Whether your family’s summer routine involves lounging under a shaded tree with a slice of juicy watermelon or grabbing a snack before racing off to the next summertime activity, seasonal fruits and vegetables are an obvious and healthy choice for snacks and lunches. The challenge is getting your kids to gravitate toward the healthy foods and not the salty or sweet stuff.
Amy Moyer, a registered dietician and personal trainer, says the easiest way to encourage kids to eat healthy is to have nutritious foods easily accessible and within children’s reach.
“Lay out healthy snacks on the counter top so they aren’t having to dig around in the cabinets,” she suggests. “Have a basket of healthy granola bars, cereal bars right there on the counter top for them to just come and grab. Cut up fruits and vegetables and put them in ready-made little snack bags in the refrigerator right at their eye level.”
Just how often should children be snacking? Moyer says it’s completely normal and recommended for kids to snack every two to three hours. The challenge is getting kids to snack on healthy foods rather than the less nutritious foods that they see on TV.
A recent study found children in the U.S. get about 27 percent of daily calories from snacking on salty, fatty and sugary foods. The study published in the journal Health Affairs found children today are consuming more snacks than children did in the late 1970s and they are snacking more on candy, crackers, pretzels, dessert foods and sweet drinks.
“It is important to avoid high sugar, high fat, salty snacks like potato chips or candy bars since they cause a quick energy increase followed by a crash and contribute to weight gains,” says Melissa Halas-Liang, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the California Dietetic Association. “Choose foods that are easily recognized as whole foods – ones without a long list of ingredients. Be sure to include fruits, veggies and beans for their health promoting properties. You choose what is in the pantry; keep the junk food out of stock and the kids will keep it out of mind.”
Fortunately, summertime makes it easy to incorporate fruits and vegetables into kids’ diets with seasonal foods such as peaches, strawberries, blueberries, asparagus, corn and tomatoes readily available.
Some healthy snack suggestions include:
- Yogurt with fresh seasonal fruit
- A handful of trail mix
- Fresh cucumber slices with low-fashion ranch dressing or balsamic vinaigrette
- Bake blue corn tortilla chips with melted low fat mozzarella and salsa
- 100% Whole grain crackers with reduced fat gouda or string cheese
- 100% fruit smoothie pops. Make your favorite smoothies and freeze in Dixie cups.
- Granola bars
Suggestions for great summertime lunches:
- Nitrate-free turkey with tomato, lettuce, provolone, low fat mayo and mustard on 100% whole wheat bread with a side salad.
- Egg salad, made with yellow mustard and a small amount of low fat mayo, chopped celery and chopped carrots.
- 95% lean turkey burger or meatless garden burger served with avocado slices, tomato and lettuce.
- Wraps: 100% corn or whole wheat tortilla wraps with roasted red peppers (fresh or from a jar), low-fat havarti, hummus and lettuce; or fill wraps with leftover chicken from dinner, add veggies and a flavorful dressing; tortilla pizzas can be topped with low fat cheese and every veggie imaginable –olives, mushrooms, spinach, etc.
- Bean salad: corn, black beans, chopped tomato, cilantro and dressing.
And what do you do if you have a picky eater who is reluctant to try new foods or a child who’s not crazy about fruits and vegetables?
“If trying new foods is a problem, try different approaches. Never force your child to eat something they do not want to eat,” say Halas-Liang. “As a family evaluate the colors of your diet. See which colors are missing and have your children choose some foods from that color group.”
Halas-Liang recommends mixing the new food with something they like such as chopped granny smith apples and low fat ranch dressing.
But despite how many creative ways you present vegetables to your child, many kids may still want and ask for foods that are high in salt and sugar, especially with the amount of messages they hear from the media about certains foods that have little to no nutritional value.
“Parents can help combat these messages by discussing with kids the good and bad messages they receive about foods,” says Halas-Liang. “By teaching kids which foods give them long lasting energy, good skin and hair, kids learn healthy foods help them grow strong. Letting kids know they have a choice to choose foods is important. When children do choose healthy, kids need to hear credit for a job well done.”
Keeping your child healthy is a challenge in today’s culture, which is why First Lady Michelle Obama is creating a unified front in the battle against child obesity. Her Let’s Move is a multi-pillar approach is to get kids to eat healthier and to exercise more. The ambitious program focuses on four main areas: empowering parents and caregivers with information on nutritional choices, increasing physical activity, improving access to affordable, healthy food and providing healthy food in schools.
The goal is to decrease the rate of childhood obesity to five percent by 2030, which was the rate before childhood obesity first began to rise in the late 1970s.
“For the first time, the nation will have goals, benchmarks, and measureable outcomes that will help us tackle the childhood obesity epidemic one child, one family, and one community at a time,” the First Lady said. “We want to marshal every resource – public and private sector, mayors and governors, parents and educators, business owners and health care providers, coaches and athletes – to ensure that we are providing each and every child the happy, healthy future they deserve.”
A wealth of nutritional information can be found on the campaign’s site at www.letsmove.gov.