Now that final school bells have rung, parents are tasked with filling the tummies of youngsters during the day.
It can be a challenge, said Gina Dolenti, a registered dietician at Gundersen Lutheran’s Nutrition Therapy Department, especially because parents are used to the routine of schools providing meals.
Parents could take the easy way out and serve quick, sugary and not-so-healthy foods, but children will be happier if you choose healthier options, said Jennifer Loging, registered dietitian at the La Crosse County Health Department.
“You feel better if you eat healthier,” she said. “By eating candy and other junk foods, they miss the vitamins and minerals they need.”
It can seem hard at first to map out some quick, healthy meals, Loging said.
“But it doesn’t have to be with some practice and planning,” she said. “Summer is a good time for healthy snacks because of fresh produce available.”
Here are some tips to help:
The extra work doesn’t have to weigh the schedule down each day. Pack the week’s lunches and snacks on Sunday nights.
Use plastic bags or small containers to store sliced fruits, vegetables or treats such as peanut butter, celery and raisins.
Keep a sleeve of whole-wheat bread and lean meat for a quick lunch. Stack on some spinach or other vitamin-rich vegetables.
Create a drawer where children can pick their own healthy snack between meals.
“If healthy stuff is there, they won’t reach for the unhealthy,” Loging said.
Focus more on carbohydrates and protein to keep children fuller for longer, she said. So stock up on things such as bananas and peanut butter.
With the warm weather comes farmers markets and community gardens. Bring the kids along for a day of shopping, and let them choose their own vegetables, Dolenti said. That way they’ll be more willing to give them a try.
Make your own Popsicles by filling ice cube trays with fruit juice.
Put healthy foods at eye level in the fridge. Set out a fruit basket and hide the sugary snacks. It lowers the chance of children seeing the unhealthy choice and helps them decide on their own to make the healthier choice, Loging said.
Do creative things such as fruit kabobs or smoothies to keep their interest.
A sweet treat is OK
Slip in a little sugar or fried food, as long as it’s every now and then, said Dr. Charles Peters, a pediatrician at Mayo Clinic Health System in Onalaska.
“Kids do look forward to some of the special treats that come with summer, like ice cream and fair treats,” he said. “I’m not saying they can’t have that, just in moderation.”
Try to stay away from soda and sports drinks, though. They’re not needed, and milk or water is always a better choice, he said.