Summer is finally here. School is out and it is time to play! I remember this time of my life - looking forward to sleeping in a little and having more free time to do as I pleased. Children are thrilled with this independence and parents have to make plans on how to fill their child's day.
Many children will spend extra time at home or at a family member's house. A concern I have is how to help children (including mine) to make smart choices throughout the summer. Many youth show a decrease in physical activity over summer vacation. This is a shame since the weather actually allows for more outside play. Limiting TV, iPod, iPad, computer and video game time is important because our bodies are made to move. Screen time should be limited to less than two hours a day. Sometimes the only effort it takes to motivate children is suggesting activities they may have forgotten about. Bring the balls and hula-hoop out of storage. Fill the bicycle tires with air and find the helmet. Provide chalk and teach your child how to hopscotch. Children should get a minimum of 60 minutes of activity each day. Don't forget adults need time to play too!
In addition to many youth showing a decrease in physical activity during summer vacation, many children also show a decrease in nutrition. At school they were on a consistent schedule and had an opportunity to eat breakfast and lunch that included all five food groups. Most schools also provided a fresh fruit or vegetable snack. The afterschool care provided yet another smart snack choice. This healthy pattern is possible at home, too, but may take some extra planning. First of all, expect an increase in your grocery bill if your child is home for the summer. Try to focus on having smart choices available - fruits, vegetables, granola bars, yogurt, string cheese, hard-boiled eggs, trail mixes and more. I believe that an occasional "junk food" snack is OK. Deprivation can actually lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. But I also know that having too many poor choices available can increase the likelihood of a child choosing the junk over smarter choices. Keep the exciting variety of choices to be fruits rather than candy. Allow your child to help choose their favorite cereal, cheese and crackers, or yogurt rather than cookies or chips. The more we involve our children with the planning, the more successful the outcome.
If your child will be responsible for preparing meals for themselves, be sure to discuss microwave and appliance safety. Many like to experiment by using toasters and blenders. Also be sure to discuss other food safety concerns. Many forget about the importance of washing fruits and vegetables or to return food to the fridge in a timely manner. Adults, everything we do is a teachable moment - don't miss the opportunity to be a great influence. For more nutrition and food safety information, visit (www.ag.ndsu.edu/
foodwise). Wishing you and yours a fun-filled summer!
Trisha Jessen is a family nutrition program educator with the North Dakota State University Extension Service in Ward County. She can be reached by email at Trisha.Jessen@ndsu.edu.