Just because school’s out, doesn’t mean kids should go on a “vacation” from healthy eating. According to research from the Centers for Disease Control, accelerated weight gain over the summer months is a reality for many children. In addition, more than 70 percent of parents were unaware of the recommended standards for healthy eating and physical activity for children according to the YMCA’s Family Health Snapshot online survey of 1,200 parents of kids aged 5 to 12.
Stay on a Schedule
One of the key reasons researchers believe children pile on pounds over the summer is that they have less structure around their daily routines and mealtimes. As a result, many kids sleep in, watch too much TV, snack throughout the day and stay up late. To combat this, make sure you have structure to your days, which means meals are served at the same time and snacks are scheduled. An eating pattern that is best for most children is breakfast, lunch and dinner with a midday snack, afternoon snack and an optional after dinner snack.
Serve Smart Snacks
Whether your child is out at the beach or ballpark or indoors playing video games, summer snacks often equal soda, chips and candy rather than nutrient-rich choices. Make sure you have plenty of healthy snacks readily available including fresh fruits and vegetables (with their favorite dips); dried fruit and 100% fruit “leathers” or freeze-dried crunchy fruit snacks. Other wholesome choices are yogurt; cheese with whole grain crackers or trail mix.
Make home-prepared meals a priority
Children’s diets are healthier and lower in calories when they get more home-cooked meals. When planning meals and snacks, keep the recommended Dietary Guidelines in mind and make sure at least half of your child’s plate is composed of fruits and veggies; one-quarter from enriched or whole grains and one-quarter from lean proteins. Check out our Picky Eater Approved Recipe Book for inspiration.
Rethink Summer Drinks
Children are more prone to dehydration than adults, but that doesn’t mean they should be drinking sugary sodas, lemonade, slushes and slurpees to hydrate when the temperature rises. Since 75% of kids drink sugar-sweetened beverages at least weekly during the summer, and about 25% of kids drink at least one sugar-sweetened beverage daily, be sure to provide water as the first choice and 100% fruit juices as a second option. Limit sugar-sweetened beverages to special occasions.
Organize Active Play Every Day
Children should get at least 60 minutes of exercise each day. A great way to ensure that your child is hitting their activity targets is to enroll them in fun activities, like summer swimming, soccer, baseball or tennis camps. If you plan summer family vacations, be sure to schedule time for active play as part of the trip.