Summer break has always been unstructured compared to the school year. That remains true today, but what students are doing with that free time has changed significantly in recent years. Instead of using their summer vacation to play outside with friends or participate in physical activities, many students want to fill their free moments in front of electronic devices—and all of the inactivity that entails. Coupled with readily available (and appealing) junk food, children can gain weight up to three times faster than during the school year. Research also shows that children lose the fitness gains made during the school year.
The good news? There are plenty of ways to counter these risks and work with students to instill healthy eating and exercise habits over the summer! Read on for five tips on how to help the children in your life have a fun, active, and nutritious summer and build positive habits that will continue to pay dividends in the future!
1. Talk about nutrition
The old adage is true—knowledge is power! Make nutrition an ongoing conversation. Tell children why it’s so important to eat healthy foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and low-fat dairy options. Tell them about the specific vitamins and nutrients in these foods and what those vitamins and nutrients do to keep their bodies working and strong. Don’t be afraid to have fun with these conversations—after all, a glass of milk becomes much more appealing when it’s “bone juice,” right? The USDA’s MyPlate Kids Place has great nutrition info if you need some resources to get started.
2. Aim for 60 minutes
The Surgeon General recommends that children should engage in 60 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week. Make that number a goal and stick to it! It’s not difficult with a little creativity. Try exploring a new park or nature preserve, pick up some throw-back toys like jump ropes or hula hoops, get your children gardening (and eating their own fresh veggies!), or try a new water activity like paddle boarding. There are also numerous summer camps for children who are interested in trying a sport or particular outdoor activity – your local YMCA or park board is a great place to start your search for a camp like this.
3. Indulge . . . moderately!
Let’s be honest—it wouldn’t be summer without delicious treats like ice cream at the beach or s’mores around an evening campfire. There is no reason to deprive children (or yourself!) of these favorites completely—in fact, doing so can increase cravings and lead to less healthy eating habits in the long term. The key is moderation. Make treats like these an actual treat, reserved for special occasions, like parties or vacations. There are also lots of tasty, refreshing summer treats that are fruit based if you’re looking for healthier alternatives.
4. Be a health role model
Children pay closer attention to the adults around them than we often realize. If children watch the adults in their life engage in different healthy forms of exercise and activity and enjoy a variety of fresh, nutritious foods, that behavior will be the norm for them. In turn, they will be that much more likely to pick up similar healthful habits themselves.
It’s no secret that electronics are distracting. They are ever present in today’s world, and adults are just as guilty as children of getting sucked into games, videos, TV, and social sites on their computers and mobile devices for hours on end. That makes it important to set a true cap on screen time. Determine a set amount of time allowed on various devices and stick to it. Once children have hit that time limit, direct them toward a different activity that gets them up, moving, and away from a screen—after all, isn’t being active what summer break is about?
Looking for resources on how to get your students and children thinking about healthy habits this summer? Check out these engaging EducationCity activities that celebrate National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month and that teach kids about the importance of healthful food choices!