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Between the longer days, more opportunities to play outside and plenty of fresh, delicious foods available, summer is an ideal time for kids to eat healthy and be active.
Yet for some kids, less structure to the days, more time spent in front of the TV and more opportunities to eat sugar mean kids aren’t eating as many vegetables or healthy foods.
According to a July 2015 study in the American Journal of Public Health, body mass index (BMI) for kindergarteners and first graders increased two to three times as fast during the summer than the school year. The study also found kids who were underweight had better eating habits and gained more weight during the school year.
Making sure your kids stay healthy this summer doesn’t have to put a wrench in your plans, however. These summer healthy eating tips will fuel your kids, allow them to have fun and are easy to implement today.
1. Start the Day With Greens
Sometimes you never know how your day will pan out or what your kids will eat: a skipped meal, an impromptu summer get-together with friends or a stop at the ice cream shop.
At the very least, you can start your kids’ day off right with green leafy vegetables, which pack a ton of nutrition and fiber. Make a green smoothie or green juice, add vegetables to eggs or serve leftover sautéed vegetables with avocado toast.
2. Create Structure
If your kids aren’t in summer camp, chances are there will be less structure to their days which could make them more likely to graze all day.
Do your best to have a plan for structured meal and snack times. Also, take into account your kid’s activity level when deciding if they’re actually hungry or just bored when they ask for (yet another) snack.
3. Keep Healthy Foods On Hand
Packaged, processed snacks are easy and convenient especially when you’re headed to the park or the pool, on a road trip, or at home on a rainy day. Yet when hunger strikes, you want to have healthy snacks on hand that will fuel your kids, not deplete them.
Plan ahead and keep cut-up vegetables in clear containers in the refrigerator or a fruit bowl on your kitchen counter. When you’re on the go, assemble healthy snacks beforehand like fruits, vegetables, cheese, and nuts and seeds.
4. Resist Camp Food
Unlike schools, most camps don’t have a nutritionist on hand to evaluate the nutritional value of the food or to devise a (somewhat) healthy menu. If you pack your child’s lunch, it can be tough to pack foods that will hold up in the heat so you may resort to packaged foods.
Instead, invest in a re-usable cooler bag with an ice pack or a PackIt bag to keep healthy, whole foods fresh all day.
5. Stay Hydrated
Hot summer days can leave your kids dehydrated and feeling exhausted so it’s important to make sure they drink plenty of water.
Keep a reusable water bottle on hand and encourage your kids to drink at meals, snacks, and throughout the day. Instead of juice, energy drinks or soda which are high in sugar, stick with plain water or water with slices of cucumber or strawberries for a bit of natural sweetness.
6. Nix The Packages
Processed foods are high in sugar, sodium, trans and saturated fats and lack the fiber and vitamins and minerals kids need. Since processed foods are made with refined carbohydrates, your kids are more likely to complain that they’re still hungry, crave more sugar and because of the spike in blood sugar from eating these foods, they’re more likely to have a meltdown and be irritable.
Although you may not be able to completely do away with all processed foods, look for opportunities to make healthy substitutions with whole foods.
7. Set Limits On Treats
During the summer, it seems that no matter where you bring your kids, there are treats.
I’ll be the first to admit that I bring my kids to our favorite ice-cream spot more than I should but I try to put limits on treats at other times. Decide on how many treats you think are appropriate for your kids. Maybe your rule is treats on the weekends, 2 to 3 times a week or one treat a day.
8. Get Moving
Exercise and staying active go hand in hand with healthy eating. Despite the longer, warmer days, some kids are actually less active during the summer than they are during the school year.
According to the YMCA’s Family Health Snapshot 2015 survey, 64 percent of parents say their kids spend three or more hours a day online, playing video games or watching TV during the summer and only about half get at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity.
Summer camps or programs that offer sports and opportunities for kids to be active are ideal. Look for affordable options at your local YMCA, local parks and recreation department, colleges, activity centers and places of worship or the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
Also, look for free ways to move and have fun as a family. Go for a hike, bike ride, or to the park. Volunteer with your kids or encourage them to participate in a community service project or help an elderly neighbor or someone in need.
9. Plant a Garden
A family garden is one of the best ways to encourage healthy eating. In fact, a September 2016 study out of the University of Florida suggests kids who garden are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables throughout their lives.
If gardening isn’t an option for you, consider joining a local CSA (community-supported agriculture), look for a community garden, volunteer at a farm, plant small pots of herbs at home or look for local weekend events that teach kids how to grow food.
10. Visit a Farmers’ Market
Visiting your local farmers’ market is a great way to encourage summer healthy eating. Kids learn that food isn’t only found in the grocery store and they get to learn about new colorful and delicious varieties of local fruits and vegetables.
Let your kids pick out something new and prepare it together at home which will make they feel empowered and more likely to eat it.