where a watermelon could very well grow next season! *crosses fingers*

Kevin Kozicki/Getty Images

4. Corn on the Cob

Grilled, boiled, or buttered — up to you. But unsafely held with corn-shaped daggers the way our parents used to serve them? Absolutely necessary.

5. Hot Dogs

Choking hazards, nitrate bombs, mystery meat: Hot dogs sure don’t have a great rap. But stick one in a bun with an excessive amount of sun-kissed ketchup, and tell me you don’t feel young again! Don’t you want that for your children!?

6. Ice Cream Sandwich

What is it about the way the chocolate cookie sticks to fingers in a very un-cookie-like fashion that makes it somehow taste better? Every kid should experience it (and let their mom finish the dregs).

7. Corn Dog

Have I ever had one? No. Do I want one every time I hit the county fair and want my kids to know what it’s like to eat a deep-fried meat meal off a stick without a care in the world? Sure do.

8. Ice Cream Cone with Sprinkles

With a 100% chance of dripping into and staining every orifice from stroller seatbelt to armpits, shoe laces, and hair, ice cream served in a cone is utterly impractical... which is all part of the fun.

JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

9. Bug Juice (Kool-Aid Works, Too)

Sugar high and cranky crash optional; red mouth required.

10. Stand Lemonade

Whether you’re overpaying for a Dixie cup of lemonade served by a neighbor or squeezing fresh lemons in your kitchen (as one does?!), sweet lemonade is an absolute summer staple for kids and adults alike.

11. Italian Ice

Sensing a ~cool~ theme here? While you can’t very well dunk your kids in a cold-water bath every time steam rises from the sidewalk, you can chill them out with icy treats — ideally served with those little wooden spoons to keep things interesting. Stains are a sure thing.

12. Fresh Peaches

Waiting for peach season is the perfect exercise in patience. So, go all Pavlovian on your kids and let them relish in summer farm fare that’s sweet but won’t piss off their dentist.

Nicky Lloyd/Getty Images

13. Sloppy Joes

Summer fare accurately described in the 1995 Olsen classic It Takes Two as a “big, gooey, messy burger,” Sloppy Joes are economical camp classics that taste just as good around your kitchen table as they do at the dining pavilion.

14. Potato Salad

You can serve french fries in any season. But all hail the other-other potato: creamy potato salad. Always on the verge of turning in the summer heat, it’s best enjoyed on a picnic blanket with a prayer.

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