Many are surprised to learn that kids are at risk for packing on an unhealthy number of pounds during the summer break. 

In fact, data from national surveys indicate children’s body mass index can increase nearly twice as fast during the summer months as compared to the school year. 

Findings from these reports also show children of certain demographics -- mainly Hispanic and African-American-- are most prone to putting on weight when school is out. 

Marie Roth, registered dietitian for Blythedale Children’s Hospital and Kohl’s Eat Well, Be Well program offers parents some healthy summer tips:

Keep meal and snack times consistent

  • Schedule meals around the same time each day and offer healthy snacks in between to tide kids over to the next meal. When school routines and mealtime schedules go out the window, kids tend to “graze” or nibble on foods all day — often on processed “junk” foods — taking in significantly more calories than they normally would.  Constant nibbling can cause kids to lose touch with their body’s internal hunger and satiety cues. As much as possible, have set meal and snack times and encourage water only in-between.
  • Be sure to stock up on healthy foods.  Kids can’t eat or drink empty calories that aren’t there. Naturally low in calories, fruits and vegetables contain lots of water and fiber which can make us feel fuller on much fewer calories.  Aim for a minimum of 5 servings each day or fill half your plate at meals with fruits and vegetables.  Meals should be made from wholesome foods such as whole grains, beans, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats such as olive, avocados, nuts, seeds and olive oil.
  • Fast foods should be eaten no more than once monthly.  Sweets or treats should be eaten can be eaten occasionally, but in moderation. When eating things like ice cream, cookies and chips, it’s a good idea to not eat from the bag or container, which can lead to eating larger portions and extra calories. Instead, serve a small portion on a small plate or cup. Always eat meals and snacks at the table and away from the TV or computer to promote more mindful eating.

Think before you drink

  • Hydration is important in the summer heat. Plain water is the best choice. Kids should be drinking mostly water throughout the day and milk at mealtimes.  Kids do not need juice, and instead should eat whole pieces of fruit.  When serving juice, be sure to serve only 100% juice.
    Also follow these recommended limits:

             - up to 6 months old: no juice at all
             - 6-12 months old: no more than 2-4 ounces per day, always served in a cup
             - 1-6 years old: no more than 4-6 ounces of juice per day
             - 7-18 years old: no more than 8 ounces of juice per day

  • Avoid sugar sweetened drinks.  Recent studies suggest the more sugary beverages a person has each day, the more calories he or she takes in later in the day. This is the opposite of what happens with solid food. When we eat high calorie meals, we tend to take in fewer calories at a later meal. This compensatory effect doesn’t seem to be present after consuming soft drinks.
  • Choose sports drinks only with intense and continuous exercise greater than 60-90 minutes accompanied with heavy sweating. Sports drinks combine water with vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes — substances that help regulate body processes that are lost with excessive sweating. But these drinks are unnecessary for ordinary, everyday activities and normal bouts of exercise. They also contain added sugars or artificial sweeteners and offer little nutrition for the calories. Sugary beverages slow down fluid absorption by the body and make us feel thirsty again soon after.

Maintain proper sleep schedules

  • It’s fine to let the kids stay up a little late occasionally during the summer break, but implementing a bedtime and healthy sleep routine is important. Recent studies suggest late nights and inadequate sleep, even just 1 hour, play a role in weight gain by increasing the production of cortisol, a stress hormone that triggers weight gain in the abdominal area, while decreasing the production of leptin, a hormone know for regulating the appetite--which can lead to increased hunger and snacking.  It’s best to set bedtimes and wake-up times close to what they are during the school year. Young, school-aged children need 10-12 hours of sleep, and adolescents and teens require 8-10 hours each night.

Avoid the lazy days of summer

  • Limit long bouts of leisure activities that are sedentary and look for more fun ways to be active. Take screen breaks and go for a quick walk, bike ride or play a sport for 20-30 minutes every few hours. Kids need a minimum of 60 minutes of exercise daily. Breaking up the sedentary activity is sometimes more feasible than trying to do build in several hours at once. Keep in mind the recommended screen time limit is two hours per day. If it’s too hot outside, consider getting out early or at dusk when the temperatures are more tolerable or find a cool water activity to do like water balloons, sprinklers, the local swimming pool or a day trip to the beach.
  • Give them chores. Yard or household tasks like sweeping, vacuuming, laundry, dishes, changing sheets, meal prep or washing the car offer kids a great way not only to learn life skills, contribute to the family, and burn energy while they’re at it.

Plan ahead for travel, day trips and summer activities

  • Eating healthy on the road and while vacationing can be a challenge. While traveling, instead of hitting the snack bar or spending the week grabbing fast foods, funnel cakes, ice creams, chips and sodas--try packing a small cooler full of healthy options like sandwiches on whole-grain bread, cut up vegetables, cold pieces of fruit, and water for the car ride, beach days or swim club. 
  • Heading out for a picnic or BBQ?  Make sure to include lots of fruits and veggies which contain lots of water and fiber that help us feel full on fewer calories. Watermelon, fresh berries, corn on the cob, a fresh tomato salad, or grilled veggie kebabs are typically a hit with all ages.  Remember, treats can be part of summer’s fun, but they should be eaten in moderation.



Kohl's Eat Well, Be Well Program

Blythedale Children's Hospital, through the generosity of Kohl’s Department Stores, is proud to offer Blythedale and Kohl's Eat Well, Be Well, an innovative outreach program designed to bring health and nutrition education to schools throughout Westchester and Putnam counties. Through this program, Blythedale staff members teach healthy eating habits to children by providing curricula, training and educational tools to school districts throughout the area. The program provides general nutrition guidelines to students, parents and school faculty. Blythedale Children's Hospital offers experts in nutrition and health-education to speak with local parenting groups, PTAs and school personnel.

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