For kids in elementary school, summer can have a negative impact on health. Factors such as less structure, higher access to unhealthy foods and a lack of physical activity are among reasons the body mass index, or BMI, for some kids can shoot up higher than others when compared to the normal school year, the National Summer Learning Academy says.
While school-free summer schedules can make healthy eating challenging, fortunately, there are ways to curb the trend. Modeling behavior is key, says Jenny Cook, a research dietitian for Wayne State University Pediatric Weight Management Center.
"Parents might be working or have their own routine during the school year," Cook says, "and when school is out, kids are left without a plan."
Here's some advice on getting that plan in gear for your family.
5-4-3-2-1 Go! guide to eating
To create better habits, try a few simple daily rules of thumb from the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children, or CLOCC. Its handy 5-4-3-2-1 Go! guide, which you can download as a one-page PDF, offers five quick tips – one for each number.
For "5," that's the number of servings of fruits and veggies kids should have. Fresh or frozen, whole or cut-up – any of these works! Keep enough around for snacks, and choose them over juice, which has more added sugar.
Water servings is "4"; try giving kids a water bottle to track their intake, and keep a pitcher of it out during dinner, CLOCC suggests. The "3" is low-fat dairy servings (for instance: an eight-ounce cup of low-fat or skim milk or yogurt).
Number "2"? "Limit their screen time to two hours or less per day," explains Dr. Wendy Miller, director of the Healthy Kids Program at Beaumont Hospital. That applies to TV, computer time, smartphones and sedentary video games.
And finally, make sure kids get "1" hour or more of physical activity – whether it's walking, running, skipping, jumping or dancing. Space them throughout the day, CLOCC recommends, and consider organized group or individual athletic options, too.
Meal plan notes
"Breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack," suggests Miller of a basic eating pattern. "Use snack time as opportunities to give them healthy nutrition that the majority of children are not getting enough of – which is fruits and vegetables."
Want to figure out more specifically what your kids' food intake – and ideal amount of exercise – should be? ChooseMyPlate.gov offers individualized meal planning based on your kids' needs (or yours!).
Its SuperTracker option is designed to help create a meal plan and calorie limit. You can create a profile with your personal information, including age, weight, height and gender, and get solid guidelines.
For example, check out this profile for a 6-year-old boy of average weight and height who's active less than 30 minutes a day. A color-coded chart breaks down the amount of grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy and protein he needs to reach his 1,400 calorie goal – and offers lots of helpful tips to help mom and dad help get him there.
Of course, it's also valuable to see a family health care provider who can help track changes and goals, the SuperTracker site adds, to ensure you're meeting your child's health needs safely and correctly.
And, for families where cost is a challenge, explore the Michigan Double Up Food Bucks program. This option lets eligible families with Bridge Cards get tokens to buy state-grown fruits and vegetables at southeast Michigan farmers markets.
"By making smart choices and using your resources as best you can, eating healthy is definitely manageable," Cook says.
Turkey, spinach and apple wrap recipe
To get your kids eating right this summer, try Cook's quick and healthy recipe. It makes two servings and checks in at 234 calories per serving. Hint: Make them in advance for a grab-and-go option.
- 1 Tbsp. low-fat mayonnaise
- 2 tsp. honey mustard
- 2 whole wheat tortillas or wraps
- 2 cups (washed and dried) baby spinach leaves or other leafy green lettuce
- 4 thin slices turkey breast (4 oz.)
- 1/4 Granny Smith apple, sliced thin
- Mix mayonnaise and mustard in a small bowl. Lay out wraps. Spread the edges of each with the mayonnaise mixture. Arrange the spinach on tortilla, leaving the edge closest to you without spinach.
- Split the turkey between the two wraps, spreading it over the spinach. Repeat with the apple slices, spreading evenly over the turkey. Roll the tortilla as tightly as possible. Cut in half, at an angle. Cover each wrap and refrigerate, seam-side down, until ready to eat.