Madison, Wis. — While we may all look forward to the break from the school-year rush that summer brings, the sudden decrease in activity may set the stage for children to gain weight. That was the finding of research published in the American Journal of Public Health which showed that kids often put on added pounds during the summer. The study attributes the weight gains to kids’ lack of physical activity and too much eating between meals.
Betsy Kelley, outreach specialist with Cooperative Extension’s Family Living Programs, has some suggestions for parents who are concerned about maintaining their children’s healthy weight when school is out.
“Encourage your kids to get outside and be active, and watch what foods are available at home,” says Kelley.“Weight gain in children and adults is a matter of calories in vs. calories out.”
Balance – or lack of balance – is often related to portion size, Kelley says. Even though small containers of yogurt or individual serving packages of applesauce or pretzels may cost more, they can help with portion control. “Parents can make up small baggies or containers of snack foods and limit how many are available,” Kelley says. “Preventing kids from eating directly from a large bag or box of anything – even healthier snack foods – is another way to help keep portions in control.”
Drinks provide more calories than most people realize, says Kelley. Keep sugary, sweetened juice, soda and sports drinks out of the house. Research at the University of California-Berkeley Center for Weight and Health confirms that plain water will keep most kids hydrated, even in summer. Leave some filled, reusable bottles of water in the fridge.
“Stop at farm stands when the kids are in the car, and let them choose fresh fruits or vegetables for snacks,” says Kelley. “Stop often and buy a little each time, so fresh produce stays really fresh and kids stay excited about the produce they choose.”
Keep fresh fruit and veggies cut up in the refrigerator in see-through containers or plastic bags. Keep them visible-don’t let them get lost in the lower bins.
What about those summer staples—popsicles, ice cream and frozen treats? “Nobody says parents have to take away all the fun summer foods,” says Kelley. “Just realize that they have sugar and many frozen treats have a lot more calories than you expect.” Let kids choose one special treat rather than a boxful, she advises. Or encourage them to make their own. Frozen fruit smoothies with 100 percent juice, frozen fruit and low-fat ice cream parfaits, or homemade frozen juice treats with a spoon stuck in a paper cup are tasty, easy-to-make and healthier. More tips on cutting back on sweet treats are available from the USDA at www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/downloads/TenTips/DGTipsheet13CutBackOnSweetTreats.pdf .
Another thing that can help is to give kids a regular routine when school is out. Make sure summer days have some structure; for example, getting up at the same time each day and eating meals at set times. Remind kids to eat breakfast. Especially if they are home alone, discourage kids from continuous snacking by leaving easy-to-prepare meals for lunch and limiting “snack food” choices.
What should you leave for kids’ lunch when they’re home alone? Kelley suggests:
–Whole wheat bread and sandwich fixings, including pre-cut veggies.
–Leftovers from last night’s supper, including salad.
–Cold pasta, potato or tuna salads, made with lots of veggies.
–Fresh, cut-up vegetables with dip.
–Corn-on-the-cob, husked and ready to go in the microwave.
–Fruit salad made with summer fruit in season.
–Yogurt, granola and fruit for yogurt parfaits; yogurt and fruit for smoothies.
–Make a “burrito kit:” tortillas, refried beans, salsa, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes. The leftover tortillas can be used to make roll-ups with hummus and veggies or peanut butter and bananas.
–Hard-boiled eggs, string cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese–cold foods are more appealing on a hot day and don’t require cooking. These foods all have some protein, which will help kids feel full longer and hopefully decrease snacking later.
To help kids choose the things you want them to eat, quietly buy less of the things you don’t want them to eat. Skip the frozen pizza, frozen meals and prepared foods. Buy less “food in a box,” like macaroni and cheese, rice mixes, and pasta meals. Replace big bags of chips and cookies with smaller packages of lower fat, lower salt snacks. Institute a policy of “when it’s gone, it’s gone,” so kids don’t eat all the snack food the day after you shop–or if they do, they understand the consequences.
Summer doesn’t have to mean weight gain–it can be a time for kids to enjoy fresh foods and make some healthy choices, when parents make those choices available.
To learn more about ways to eat well and be more active, contact your local county UW-Extension office at http://yourcountyextensionoffice.org.