Summer vacation. The time of year all students look forward to. It holds the promise of good weather and no homework, and the possibility of sleeping in, staying up late and doing whatever whenever.
For most parents, this idea is probably less than thrilling for many reasons, including one you may not have thought about before: summer weight gain.
“Most parents aren’t aware that the lack of a schedule can contribute to weight gain over the summer break,” explains Janelle Garcia, Ph.D., Fit4Allkids program coordinator at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.
The thought of weight gain is usually accompanied by winter holiday treats or Halloween candy, but research (such as the studies mentioned in this report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has shown that most weight gain in kids tends to happen over the summer months. When students leave the structured day that school offers – a constant wake-up time and regular meal and physical activity times – it opens the door for extra snacking, more time with electronics and irregular sleep schedules.
“Summer is the perfect time to work on healthy habits because there are no other distractions,” Garcia adds. “Families can find it difficult to start engaging in healthy eating, physical activity and other healthy behaviors during the school year because everyone is so busy. Summer break provides the extra time to start implementing lifestyle changes.”
Stick to the Schedule
During the summer try to keep a structured schedule as much as possible. Summer camps are a great way to keep kids busy, but may not be an option for all families. Whatever your family’s plans are, try to make a schedule and stick to it. Think about:
- Setting wake-up and bed times. Keep them close to what would be normal for school days for easy transition between summer and the rest of the year.
- Eating breakfast. Skipping breakfast can lead to eating larger portions at later meals. Easy options that will fill up your family include:
- Fat-free yogurt with fruit and a slice of whole grain toast.
- Whole grain toast with natural peanut butter and strawberries.
- Veggie egg bakes.
- Having family meals. Try to eat at least one meal together as a family every day.
- Planning time for fun, physical activities. Kids (and adults, too) need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
Fun Family Fitness
Summer is the perfect time for outdoor family activities. Go on a family bike ride, jump in the pool or go to the park playground. Some parks even have areas with adult workout equipment.
On rainy days, find ways to bring the activities inside. Set up an indoor obstacle course, use everyday items like soup cans to make a home gym or turn card games into an exercise circuit. You can even look on YouTube for workout channels or music for dancing.
No matter what you choose to do, make it fun for the whole family. If it feels like play, staying active won’t be a chore.
Staying hydrated is especially important in the Florida heat. This summer, take a family water challenge: aim for everyone to drink at least eight cups of water a day. Keep a chart in the kitchen and turn it into a friendly competition – your family may just have a new healthy habit by the time the kids go back to school.
If your family finds it hard to swallow the “plain” taste of water, you can create flavorful infused water. Simply add freshly sliced fruit and herbs to a pitcher of water kept in the fridge or even a travel bottle of water. Orange slices or cucumber and mint are two easy family favorites to start with.
With kids spending more time at home, snacking is sure to happen. Make sure healthy foods are readily available and visible.
- Keep a bowl of fruit on the counter.
- Wash and slice veggies ahead of time. Store them at the front of the fridge in clear containers so they are the first thing your family sees.
- Portion out snacks like popcorn and trail mix into snack bags to take away the temptation to eat larger helpings.
- Individual size items, like non-fat yogurt or cheese sticks, are good grab-and-go items to keep on hand.
- Remember, as a parent, you have control over what foods you decide to bring into your home. If junk food isn’t an option, kids won’t eat it.
This summer has the potential to be your family’s healthiest yet. Simple changes made during the summer months can lead to lasting habits and as long as it’s fun, your family will enjoy their time together.
For information about First Steps Fit4Allkids or the Healthy Steps Weight Management Clinic at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, please email achFit4Allkids@jhmi.edu or call 727-767-2014.