Parents Perspective

Must Summertime Be a Food Free-for-All?

shutterstock_224195491
That's what I'm wondering these days. It's only been two weeks since school ended, but I feel as though I've lost some control over what my daughters, 6 and 9, are eating. We start their day off with a decent breakfast and pack them lunch for camp each day, but we're up against so many other outside factors: impromptu snacks and dessert at a neighbor's, late nights at swim meets (plus swim-meet bake sales), camp snacks, the lure of the snack bar at the pool, our own stops for ice cream after the beach, not to mention our weekend road trips and upcoming vacation.

Brian Tanzer, of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs at the Vitamin Shoppe, has been there. As a certified nutrition specialist and dad of two daughters, ages 5 and 11, he's more than qualified to give advice on how to stop the insanity. Among his tips:

Balance food, fun, and exercise. Tanzer suggests striking a deal like having the kids play outside, actively, for an hour, in exchange for a trip to get ice cream or off to the carnival.

When going out for a treat, manage your kids' expectations. Ice cream or FroYo? How many toppings--if any? Are any off-limits? (For my kids, it's gummies. Cold gummies can't possibly even taste good!)

Set snack times and stick to them. In my house, this will work better on weekends than on weekdays. But on weekdays I'll try to keep snack time at least an hour before dinner. My kids have been snacking way too close to mealtime, which makes them even less inclined to try something new.

At the grocery store, let your kids pick out five healthy snacks and one "splurge" snack for the week. I have to be careful not to refer to that one as the "fun" snack (or let my kids call it the "good" snack).

Make fresh fruit the default. If you've got young kids who aren't as inclined to reach for fruit, cut it up in fun shapes to boost the novelty factor. And try ones they may not have eaten before, such as kiwi.

Offer ice pops instead of ice cream. Still no bargain, as far as sugar is concerned, but fewer fat and calories.

Even better, whip up a smoothie. One of Tanzer's go-to recipes can either be blended, or--and I love this idea--poured into an ice tray. When frozen, you can put the cubes in a plastic cup and bring it to the beach!

     Summer Hydrator  Combine 2 cups coconut water, 1 cup organic cherry/grape juice, 1 tbsp raw honey, and a dash of sea salt. For a smoothie, add ice cubes and blend.

Our very own food editor, Jenna Helwig, has a brand-new book of awesome recipes, called Smoothie-licious. In this post she shares four secrets to better smoothies.

Kara Corridan is Parents' health director. She's sure to figure this summer-food thing out by Labor Day.

Image: Baby with ice cream via Shutterstock.

Healthy Snacks: Why Kids Need to Snack