Beyond popsicles: Healthy summer eating tips


While “summertime food” may conjure images of hot dogs and ice cream, summer is actually the perfect time to increase your family’s intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Whether they’re cannonballing into the pool, building sandcastles, riding bikes or scaling jungle gyms, fun in the sun makes kids ravenous. So take advantage of that hunger. When they need to refuel, make sure that fuel is full of nutrients.

What to serve
When you’re planning a day of outdoor activities, food and snacks should be healthy, filling and easy to prepare. Replace bags of chips with nutrient-packed fare, such as:

  • Fruits and vegetables: Cut-up or whole cucumbers, nectarines, peaches, apricots or grapes (for children under 5, make sure to slice them into quarters) are easy, fun treats. And nothing says “summer” like watermelon chunks (check your local supermarket for pre-cut watermelon for grab-on-the-go convenience). Just don’t forget to wash any produce you purchase.
  • Whole grain snacks: Whole-wheat pretzels, crackers or even dry cereal are easy, filling and kid-friendly snacks.
  • Protein-rich foods: Hard-boiled eggs, tuna fish and nuts are foods that don’t require much preparation and will give your kids the energy they need.
  • Water, water, and more water: Don’t forget to take plenty of water for drinking – and stay away from sugary drinks, which may make kids even thirstier.

Do the food math
“Healthy living” is about more than choosing the right snacks – it’s also about making healthy lifestyle choices part of your family’s routine. A helpful way to remember the ingredients for a healthy lifestyle is by using “5-2-1-0 blast off”:

  • 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day: Your child’s plate should be half fruits/vegetables, one-quarter high-protein foods and one-quarter whole grains.
  • 2 hours or less of recreational screen time
  • 1 hour or more of physical activity per day
  • 0 servings of sweetened beverages like soda, juice and sports drinks

Healthy eating: It’s all in the family
If you’re committed to making healthy eating part of your family’s lifestyle, how can you make that resolution stick?

  • Do as I do: Model healthy eating yourself. You are your children’s best role model. If children see their moms and dads being active and eating fruits and whole grains, they are more likely to do the same.
  • Make it accessible: When healthy treats are available, your children will more likely to eat them. It’s easiest to control their junk food intake when those types of food are simply not in reach.
  • Get them involved: Have your children help choose the fruits and snacks they want. They can get involved in food preparation as well, from planning the menu to chopping a salad.
  • Treats are still OK! Does healthy eating mean saying goodbye to summer staples like funnel cakes at the state fair or a bucket of fried chicken for your picnic? It doesn’t have to if you turn them into special-occasion treats and not everyday fare.

If you would like to talk to a pediatric expert about your child’s health, contact the primary and urgent care specialists at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. To learn more about preventing childhood obesity and managing the health needs of overweight children and teens, visit the UCLA Fit for Healthy Weight Program.

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