Many kids and teens 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, a clinical dietitian at Children's Health℠, shares healthy eating tips to help parents 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. Doing so can help support your family's healthy eating goals throughout the summer and beyond.
2. Combat mindless eating
Kids eat for many reasons 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 don't need energy. Kids spending days at home without a normal schedule often reach for snacks regardless of a true appetite.
To combat mindless eating, ensure your child stays 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 after 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. Only keep 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 for healthy summer eating.
Stock your pantry with wholesome snack options, such as:
- Canned tuna
- Low-sugar cereals
- Natural peanut butter
- Unsweetened applesauce
- Whole-grain bread and crackers
Some of the best food to eat in the summer is cool, crispy fresh produce. Get your kids involved in picking out, washing and prepping vegetables, so they can see what will is available for snacking and get excited about their options. Here are some ideas to help your kids make healthy choices this summer break:
- Apples and oranges stay fresh for a long time and can be kept at room temperature.
- Grapes, berries and sliced melon or pineapple provide sweetness kids love and hydration that's important during summer.
- Keep fruits and vegetables at eye level on the kitchen table or at the front of the refrigerator.
- 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 that is easy to access.
Pair a fruit or vegetable with a protein-packed item for easy, delicious snacking between meals. Great options include:
- String cheese
- Unsalted nuts
- Boiled eggs
And, as always, water and milk are the only beverages that should be easily accessible. Smoothies and natural fruit juices are also good options.
With healthy options on hand and a little meal planning, your family will be on track for a successful, healthy summer.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be hard for families at any time, but summer time can make it even more challenging. A dietitian from Children's Health shares 3 easy tips for parents.
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