Have you heard of the term “summer slide?” I’m not talking about a decline in academic retention, I’m referring to nutrition. With the bounty of summer produce and more downtime, one might think kids (and adults) would have healthier eating habits.

Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Studies have shown that kids’ healthy habits decline during the warmer months, and nutrition is top on the list. I believe it. From what I’ve seen offered at week one of summer camp, there is a lack of fresh produce but a wide variety of pre-packaged, highly-processed foods.

Here are 5 strategies to tackle the summer slide:

Aim for the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, guide

I’m going to shoot for:

  • 5 servings of fruits and vegetables (make it more veggies than fruits)
  • 4 full glasses of water
  • 3 servings of low-fat dairy
  • 2 or fewer hours of screen time (including TV, video games, tablets and computers)
  • 1 hour of physical activity

Give Them Water, Water and More Water

I recently wrote up a recipe for a watermelon hydration drink for kids who are active out in the heat for one hour or longer, However, for most occasions the ideal source of hydration for kids should be water. The summer slide includes an increased reliance on sugar-containing beverages. In a YMCA survey, about 75% of parents said their kids drank sweetened beverages at least weekly during the summer, and about 25% of them drank them daily or nearly daily. To make water more appealing, freeze fruit with water in ice cube trays or offer a splash of juice with water.

Get Them Involved

I just ordered a “chalk board” for our kitchen with the goal of having my boys write their dinner ideas for our weekly menu. Kids are more likely to get enthusiastic about healthy foods and drinks when they are involved in everything from the menu ideas to the meal prep. It’s easy for me to forget about this, but sometimes we just need reminders that they are old enough to help in their own age-appropriate ways. However, we have to engage them because from what I’ve found, kids don’t often initiate helping.


 

Celebrate with Fruits and Veggies

My go-to way to celebrate in life is ice cream, especially in the summer. However, having a garden party where we eat veggie by the garden and try an assortment of different salad dressings or have a watermelon spitting contest can be equally fun ways to enjoy the tastes of summer. I just have to step out of autopilot and think about more engaging ways to fun-ify produce.

Pack Snacks and Lunches for When You’re On the Go (or at the pool)

I’m pretty sure my local pool won’t like me bringing in my own goods, but an assortment of healthy snacks is not only more nutritious, it’s cheaper. My kids love it when I say we’re having “snacks for lunch or dinner.” If you’re on-the-go or at the pool several days a week, these healthier choices make a big impact in preventing the summer slide.

Summer should DEFINITELY include lots of ice cream on cute faces, but I do think it requires a bit more planning to make sure our kids receive many balanced summer plates over the next 3 months.

Jennifer McDaniel

Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.