By Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.
Summer is in full swing, and your otherwise healthy eating habits are quickly going south. The school bell rings for the final time, and kids, and their parents, including me, often relax the reins on healthy eating.
Nearly every day, my children expect to have foods that they typically eat once in a while during the school year, including ice cream after dinner, chips with lunch at the beach, and lemonade instead of water to quench their thirst. I’m not above giving in to their requests.
You would think that, with the bounty of summertime foods that are relatively low in calories, such as fruit and vegetables, kids would eat better. You might also suppose that the warm weather would mean more physical activity for children.
Yet, research suggests that children gain excess weight during the summer months, probably because they are out of their school-year routine, which may include more structured times for meals, snacks, and exercise.
Letting a healthy lifestyle get too far off track can have unintended consequences for your child’s weight. Here’s how to help kids of all ages stay healthy and happy this summer, whether they’re off to day camp, the beach, or to a part-time job.
• Serve healthy breakfasts.
Breakfast fuels kids up for the day. A balanced morning meal with protein from foods such as milk, yogurt, eggs, and peanut butter combined with whole grains, including cereal and bread, and fruit helps to keep kids fuller for longer.
Fruit paired with cereal and milk or eggs and toast are simple at-home meals. When kids are on the go, have them bring breakfast along. A whole wheat bagel or two whole grain waffles smeared with sunflower seed butter or peanut butter and a banana makes a nutritious take-along meal.
Some children don’t like traditional breakfast foods. That’s OK. A combination of nutritious foods is fine for breakfast, including whole grain crackers, a peeled hard cooked egg, and fruit or fruit juice. Other nutritious breakfast ideas include half a sandwich and milk, and a slice of healthy pizza and orange juice.
• Snack smart.
Kids snack so often that between-meal eating should be mini-meals, not treats like Goldfish, chips, and cookies. Here are 19 healthy snacking ideas for kids that work during the summertime and the rest of the year, too.
• Plan for dinner.
Don’t let summer spontaneity ruin your resolve to eat healthy dinners. Having healthy ingredients on hand for relaxed summer meals saves you money and makes for better family nutrition.
Shopping on a regular basis decreases your reliance on take-out and processed foods, which are often more expensive and higher in fat and calories than what you would prepare at home.
• Allow treats.
I complain about my kids clamoring for unhealthy foods, but I also know there’s room for “fun” summer foods in everyone’s diet. Hot dogs, French fries, and deep-fried Twinkies from the state fair can be part of a child’s eating plan, as long as he eats healthy foods most of the time and works off extra calories with physical activity.