Help diets get A's

CorrespondentJune 10, 2009 

Traditional-calendar school is out. For kids and teens, that means days will be less structured for the next few months.

Diets may go on vacation, too.

Over extended breaks, it's easy for kids to fall away from their usual eating routines and into a pattern of haphazard meals and snacks. That can cause the quality of their diets to suffer and make it harder to control weight.

This summer, they can apply simple strategies to keep control of their diets at the same time they enjoy the freedoms summer brings. Some good ways to start:

Keep breakfast simple but take the time to eat it. Convenient, low-calorie foods to have on hand include dry cereal, nonfat milk or soymilk, nonfat yogurt and fresh fruit.

With these staples, you can add more variety by layering sliced fruit or dry cereal such as granola with yogurt to make breakfast parfaits. Or mix milk, fruit, yogurt and ice cubes in a blender to make a smoothie.

Simple, light, cool and quick. These foods are nutritious ways to start the day without adding excessive calories, sodium, sugar or saturated fat.

Stock your kitchen with ready-to-eat lunch materials. Start with whole wheat bread and tomatoes for slicing. Keep an airtight container in the refrigerator filled with cut-up veggies for dipping into low-fat salad dressing.

Chips and salsa and simple salads such as coleslaw, tossed salad and pasta salad make good sides to accompany a summer tomato sandwich. Frozen bean burritos and veggie burger patties are other good choices that take only two minutes to heat in a microwave oven.

Stick with regular supper times. Make time for evening meals but make them lighter and quicker to prepare. Sandwiches, soups and salads are ideal.

Maintaining a regular schedule of meals each day can help keep kids from falling into a pattern of grazing on low-nutrition snack foods or getting too hungry and eating impulsively.

Set up snacks. Kids will eat what you have on hand, so make sure that your fridge and cupboards are filled with things you'll be glad they ate. In summer, that means lots of seasonal fruits such as cantaloupe and watermelon, and fresh veggies.

Other ways to support good health this summer:

Get out of the house. Limit TV and computer time to the hottest times of day. Spend mornings and evenings swimming, riding bikes, walking dogs, playing tennis or helping out in the yard.

For families, plan activities that emphasize physical activity outdoors rather than sedentary activities inside the house. Go canoeing, take a hike or walk dogs at the animal shelter instead of sitting in front of the television set or computer.

Have the kids help with meals. Take advantage of the extra time and include them in shopping for groceries and planning and fixing meals.

Children are more likely to eat foods they've had a hand in making. Encouraging kids to prepare their own meals -- or to help fix family meals -- builds self-esteem and independence, too.

Give yourself a reading assignment. When you do have some downtime, build your food and nutrition IQ with a good book or two. For those who have already read Marion Nestle's book, "Food Politics," you may be interested in her latest book, "Pet Food Politics" (University of California Press, 2008).

This summer, don't put your health goals on ice.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a licensed, registered dietitian. Send questions and comments to suzanne@onthetable.net.

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