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Keep Your Family Well-Fed This Summer

Meals On-The-Run Don’t Have To Be ‘Fast Food’

Teachers often advise their students to avoid “brain drain” during summer vacation by continuing to read and take part in other academic pursuits. The same concept can apply to summer eating – maintaining the good basic eating habits that your kids have followed during the school year can help them avoid “nutrition drain.”

“Sometimes it might seem as if summertime is even busier than the school year, and it’s tempting to resort to fast-food restaurants as the solution for feeding your family when the kids are running from summer camps to swimming lessons to family gatherings,” says Washington Hospital’s Director of Food and Nutritional Services Kimberlee Alvari, RD. “With just a little bit of advance planning, though, you can create easy-to-prepare healthy eating options that will keep your kids going strong all summer long.”

The place to start, according to Alvari, is with a good breakfast.

“During the summer, kids – especially teenagers – may want to sleep a bit later in the mornings, but that doesn’t mean they should skip breakfast,” she says. “Kids who eat a good breakfast tend to be more active and have a lower rate of obesity. Ideally, breakfast should include at least three of the basic components of a healthy meal – fruits and vegetables, grains, protein and dairy. So, for example, a quick breakfast for kids on the go could be as simple as yogurt and fruit. The yogurt provides both dairy and protein, while the fruit contains fiber, vitamins and complex carbohydrates. Another quick breakfast option that’s great for hot summer days would be to make a cool ‘smoothie’ with yogurt, bananas and peanut butter.”

For a more substantial quick breakfast that can be taken on the road, Alvari suggests making whole-grain pancakes (using a mix is fine, as long as it doesn’t contain too much salt or preservatives). Then roll the pancakes up like “wraps” with ingredients such as peanut butter, bananas or yogurt inside. Another option would be making waffles and topping them like a pizza with fruit and yogurt. Pre-made whole-grain toaster waffles are perfectly fine. Either the pancake wraps or the waffle “pizzas” could also serve as quick, healthy, handy snacks.

“Breakfast foods also can make a quick and convenient dinner for those late evenings when you and the kids get home from swim meets or day camps,” Alvari says. “Kids usually love what I call ‘binner,’ with toast, eggs, fruit and low-fat milk. Making ‘binner’ can help you avoid an extra trip to a fast-food restaurant.”

For days when your kids are attending all-day camps or other activities, Alvari recommends making healthy breakfasts and lunches the night before, if you can, to save time in the morning. She also notes that it is a good idea to check out what foods are served at day camps and overnight camps.

“Go over sample menus from the camps, if you can get them, and talk with your kids beforehand about what foods are good, healthy options,” she explains. “Obviously, kids are going to eat whatever they want when you’re not there to supervise, so don’t ‘nag’ them about food. Just try to encourage good eating choices.”

For family outings to local attractions or events, Alvari has additional ideas.

“Carnivals, fairs, amusement parks and zoos are all magnets for junk-food eating,” she says. “For those types of outings, pack a cooler of healthy food and have a picnic back at the car in the parking lot so your day isn’t filled with hot dogs, cotton candy and sugary slushies. Lean protein – including nuts – celery, carrots, fruits and complex carbohydrates such as whole-grain breads or crackers will help prevent the ‘meltdown’ that can happen when kids get really hungry. When you go to the parking lot for your picnic, be sure to keep your re-entry wristbands or tickets so you can get back into the park or zoo.”

Hot summer weather also means keeping yourself and your kids well hydrated with plenty of non-sugary liquids.

“Always have plenty of water available,” Alvari says. “To make drinking it more fun, you can ‘infuse’ water with sliced oranges. Or, you can mix fruit juice with sparkling water to cut down the amount of sugar and make it fun to drink. Herbal or fruit-flavored teas without sugar can be used to make ‘sun teas’ that you can chill ahead of time. Another option is to cut up chunks of watermelon and mash them up in a food processor with a bit of honey and a dash of lime juice. Then put the watermelon mixture in a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish and put it in the freezer. You can scoop out single servings into a cup whenever the kids need it.”

At the end of a day full of fun summer activities, Alvari recommends having a relaxing meal at home whenever possible. Keeping your pantry and refrigerator stocked with healthy staples such as eggs, whole-grain pastas, low-salt basic pasta sauces, frozen chicken breasts, peanut butter, low-fat cheese and whole-grain breads can make meal preparation quick and easy. Plus, having healthy meal ingredients on hand can help you avoid shopping on the run or stopping at fast-food outlets.

“Families that eat meals together usually have a better quality diet,” she notes. “Plus, a family dinner is also a good time to talk about what has happened during the day. That can be as ‘nourishing’ as a healthy meal.”

Learn More

Washington Hospital’s Outpatient Nutrition Counseling program provides nutrition counseling for individuals with specific medical needs as well as other people who wish to maintain optimal health. The program’s registered dietitians create individualized nutrition plans that integrate science-based nutrition education with guidelines for changing eating and exercise patterns to meet individual health-improvement goals. All nutrition counseling requires a physician referral.

To get more information, learn about fee schedules or book an appointment, call 510.745.6542.