Healthy Eating This Summer
The ice cream truck, the pool snack bar, and the ball field concession stand are three rites of summer that children enjoy when the mercury starts to rise and the burgers and dogs begin sizzling on the grill. The only problem is, are we enjoying them a little too much? The U.S. Surgeon General reports that since 1980, the percentage of children who are overweight has nearly tripled. Over 8 million young Americans, or 15 percent of all children, are overweight. New studies suggest that one in four overweight children are already showing early signs of type II diabetes, and sixty percent already have at least one risk factor for heart disease. Often times the summer food that kids like to eat the most are the worst things for them to put into their bodies. Processed foods like prepackaged meats, frozen meals, and fast food are often high in sodium, saturated fat, and loaded with calories from fat. As a rule of thumb, only thirty percent of daily caloric intake should be from fat, and most of the time children are getting a much higher percentage from the food they are eating.
But enough with all of the statistics, how can you help your child eat smarter and stay healthier this summer? Here are a few suggestions that can help ensure your child is getting the nutrition they need. As a parent, it’s important to buy healthy groceries and serve nutritious food to your growing children. Good nutrition for children must start with the parents. Start by leaving the high-fat and high-sugar foods at the store. If you never bring them into the house your kids will be less likely to eat them. Encourage them to drink water instead of soft drinks. Water is cheap, healthy, and can provide the proper hydration for your child on those hot summer days. When it comes to mealtime, try to establish a routine even if it is difficult at first. This means a set time for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Once you have a routine for meals and snacks, children will be on a consistent schedule and less likely to graze on junk food throughout the day. This will also help children become hungry at regular times each day. Also, plan for three meals and two snacks each day. Serve a vegetable or fruit at every meal. Fruits and vegetables are great for snack time as well. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to tell you never to give your kids the foods they love. Just try to apply some new healthy habits when preparing their meals and snacks. For example, if your kids love tacos, try extra lean beef or low fat turkey, instead of overly fatty meat. Use 2 percent cheese and low fat sour cream. Encourage them to add some veggies like lettuce and tomatoes. Also, explain to them why you are using these ingredients, and how they are better for their health. This will allow your children to see that healthy eating is not too difficult and can also taste great.
Let’s don’t forget about physical activity. The average child needs at least sixty minutes of physical activity each day. Parents should encourage children to exercise and participate in a variety of activities and sports. Most kids love to be active and play, sometimes they just need a little encouragement to do so. Urge them to put down the video games and get up off the couch to go outside and enjoy the outdoors. Remember, most of the habits they form when they’re young will likely continue into adulthood.
So there you have it, a few simple tips to help your kids have a happy and healthy summer by eating smart and being physically active. Although these routines may take a little more time and preparation from parents, the health and happiness of your child will be more than worth the extra effort.
Bill Stone is 4-H Youth Development Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.