School’s out for the summer, which means less routine and more free time for children.
Left to their own devices, many kids fill the warm, lazy days with junk food, but proper nutrition shouldn’t take a backseat until August.
“You always do want to try and maintain a routine with meals,” said registered and licensed dietician Tracy Beeman, a corporate health consultant for Seton Medical Center Harker Heights.
“You just don’t want the child to stay at home and be grazing all day because they’re bored. It’s really important to make sure you do have some structure to it,” Beeman added.
The key to nutrition for kids, Beeman said, is to make it fun by creating activities and outings around healthy eating, like going to the library to look up simple summer recipes, then creating a grocery list along with the children and then allowing them to help with preparing the meal.
“Really look at something that’s five ingredients or less, so it’s not overwhelming, it’s not expensive and you’re not going to lose their attention span,” she said.
Snack times tend to multiply when kids have less to do, but instead of discouraging snacks, parents should make them opportunities for healthy decisions, by writing down the options each day on a white board or a piece of paper so children can choose for themselves.
“Kids should definitely have their own access to snacks with parental consent. You want to encourage them to learn to listen to their bodies. If their body says it’s hungry, great — eat something,” Beeman said.
Fresh fruits and vegetables always make good options, she said, as well as dips to accompany them, like hummus, guacamole or peanut butter. Ranch dressing can also be mixed with greek yogurt for a healthier alternative to the popular veggie dip.
To add protein, hard boiled eggs, nuts, seeds and string cheese make well-rounded pairings with a piece of fruit, Beeman said.
Snacks can add fun moments of structure to summer days by designating snack times in which children and parents sit down together to eat for a few minutes each day.
Beeman suggests making those moments fun by going outside, using fancy plates and adding straws and frozen fruit to beverages.
“You’re taking 10 minutes out of your day to build a healthy eating habit. That’s really key that they associate eating healthy with fun times,” she said.
Proper nutrition through diet is not the only element to a healthy summer routine.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention physical activity guidelines, children and adolescents should be getting one hour or more of physical activity each day.
To incorporate a routine that is fun, Beeman said to add scheduled physical activities for the entire family, like relay races, running laps through the water sprinkler or playing other outdoor games.
“It’s building happy memories associated with being active, which is going to give parents a lot less resistance with the children,” she said.
Under the hot Texas sun, it’s important to remember hydration while kids get their exercise each day.
Lots of parents may think to reach for a Gatorade for hydration and electrolytes, but Beeman said there are much better alternatives.
“Gatorade is meant for sustained endurance. It’s meant to be used when you are physically being active for periods of 90 minutes or greater. Children are not usually in that unless they’re training for football,” she said.
Instead, a glass of water, an apple and a small bag of pretzels will do the trick. The pretzels provide some sodium and quick-digesting carbohydrates to give a boost of energy.
Another kid-friendly way to introduce fluids without all the sugar is by serving iced herbal teas, in fruity flavors like cranberry or apple cinnamon.
Fresh fruit also helps boost hydration.
“A lot of people make the assumption that it’s too much sugar, but it’s a natural sugar your body knows what to do with.”