Many students associate the onset of summer break with freedom – no homework, no tardy bells and no schedules. But for many families, that freedom also brings a loss of structure. Healthy lifestyle goals are easily forgotten as children sleep late, snack all day and rediscover daytime TV.
Mikie Rangel, clinical dietitian at Children's Health℠, shares tips to plan a healthy summer diet for your family.
1. Maintain a daily meal routine
While there might be more flexibility in the summer months, encourage kids to eat three meals and 1-3 small, healthy snacks per day. Although kids may sleep later, make sure their first meal is within an hour of waking up. They should eat another meal 4-5 hours later and a final meal 4-5 hours after that.
Build family meals with a healthy plate in mind. Half the plate should be fruits and vegetables and the other half protein and grains. Snacks should be eaten between meals, at least 1-2 hours before the next meal is served, if your child is hungry. They should also include a fruit or vegetable and one other food group.
2. Combat mindless eating
There are many reasons kids eat that have very little to do with physical hunger. Thirst, boredom and a range of emotions can prompt a trip to the fridge when our bodies aren't actually in need of energy. Kids spending days at home without a normal schedule will often reach for snacks regardless of a true appetite.
To combat mindless eating, make sure your child is staying hydrated; 6-10 cups of water per day is a general goal but children may need even more in hot weather. With reasonable portions at meals, a child may be hungry 2-3 hours after eating. A small snack can keep them satisfied until the next meal. However, if the next meal will be served within an hour, limit their snack to a small piece of fruit or vegetables to ensure their appetite is appropriate when it's time to eat. If you feel like your child is looking for a snack less than 2 hours since their last meal consider what else they might need. A cup of water and an engaging activity might be enough to distract them from the kitchen.
3. Keep only healthy choices in your house
Everything in your home should be something you're excited about your child eating or drinking. If the pantry is full of chips and sweets, don't be surprised when they pick that and the fresh fruit goes to waste. If there are only healthy food choices available your child will always make the right choice.
Stock your pantry with whole grain bread and crackers, canned tuna, low-sugar cereals, natural peanut butter and unsweetened applesauce. Keep fruits and vegetables at eye level on the kitchen table or up front in the refrigerator. Grapes, berries and sliced melon or pineapple provide sweetness kids will love and hydration. Apples and oranges stay fresh for a long time and can be kept at room temperature.
Set your kids up for success by spending a few minutes prepping vegetables for snacking. Wash and slice celery, cucumbers, carrots, bell peppers, jicama and broccoli then store them in clear containers in the fridge so there's always a healthy option easy to access. Yogurt, string cheese, hummus, unsalted nuts and boiled eggs are protein-packed and ready to pair with a fruit or vegetable for an easy snack between meals. And as always, water and milk are the only beverages that should be available.
With healthy options on hand and a little meal planning, your family will be on track for a successful summer.
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