Summer usually means fewer rules for children as they escape the classroom, but it can also mean they are escaping healthy eating routines.
Elmwood Fitness Center registered dietician Elesha Kelleher said it is important to retain a sense of order to summertime eating and snacking and not succumb to free-for-all foraging.
“Children should snack every three or four hours,” Kelleher said.
Regular snacks should be supplemented with three healthy meals in the morning, afternoon and evening, Kelleher said, a routine that school helps to enforce during the year.
“If you’re not hungry approximately four hours after you eat a full meal, you probably ate too much at that meal,” she said. “You should be snacking, but it’s important to choose the right kind of snack. Ideally, a snack should include a serving of fiber and protein, which helps keep you full while sustaining energy levels. If it’s a piece of fruit, you want it to be about the size of a tennis ball with about a tablespoon of peanut butter. You want to limit those empty calorie foods like chips, cookies and even things like pretzels.”
Some “healthy” snack foods may sound good but lack any real nutritional value, Kelleher said.
“Hundred calorie packs just don’t give you any nutrition,” she said. “Some of those choices may be low in calories, but they’re very, very low in nutrients, and they’re really just refined flour. There’s no nutrient value at all, which is especially bad for kids because they’re growing at such a rapid rate.”
Parents should set up and stick to a snacking schedule that keeps healthy foods in the spotlight and avoids common nutritional missteps all summer, Kelleher said.
“Parents should limit sugary beverages, including juice,” she said. “There’s just as much sugar in juice as there is in a Coke. Juice is better for you because it’s got vitamins and minerals, but if weight is a concern you want to limit juice just like you limit soft drinks.”
Kelleher recommends ordering things like grilled chicken from restaurants and trying to make healthy choices as often as possible while on vacation.
“Even in fast food places, there are healthier things on the menu that are available now,” she said. “There’s always something healthy that you can find anywhere. Parents need to teach children how to make those healthy decisions.”
To see a list of snack items approved by our Ochsner dieticians, click here.