Avoid lazy, grazing days

How to keep kids eating healthfully when school's out for summer

How to keep kids eating healthfully when school's out for summer

June 02, 2006|by KRISTIN WILSON

From a child's perspective, summer vacation is about letting loose, having some fun and getting to do all of those things that are against the rules during the school year.

Going to bed late, sleeping in, watching too much TV and eating too much junk food are the ideal foundation for a good summer break, most kids will tell you. But when it comes to food, nutrition and eating habits, it's best not to throw all structure and rules out the window when the kids are home from school, nutritionists and pediatricians say.

If kids have free reign over the kitchen and snack all day, and if they have unlimited time to sit in front of the television, computer or video games, summer vacation can lead to weight gain, says Dr. Lisa Chamberlain, a clinical instructor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine.

"If children previously were in PE, playing after-school sports, etc., all of that is gone" once summer vacation hits, she says. "So there is a potential to increase their screen time ... and screen time increases your sedentary time."


Chamberlain, who practices at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Stanford, Calif., says it's important that parents establish firm rules about how much time children are allowed to spend playing video games, watching television or videos, or using the computer.

One way to keep kids from raiding the pantry or refrigerator during summer break is to keep them busy, adds Tammy Thornton, a registered dietitian and nutrition/wellness services coordinator with the Washington County Health Department. Mindless snacking often occurs when kids are lounging around the house with their favorite media.

Help kids find opportunities to get out of the house and play or participate in some kind of athletic activity. Children also might be given summer jobs to help around the house, suggests Thornton.

The following are additional tips for families making the adjustment to a summer vacation food schedule:

  • Set rules for the kitchen. Based on a child's age, set rules for what equipment they can use in the kitchen. Stoves and microwaves might be off-limits until kids are older, so plan their meals accordingly.

  • Keep a snack shelf in the pantry and in the refrigerator. Managing what children eat can be particularly problematic for parents who are not home to supervise lunch and snack times.

    Thornton and Chamberlain suggest keeping the kitchen stocked with healthful, nutritious, easy-to-prepare options.

    "Create an area in the refrigerator that is a snack area," Chamberlain says. Make sure there are a variety of choices such as dried fruits, nuts, peanut butter, popcorn, pretzels, fresh fruit and vegetables, yogurt and low-fat cheese.

  • Allow choice. For at-home summertime lunches, give kids choices. Show them how to make sandwiches, heat up leftover pizza or blend their own smoothie. If kids can pick what they want to eat, they might be more inclined to choose a variety of food groups instead of eating snack foods as their main lunch.

    "You've really got to think of things that they can pull out of the refrigerator and eat," Thornton says.

  • Keep all eating at the table. "It's really important to teach kids that when they are eating, they're not playing games or reading a book," Thornton says. "If they are eating, they are mindfully sitting at the table and enjoying the meal."

    Don't let table rules slide during the summer months, she says. Kids are more likely to eat more if they are munching while watching TV, and they might develop habits of getting a snack every time they sit down to watch a show.

  • Minimize sugary drinks. "Soda should be an exception rather than the rule," Chamberlain says. Make sure kids have plenty of beverages to choose from that are sugar-free. If kids don't regularly go for water, dry some of the flavored water drinks or sugar-free drinks such as iced tea.

  • Be a good role model. Model the kind of food habits you want your kids to have, Chamberlain suggests. If parents snack on cookies or chips, they can't expect kids to choose fresh fruits and veggies.

"It's important for parents to take inventory of what the family is eating," she says. "This is a family issue."

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