Summer is here. Children are excited about their break, travel plans, and of course the freedom from routine. Even until a decade ago, children spent most of their time playing outside during the summer breaks, easily getting their daily quota of physical activity. Indoor board games and television watching were of course there, but with fewer channels and outdoor play was more fun. But the new millennium has brought about some unfortunate changes which can easily fuel the already rising overweight/obesity problem in children. Children tend to spend hours watching television, gaming or playing/ networking on the computer. To top it all, the choices available in the snacking category have increased and TV channels are full of competing ads promoting these snacks. Finding healthier options while travelling is also challenging.
So how can we help children enjoy their vacation, without indulging in the unwanted calories and gaining the extra kilos. Here are some suggestions
- Physical Activity - Yes the nice thing about summer vacation is the absence of morning rush and fixed routines …but it also allows us to incorporate some interesting physical activity most of the days. There is no better time than summer to go biking or walking in the morning, playing outdoor games in the evening or taking an after dinner stroll as there is no homework to worry about! If you are keen on structured play for your child, many cities also offer camps for football, badminton and other sports, so possibly the right time to explore a sport activity for your child.
- Encourage outdoor activity –photography, leaves/flowers collection, bird watching, outdoor treasure hunts, and day treks.
- Meal times – it is easy not to stick to a regular time – but agree with your child on “broad meal times” for example breakfast definitely before 10 a.m etc. Space their meals; ensure they do not skip breakfast, as this can lead to unnecessary snacking.
- Non-meal times -It is easy to graze when on vacation – both for adults and children! Stock your home with the right type of snacks. With some thought you can easily buy or create snack ideas which are healthy yet interesting – a few examples are fresh juice cocktail, chilled seasonal fruits – mangoes, water melon, vegetable/fruit salads with homemade dressings, lassis, fruit chat, fresh yogurt dips with finger salads/crackers, fruit yoghurts, fruit milk shakes, dates, raisins, nuts, chikki, peanut/sprout salad, kakra, homemade bhel, vegetable omelette etc. Try and sit with your child at the table when he is snacking and make sure he is not in front of the television, as the child becomes oblivious to the amount he is eating. If you buy snacks buy smaller packs or for one time use so children are not tempted to eat the remaining portions while at home.
- Eating out - Frequency of eating out is bound to go up when it is vacation time– it is not possible to avoid desserts, calorie dense entrees when in a restaurant – look at portion size, suggest siblings to share a dessert or order a couple for the whole family. Children need not avoid high calorie food items but can be shown how to limit their intake.
- Homemade snacks - Make snacks at home if you have time as you have better control over the ingredients you use – oil, sugar. Summer is the time for juices, shakes and ice creams-so limit the sugar you add. Children, especially younger children can adapt their palate to less sweetness and easily enjoy the natural taste of the food.
- Cook with your child – Children seem to love cooking these days, use the opportunity to show your child the amount of oil, sugar that is used in making a dish so your child has a better understanding of the choices she makes.
- Take your child grocery shopping, teach older children to read nutrition labels.
- Older children have more time to hang out with friends and eat out –have a discussion with your child on the choices she makes and balance the calorie intake for the day at home by cooking a simple dinner or lunch.
- When on holiday pay attention to the family’s “daily calorie intake” for example, suggest a lighter lunch, if you are planning dinner at a nice place. Again encourage physical activity –walks, treks, swimming etc. depending on the holiday destination.
- Adults at home should also choose healthier options and give importance to physical activity as children learn the most from observing.
- Last but not the least, with children above 8 years, have a conversation with them before vacation starts. Making children understand can make summer break enjoyable and also lay foundation for a healthy lifestyle. Children often are brimming with ideas and can help come up with a “holiday schedule”. Paint the consequences of their choices and inculcate a sense of responsibility.