Summer break is nearing which means lots of fun in the sun and a little less routine. As pediatric dietitians we've heard from many families about the the challenges they encounter surrounding health and nutrition when school lets out. Here are some of the common struggles we hear about and some tips for enjoying a healthy summer:
Lack of structure. School schedules naturally create a routine for meal and snack times. With the absence of school routines, meals can become irregular or skipped altogether. This can lead to under-eating, over-eating and mood and behavior changes stemming from hunger. Here are some tips for maintaining structure when it comes to nutrition during the summer months:
Establish a consistent meal and snack schedule during the summer break made up of balanced meal choices.
Let kids know that the pantry is closed between set meal and snack times to limit grazing.
With less consistency to morning and bedtime routines for kids in the summer family meals may be more irregular, but aiming to eat together, ideally the same foods, at least once a day adds structure kids crave.
More access to snacks. Kids who were previously at school during the day are now home more often with access to the pantry, which might mean snacking on more highly processed snack foods.
One thing parents can do to reel this in is to make sure they are the gatekeepers responsible for what foods are available in the house.The best way parents can avoid snack battles is to limit the availability of certain foods in the home by not even buying them at the grocery store. If there are snacks your kids really enjoy try purchasing a single portion or getting them for kids when you're out.
At the same time, parents should make sure there are plenty of nutritious, satisfying snacks available. Our downloadable resource can guide parents on what these snacks could look like.
Lack of physical activity. Depending on where you live, summer temperatures can be extreme, making it difficult to be active outdoors. Here in Austin, the heat plays a big factor in physical activity. Beginning in May it's often too hot to just send the kids outside! On top of that, without the routine of PE class and recess many kids end up moving less when school is out and kids sports often take a hiatus in the summer. Some ways to encourage movement during the summer heat include:
Take a family walk or bike ride first thing in the morning or in the evening.
Water play! Sprinklers, a water table, kiddie pool or even just a tub of water and cups can allow kids to be active outside while staying cool.
Swimming is a great activity for the whole family. Look into local gyms, public pools or the YMCA if you don't have access to a pool where you live.
Seek indoor activities like a trampoline park, rock climbing gym, roller skating, bowling, indoor play spaces, or check out a museum. Depending where you live, many community recreation centers offer open gym and play groups.
Playdates! Kids tend to be more active when they have a pal to play with. Just be sure to have a no screen policy in place during these playdates to encourage more movement.
Chores. With more free time, kids may be tempted to spend more time in front of screens and less time being active. By giving kids a few responsibilities each day they have less time to be be sedentary.
Limit screen time. Screen time, whether it's watching TV, playing video games, or using smartphones or tablets, typically involves sitting or lying down for extended periods. This sedentary behavior reduces opportunities for physical activity. More on this below.
All that free time in the summer might mean more screen time which can often lead to decreased physical activity in children. To promote a healthy balance, it's important to limit screen time and encourage children to engage in a variety of activities. Some things to keep in mind about screen time:
Creating clear boundaries and setting screen time limits can help ensure that children have ample time for active play and maintain a healthy lifestyle. The recommendation is to limit screen time to 2 hours per day.
When children engage in more than 2 hours of screen time per day they are at risk of gaining extra weight due to extra sedentary time and possibly more snacking if they are eating while distracted by the tv.
Screen time can influence behavior by capturing children's attention and making them less inclined to engage in other activities. Parents might get pushback at first, but putting limits on screen time can lead to better outcomes for kids physically, socially and mentally.
By following these tips we hope you have an active, healthy summer! If you need extra guidance this summer consider working one-on-one with a registered dietitian. We offer tele-health appointments from wherever you find yourself this summer! Schedule a complimentary discovery call to find out if we're a good fit for one another.