For fourth-grader Amber Niedermeyer, 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.
During the summer, many kids are highly scheduled with sports camps, music camps, summer school, swim team and the like, so families often experience a more relaxed way of eating. 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, relates 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 sometimes find it difficult 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 even not too late to plant a garden to get the kids involved in their own nutrition from seed to table.
Kids Eat Right — a joint effort of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and its Foundation at www.KidsEatRight.org — makes it easier to “shop smart, cook healthy, eat right” through its articles, tips, recipe of the week, and videos, says Dobbins.
“You can watch a video with your child or have them pick out a new kid-friendly and mom-approved recipe to try,” she says. “Some of the tips focus on fun ways to involve your child in shopping or cooking.”
Look to the latest social media craze for other ways to make eating healthy more fun for kids, suggests Dobbins.
“I’ve been getting lots of new ideas lately on Pinterest!” she says.
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 pack in too many extra calories.
• Go out for treats and sweets, rather than having that half-gallon tub 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 taking a break from your healthy eating plan.
Christine Palumbo, RD, is a nutritionist based in Naperville, Ill. 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.
Berry Breakfast Parfaits
Prep Time: Five minutes
Makes four servings (3/4 cup per serving)
2 cups Daisy brand cottage cheese
1/2 cup low-fat granola with no fruit or nuts
2 cups mixed berries such as sliced strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries
4 teaspoons chopped almonds
DIRECTIONS: In four serving dishes, layer 1/4 cup of cottage cheese, 1/8 of the granola, and 1/4 cup of the mixed berries. Repeat the layers in each dish. Top each parfait with 1 teaspoon of almonds. Refrigerate the fruit mixture for two hours before assembling, if desired.
NUTRITION FACTS: 250 calories, 36 g carbohydrate, 17 g protein, 6 g fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 4 g dietary fiber, 423 mg sodium.
Recipe used with permission from www.daisybrand.com.