Julie Upton, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and communications expert specializing in food, nutrition and health, reported in the US News’ Wellness Section that years ago, kids slimmed down during the summer months because they rode bikes, went swimming and generally goofed off all day long. They were active from the time the sun rose until the street lights came on. I was one of those kids.
Today, it’s a much different picture. The average child spends five to seven hours in front of some type of screen like a phone, iPad, TV or other device. They’re also likely to be snacking when viewing digital media. As a result, studies show that young children are piling on pounds.
1. Make sleep a priority.Kids need a lot of sleep – nine to 11 hours is recommended for school-age kids to help them eat right and stay active. A study of 690 school-age kids in Italy reported that those who logged the most sleep were more likely to have a healthy body weight. What’s more, children who adhered to a traditional Mediterranean diet – rich in produce, pasta, olive oil and low in added sugars – were more likely to meet the recommended hours of sleep and be more physically active.
2. Stock up on healthy choices. Children will eat what’s convenient, so make fresh fruit, veggies, low-fat dairy, whole grains and water readily available. “I cut up fruit like watermelon and cantaloupe to pull out when my kids are hungry and we keep a bowl of fruit on the counter. I also put together veggie trays of cut veggies with dip to stash in the fridge,” says Sally Kuzemchak, a registered dietitian who blogs at RealMomNutrition.com.
3. Choose smarter sips. Kids may want to cool off with a refreshing soda, lemonade or milkshake, but sugary beverages are nothing more than liquid candy. A small Sonic Orange Slush packs in 190 calories and 12 teaspoons of sugar – more sugar than most kids should have in an entire day! Plus, mounting research shows that liquid calories don’t provide the same satisfaction as solids, so kids won’t eat less to compensate for all the sugary calories that they drank. “Water is the best solution to keep your child well-hydrated, even if she’s playing a sport,” says Jill Castle, a registered dietitian nutritionist, childhood nutrition expert and creator of The Kids Healthy Weight Project.
4. Limit screen time. Researchers believe that when kids are left to their own devices, they will spend too much time on their devices. Excess screen time is consistently linked to increased risk for obesity, which is why experts recommend limiting screen time to one to two hours a day.
5. Stick to an eating schedule.“Staying on a meal and snack schedule over the summer will help kids experience the real sensations of hunger and fullness,” Castle says. Staying on a meal and snack schedule that is more closely aligned with how your child eats during the school year helps avoid mindlessly munching all day – or skipping meals only to overeat later.