For Darien third-grader Amber N., eating healthy year round comes naturally. “I always eat my vegetables and a yogurt for a snack,” she says. “You can get energy by eating healthy.”
Yet for other children, the disruption of normal routines often leads to less-than-stellar eating habits during summer break.
While many kids are highly scheduled with sports camps, music camps, summer school, swim team and the like, families often experience a more relaxed way of eating in the summer. Dietitians are not immune.
“One of the challenges that we face at our house is the change in schedule or the lack of one” such as the time between school ending and the beginning of camp, says Melissa Dobbins, MS, RD, owner of Sound Bites Inc., an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson, and mother of two. “If the kids are home, we tend to get wrapped up in outdoor activities and find it difficult sometimes to eat at regular meal and snack times.”
Most of us can relate. Yet summer’s relaxed schedule is a great time to let your children help with meal planning, shopping and prep. Involve them in grocery shopping and, when age-appropriate, teach them the basics of reading food labels. Take a trip to a farmers market where they can sample fresh produce and meet the producers. It’s not even too late to plant a garden to get the kids involved in their own nutrition from seed to table.
Kids Eat Right (KidsEatright.org)-a joint effort of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and its Foundation-makes it easier “to shop smart, cook healthy, eat right through its articles, tips, recipe of the week and videos,” Dobbins says. “You can watch a video with your child or have them pick out a new kid-friendly and mom-approved recipe to try.”
Look to the latest social media craze for other ways to make eating healthy more fun for kids, she says. “I’ve been getting lots of new ideas lately on Pinterest.”
Summer snack monster
All too often, kids are allowed to snack throughout the day, often on the wrong things. As parents, we need to teach our children to distinguish true biological hunger from eating out of habit or boredom.
Keep your child on a regular eating and snacking schedule. Three meals and two snacks usually works well. Discourage snacking in front of any type of screen.
Seek out opportunities to sneak in the key nutrients children often lack, including calcium, vitamin D, fiber and potassium. This month’s recipe is a good source of three out of the four.
Keep empty-calorie “junk” foods as “sometimes” foods for special occasions so they don’t crowd out nutrient-rich foods and/or pack in too many extra calories.
Go out for treats and sweets rather than having that half-gallon of ice cream sitting in your freezer. If feasible, consider walking or biking to the frozen yogurt or ice cream shop.
When packing snacks for camps where there is no refrigeration, foods like peanut butter, homemade trail mix, fresh or dried fruit and whole grain crackers satisfy hunger and pack plenty of nutrition, too.
With a little advance planning, your family can still enjoy summer break without breaking your healthy eating plan.
Christine Palumbo, RD, is a nutritionist based in Naperville with fond childhood memories of stopping by the local Baskin Robbins for a single scoop ice cream cone after long afternoons of swimming. She can be reached at Chris@ChristinePalumbo.com. Follow her on Twitter @PalumboRD or on Facebook at Christine Palumbo Nutrition.