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July 1, 2010

Preventing Summertime “Slide”

The Hood Answer Mom, Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.

Summer has been in full swing for just a few weeks, and if your kids are anything like mine, their otherwise healthy eating habits have suddenly taken a vacation, too.

Just about every day, and sometimes more than once, my children actually expect to have foods that they typically eat once in a while during the school year, including chips, soda, lemonade, and French fries. What gives?

I'm convinced that summertime may actually outdo the holiday season for poor nutrition.  The school bell rings for the final time, and kids, and their parents (I am as guilty as the next person!), relax the reigns on healthy eating. But, while it's a struggle, it's really important to offer children healthy foods, and encourage regular physical activity, year-round. 

You would think that summertime is when children are more active and eat better, given the amount of fresh produce that's available.  But research shows that many kids actually gain excess weight during the summer months, probably because they are out of their school-year routine, which may include more exercise and more structured meal and snack times.

Here's what you can do to help your child stay healthy and happy this summer:

• Serve a balanced breakfast every day, whether your child is off to camp, the beach, or his part-time job.  A bowl of whole grain cereal topped with Hood Milk and fruit starts the day off right and keeps kids from clamoring for fatty snacks, like donuts and Danish.

• Snack Smart: Kids get nearly 25% of their calories from mid-meal noshing, so make it count by serving foods that are rich in nutrients. When you're at home, there's even more opportunity to eat. Offer these healthier snacks to your kids:

• Low fat yogurt

• Hummus and vegetables or crackers for dipping

• Trail mix made with ¼ cup each: raisins and whole grain cereal, and 2 tablespoons chopped nuts or sunflower seeds

• Low-fat popcorn

• Half of a sandwich

•  Berry smoothie  

• Plan meals. It's summer and your routine is relaxed, but letting it go too far can have unintended consequences for your child's weight.  When you shop for healthy ingredients for easy summer lunches and dinners, you rely on fewer processed and restaurant foods, which are typically higher in fat and calories than what you would make at home.  Greek Pasta Salad  is one of my all-time no-cook summer favorites. Add leftover chopped, cooked chicken or grilled shrimp and a green salad and you've got a complete meal.

• Allow treats.  There's room for fun foods of all types in your diet, and your child's.  It's OK to have foods like hot dogs, fries and chips as long as you eat healthy foods, including at least three 8-ounce glasses of Hood Milk every day, most of the time.

Elizabeth M. Ward

Elizabeth M. Ward

Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D., is a writer, nutrition consultant, and mother of three. She is the author of several books, including MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better and Expect the Best, Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, & After Pregnancy . Ward is also a contributing writer for Muscle & Fitness Hers and Men's Fitness magazines.

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