Extremely large breakfast, snack, snack, lunch, 2nd lunch, popsicle, snack, 4 course dinner, dessert, snack, and snack. Does this sound like something out of a Hobbit movie or is this your reality now that summer vacation has officially kicked off? For some of you this has been a reality since your kiddos didn't go back to school after spring break due to the pandemic. Thank you very much, COVID-19. That summer mentality started early since most kids and parents heard the words “distance learning."
Normally summers mean ballparks, festivals, cookouts, water parks, theme parks, and everything in between. However, these aren’t our reality this summer even as Texas begins to open things back up stage by stage. One thing that is universal and will not get shut down this summer is the essential necessity of eating. Let's admit it; summertime has some of the best foods but not necessarily the healthiest and as parents we still need to focus on our children’s nutrition just like during the school year. So the question remains; can kids eat healthily and still enjoy their favorite summertime foods? The answer is yes, if you manage it right.
For summertime here are three basic rules that can help you with this goal:
● Yes, you can still let them eat sweets! It is important to treat sweets like any other food; it’s okay to have a little bit each day. This is how you teach your kids to have a healthy relationship with sweets.
● During the summertime make sure they stay active and burn off those calories. If your child does go for an unhealthy choice when you are at a cookout like something sugary or fried, it's okay. You don’t want to deprive them; just increase their activity level that day or week.
● Set a good example. Let your kids see you eating healthy foods or “healthier” versions of their favorite food. Research shows when kids see their parents eat healthy foods, the kids are more likely to follow suit and eat healthy foods as well. As I have said before, if you eat them, your kids will eat them.
Let's go ahead and tackle some healthier versions of your kids’ favorite summertime foods.
This being Texas and all I can start by acknowledging the fact that we all love our Tex Mex and Mexican foods. They are always a must but managed right, these foods can be very healthy, too. For example, with quesadillas or nachos, there are so many opportunities to sneak in healthy alternatives. Substitute a wheat or veggie tortilla for a flour one. This goes for chips as well; sub in those multi-grains. Black beans are great for fiber with plenty of veggies, like red or green bell peppers, to choose from. Add chicken for protein. Don’t forget those toppings like low fat cheese or sour cream (or plain greek yogurt works too), salsa with all of its vegetable goodness and the awesome power of omega 3 fats you get from guacamole.
Though Memorial Day is behind us, this still leaves so many crazy, lazy, hazy days of summer to enjoy a good cookout. Hamburgers and hot dogs are always a staple and another opportunity to eat healthily. You can start by switching out 90/10 ground beef for ground chicken or turkey. Add in seasonings and your favorite veggie toppings, then voila, still a delicious and satisfying burger. The same goes for hot dogs. All beef hot dogs are great but you can always switch gears to a turkey or chicken hot dog. Just add in those favorite toppings. You can even sneak in a whole wheat bun for both.
It gets hot in Texas and ice cream is always a great treat to beat the heat. You can still make great choices with this. Ice cream is around 15 grams of fat per ½ cup serving. The great news is that you can still stick with your favorite brands, just swap in their light, slow churned options. Fudge-sickle and Popsicle both have fat free, low fat, and no sugar versions that taste great and still satisfy that sweet tooth.
Let’s not forget about some favorite summer breakfast foods like eggs, pancakes, and waffles. Whether you prefer frozen or homemade, you can use a whole grain version of pancakes or waffles and pair it with berries, bananas, or a light syrup. Eggs are always a great way to start and fuel your day with protein. Scramble them up with a low fat cheese and sneak in some veggies for good measure.
What kid can resist that ooey, gooey goodness of a toasted marshmallow? Four large marshmallows typically contain 90 calories but you can even give them a healthy boost by making a fun fruit kabob with fruits like pineapple and strawberries. Now I am not overlooking the good ol’ standby of a s’more. Even these can be healthier with a whole grain graham cracker and dark chocolate.
I know theaters are still closed but it doesn't mean you can't give popcorn as a snack to your kids. Mine personally would ask for popcorn every day as a snack if they could. Surprisingly, popcorn counts as a whole grain and whole grains are so important to a child's diet because they keep children from gaining weight. Popcorn even gives you a fiber boost. Air popping is the healthier method since most microwave brands add in extra fat. Do remember moderation is key and watch the portion size you give your kiddo.
I don't know about you but watermelon is king during summer when it comes to fruit. While it is healthy, it still contains sugar. Make sure to throw in other fruits such as cherries, peaches, strawberries, and blueberries. You can even offer a smoothie version with some veggies snuck in. Granted, a child is more likely to eat a piece of fruit versus a vegetable but veggies can still be so good and fun too. You can cut them in fun shapes and give your kids a rainbow of colors to eat. Plus you can entice them with a low fat dip or hummus.
I swear every time you go anywhere whether it's a restaurant, cookout, or a party, the options for kids to drink are always soda, lemonade, or fruit punch. While soda and lemonade do contain added sugar, having them once in a while won't kill your child either. You can always give them an option: would you like a soda or a few cookies later? Let them choose how they spend their daily calories. Of course there are always healthier options like good old H20. That may seem boring to kids so try adding a powdered flavor additive or sparkling water with some fruit juice to make a fun spritzer.
All of these healthy options can help in the summertime battle for your children’s nutrition but one of the best ways to help yourself with this issue this summer is to make healthy eating a family affair by committing to meal times. Children who sit down for family meals even just once a week eat more vegetables and fruits compared to children who have never sat down for a meal with their family.
At the end of the day, fed is always best. You know your child better than anyone. You never have to deprive your child but rather steer them in a healthier direction. Give them the options you would like them to choose from and make it fun. Now if only I had a cure-all for the phrase, “Can I have a snack,” a million times this summer...Unfortunately I don’t, so good luck and Godspeed this summer, mamas.
Jennifer Beckom is mom to five year olds twins Clara and Elizabeth. She is a wife, chef, and child nutritionist. She has served on the board in the past as Secretary and Programs VP for FWMOM.