Julie Whittington, RD

Healthy tips from a Registered Dietitian

Families can eat well and be active together this summer

Summer presents a great opportunity for focusing on family health and well-being.  With school out of session and family vacations on the upswing, summer can be a great time to eat well together and be active as a family.

If you are home as a family more often, consider planning meals together each week, sharing grocery shopping and cooking meals together, too.  Especially with children, the more they are involved in planning and preparing balanced meals, the more likely it is that they will carry their knowledge and cooking skills into adulthood, thus increasing the likelihood of becoming long-term healthy eaters.  Many of us go out to eat at restaurants frequently, too.  This can be fine, just remember to keep the balance of the foods you and your family are eating.  If the kids tend to pick chicken fingers and fries everywhere they go, they are going to be deficient lots of nutritious ingredients.  If you, as an adult, always pick the salad with grilled chicken, same rule applies.  Variety is the spice of life and ensures we meet our nutrient needs.  Beyond calories lies the composition of our diets and what sorts of foods are energizing our bodies.  Consider your intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, balanced proteins and healthy oils.  Kids will catch on, too.  Encourage them to try different foods as much as possible to expand their taste palates.  It can take ten introductions to a certain food before a child develops a likeness to it…so don’t give up after one or two attempts!

As far as role modeling, parents are strong influencers in a child’s eating habits.  If a child grows up constantly hearing about or watching a parent’s dieting behaviors, there is a higher likelihood that child will struggle with disordered eating and even try to diet at a young age.  Rather, if a child is accustomed to eating with his or her parents and it is the same food for the children and adults, this is a much more healthy and appropriate way to teach good eating skills to your children.

Summer offers a great opportunity to start new traditions, too.  If you do not already do family meals or you tend to make the kids something different than what the adults eat, aim to make some changes.  Certainly, there will be times when a child may not like an item the parents are eating, and that is ok.  Additionally, it is easier to start this process when the kids are young, before they develop strong food preferences.  However, if you attempt to plan ahead and balance the kid-favorite meals with the adult-favorite meals, that’s better.  For instance, one night you might have macaroni and cheese as a side dish for everyone in the family, accompanied by steamed broccoli and grilled fish.  Another night, sweet potatoes, chicken or pork chops and applesauce (or baked apples) could be the dinner.  The possibilities are endless. Consider working with a dietitian if you need more help with family meals.

In balance with what you eat, of course, is physical activity.  Kids by nature love to be active.  So, engage them in fun family-based activities when possible.  Ideas include going to the swimming pool, playing at the park or going on a bike ride.  Along with these activities, you can plan to bring a picnic lunch or balanced snacks and beverages to bridge the time between mealtimes.  Since North Carolina summers tend to be hot and humid, remember to keep fluids with you at all times to prevent dehydration and overheating.  A chilled thermos of water should do the trick for most events.  Go to www.inchbug.com for great personalized name bands (called BumpyName Orbit Labels) to put on your own thermoses or cups.  Kids love them, as do adults!  They are a great way to know whose cup is whose.

So, welcome summer and welcome new healthy traditions!  Best wishes to finding creative and healthy family meals and activities.

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