Kids can still eat healthy over the summer!
Editor’s Note: Once a month, we pose a question submitted by one of our readers to a local professional or expert regarding parenting issues. For this issue, a reader submitted a question about healthy eating for kids during the summer months. For the answer, we turned to Daniel Island resident and nutritionist Sara Gail.
When children are out of the routine of the school year, it’s a bit harder to maintain healthy eating habits. How can I help my kids continue to eat well during the summer months and avoid tempting junk food?
It’s summertime, and kids often have less-structured schedules, which can lead to fewer healthy food choices. Below are some tips get to kids back on track and establish healthy eating habits:
1. Clean out the kitchen
Healthy eating starts in the kitchen. I recommend cleaning out the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry, then restocking with healthy foods. Having a properly stocked kitchen will make the following tips much easier to follow.
Summertime often means endless snacking. Establish times for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Make sure each meal contains adequate protein and healthy fat to ensure the kids feel satisfied. For breakfast, instead of cereal, waffles, or pancakes, try eggs, nitrate-free bacon, avocado, or plain yogurt with berries. You will find your child is not begging for a snack two hours later. When possible, encourage the entire family to enjoy mealtime together. Designate a specific time at night when the “kitchen is closed.”
Ideally, snacks should be limited. Most of the nutrition should be provided at mealtimes. Snacking on processed foods such as chips, crackers, cereal, and granola bars only leads to more snacking, thus diminishing kids’ appetites for mealtimes. Protein and fat at mealtimes keeps hunger at bay.
Discouraging snacking, especially within 1-2 hours of a meal, will ensure kids will be hungry for the meal provided.
4. On the go
Whether it’s camps, swim team, or sports, parents often resort to fast food or restaurants for meals. Eating out is expensive and typically includes unhealthy foods such as burgers, chicken nuggets, and fries. Plan ahead by packing a cooler with healthy foods and water.
What are your kids drinking? My best advice: Water! Sugary beverages such as soda, juice, and lemonade should be kept to a bare minimum. Sports drinks, such as Gatorade, may be needed if your child is participating in outdoor sports or events where there is a risk of dehydration. Always choose clear sports drinks to avoid artificial food dyes.
7. Grocery shopping
Summertime is a great time to involve children in the grocery shopping. Make a list of healthy foods at home and give your child the responsibility to find the items. Challenge your child to explore the produce section and choose six fruits or vegetables that correspond with all the colors of the rainbow. Avoid the cookie and chip aisles by shopping the perimeter of the store. Plan a trip to the farmer’s market!
Set your kids up for success by instilling healthy eating habits. If a child grows up consuming cookies, ice cream and soda on a daily basis, this is likely to continue into the teenage years and adulthood. Poor nutrition leads to chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. These habits are difficult to break as adults. Start now, teach them while they are young, and most importantly, lead by example.
Sara Gail is a Registered Dietitian, Daniel Island resident, and mother of two teenagers. She has her own private practice, Sara Gail Nutrition, and specializes in individual counseling, family counseling, and food sensitivity testing. www.saragailnutrition.com.