Summertime is finally here! It’s time to welcome back a relaxed schedule, vacations, ball games, cookouts, swimming, boating and plenty of sun. For kids, it might also mean too much TV, boredom, inactivity and overeating. Did you know the typical child will gain as much weight or more in the three months of summer as they did all school year? This is especially true for those kids at higher risk for obesity.
Following are tips to keep your kids fit and healthy this summer.
Keeping a routine can help kids eat better. Studies show that when we don’t get enough sleep, we tend to eat more, watch more TV and gain more weight. It’s OK to set a later bedtime and let them sleep in a little later than during the school year, but don’t let them stay up too late and sleep all day.
Set regular meal and snack times. Don’t let them skip breakfast or snack nonstop all day long. Even if you aren’t home with them during the day, you can help the kids plan and prepare meals and snacks ahead of time.
Set limits on TV, computer and video games. Screen time really should be limited to no more than two hours a day. Insist that they spend time outdoors. Consider enrolling your kids in a summer camp, sport or other activity to keep them moving. Buy some new, inexpensive toys to encourage outside activity, like a yard sprinkler, Frisbees, soccer balls, a badminton game, hula-hoops or jump ropes.
Fight boredom by giving the kids chores to do. They can be responsible for walking the dog, pulling weeds from the garden or flower beds, vacuuming or sweeping, emptying the dishwasher, folding laundry, keeping their rooms clean or any other small household chores.
Keep high-fat, high-sugar foods and drinks out of the house. Just because it is summer doesn’t mean junk food has to take over. Parents, remember that you are in control of the food selection in the house. Instead of soda, Kool-aid or juice drinks, experiment with making flavored waters by adding fruit to a pitcher of water. Or, use a small amount of 100% fruit juice with some carbonated water for a refreshing drink. Keep refillable bottles of water handy in the fridge. Pre-cut fruits and veggies for quick snacks. Freeze grapes and bananas for a cool treat. Keep popcorn on hand, instead of chips, for a salty snack. For lunches, the kids could use tortillas, instead of bread, for rolled-up sandwiches, or add some refried beans, cheese and salsa for a quick burrito. Another option: spread a tortilla with peanut butter and roll around a banana. Portion size is important, so buying smaller packages of chips, cookies and other treats or portioning them yourself can help limit how much your child eats.
Page 2 of 2 - Keep their brains active, too. Kids can lose months of reading and math skills during summer vacation. Enroll them in a summer camp or reading program. Incorporate regular trips to the library to check out books that challenge their reading level and keep them reading all summer. Test their math skills by having them help read recipes and cook; or help plan a road trip on a map. Have them write real letters to grandparents or keep a journal of their summer activities. Some computer games can help kids keep their skills sharp during the summer, as well.
Summer is a time for kids to enjoy just being kids. But, we don’t want them to start off on the wrong foot in the fall by letting them gain too much weight or not helping them keep their skills sharp during the summer. A little planning now will help ensure a happy, healthy school year this fall.
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.