Just because school's out doesn't mean your kids have to veer off their normal routine, especially when it comes to healthy eating.
Kate Geagan, author of "Go Green, Get Lean" (Rodale; $) and nutritionist for Earth's Best offered five tips to keep your kids snacking healthfully all summer long.
1. Include a fruit or a veggie in at least one snack each day. Most children don't consume enough fruits and vegetables (especially dark green/orange ones, which the USDA Dietary Guidelines specifically call out for Americans age 2 and older to be choosing several times a week), said Geagan. Head to a local farmer's market for inspiration and choose cherry tomatoes, mini cucumbers, baby carrots and snap peas, for example. "Some companies, such as Earth's Best, offer portable produce on the go in jars and pouches that make it easy to have an organic fruit or veggie snack on the go," she said.
2. Choose a protein to provide staying power. "A protein rich snack helps keep your child well fueled and focused for the task at hand; whether at the playground or math camp," said Geagan. Try hummus with some whole grain crackers or fresh veggies. Nut butter packs are portable and convenient — if there's a no nut policy — sunflower or pumpkin seeds also pack heart-healthy fats, protein, iron and vitamin E, she said. Have a cooler? Greek yogurt is a calcium-rich snack that packs twice the protein of regular yogurt. "Hard boiled eggs are also some of the most economical, highest quality protein in the grocery store," she said. "Eggs are also an excellent source of choline — an important nutrient for a healthy brain and cardiovascular system."
3. Deep freeze a healthy snack. Frozen cantaloupe wedges are the perfect way to cool down, rehydrate and pack some nutrition, said Geagan. "Buy an in season cantaloupe, seed and slice into large wedges; freeze on a baking sheet in the freezer (you can put them on Popsicle sticks, too)." Kids can help themselves to this refreshing snack that is packed with vitamin C, beta carotene and other good-for -you nutrients. Best part? It tastes like cantaloupe ice cream! You can do this with banana chunks and red grapes too, she said.
4. Make a DIY trail mix bar. Got kids with different food preferences? Or different ages with food safety (for example, a toddler alongside a tween?). Or different food restrictions for a camp (say, one can't have nuts but one can)? Geagan suggested making a homemade trail mix bar. "It's also very economical: Hit the bulk bin and fill individual containers with each item, then you can pull them out and line them up on the counter, with a reusable container or Ziploc baggie at the start," she said. "Simply remove any ingredient that isn't allowed for a particular situation." Geagan suggested adding nuts (almonds, pistachios, walnuts, cashews), dried fruits with no-added sugars or oils (cranberries, cherries, raisins, plums, apricots, dates, mango), seeds (sunflower, pumpkin), whole grain cereal or granola and coconut.
5. Know when your child needs to drink water and when they need something more. "It's critical in the hot summer weather that your child drinks water regularly," she said. "Children's sense of thirst may not be fully developed (making it an unreliable indicator of when they need to drink), and when things are fun, many children get so caught up in play that they ignore signals like needing to drink or use the bathroom." A reusable, BPA free water bottle is a great idea, and should be used as the main source of fluid throughout the day. "The AAP recommends no more than 4-6 oz. 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice a day," she added. "How do you know if your child is dehydrated? Check their urine — it should be the color of light lemonade, not apple juice."