Kim Painter says that the “lazy days of summer” for many kids in the United States are, unfortunately, just that:
School’s out or about to be out around the nation. In an ideal world — one many adults say they remember — kids would spend the next three months swimming, biking and running around outside. Each evening, they would come home to nutritious family dinners.
In the real world, lots of kids will spend the summer watching more TV, playing more video games and, possibly, getting even less exercise than they do during the school year. Despite the dismal reputation of school food, many will eat junkier diets too.
This really shouldn’t be a surprise. Kids are out of school for more than two months but most parents still need to work. Unless one or both parents can afford to stay at home, a lot of kids are left to fend for themselves, finding things to do and eat on their own during the summer. School breakfasts and lunches, and other relatively inexpensive meal options (like eating at home), give way to potentially more caloric food choices. And the days that parents told their kids to find something to do and be home for dinner are over. Unless kids participate in a structured and supervised activity or sport during the summertime, they’re often going to be less active than during the school year.
Painter borrows some good summer nutrition ideas from dietician Connie Evers’ book “How to Teach Nutrition to Kids”:
• Take kids to the grocery store or farmer’s market and let them pick ingredients for healthy snacks they can make for themselves. Think fruit and yogurt parfaits or easy-to-eat veggies, such as baby carrots, cherry tomatoes and sugar snap peas, with a dip (hummus, guacamole, refried beans or low-fat ranch dressing). Use chips and crackers sparingly.
• Limit road-trip overeating. Pack a cooler with water, milk cartons, vegetables, fruit, string cheese, nut butters and other nutritious on-the-go options.
• Give them choices at dinner. Chop a big selection of ingredients – mushrooms, onions, peppers, eggplant, pineapple, shrimp and chicken – and let kids choose which ones they want on a grilled kabob. Let them choose toppings for fish tacos and pasta too.
• Tell them sugar-sweetened beverages – sodas, lemonade, fruit juice – count as desserts. If it’s time for a treat, she says, tell them “you can have lemonade or ice cream, but you can’t have both.” Popsicles and frozen yogurt count too.
• Give them a patch of garden all their own. Kids love to eat what they grow.
There are lots of farmer’s markets around this time of year. Happy exploring!