The backpacks have been shelved for the summer and Oklahoma school children are enjoying the summer vacation. Older children who may be spending some time at home alone this summer may need some help in making healthy eating choices while on their own.
Some children may increase their television viewing or game system playing during the summer months, which can result in decreased activity. Although increased ‘screen time’ has been linked with a decrease in physical activity, researchers also have discovered a relationship between eating meals and snacks with the TV on and a higher intake of higher fat foods in children.
Many television commercials advertise food items, many of which tend to be high in fat, sugar and sodium. This advertising serves as a “trigger” to snack. Once the snack food is in hand, TV viewing itself may also distract children from knowing how much they have eaten until the whole package is gone.
Recent studies have shown that the more convenient the food, the more kids tend to consume. The general thought is when the effort of retrieving food or opening packages is increased, less food is consumed. For example, in a study, chocolate kisses were placed on the desk of a worker. The worker ate twice as many as when the candy was placed only six feet away.
Parents are encouraged to use this simple practice to motivate their children to choose healthful snacks in appropriate serving sizes. Keep foods you want your kids to snack on in plain sight and within easy reach. Single serving containers are also more convenient and provide a signal to stop eating.
Fruit is always a good choice for a snack. Keep apples, bananas, pears or oranges in a bowl on the counter where they are easy to see and reach. Grapes and berries can be washed and put in a bowl in the front of the refrigerator. To help control portion size, parents may also put berries in baggies in single-portion sizes.
Veggies such as carrot sticks, cucumber slices, broccoli flowerets or cauliflower can be stored in the same manner in the front of the refrigerator.
Single portion containers of dairy foods can be a very convenient way to help your children consume the right amount of milk, cheese or yogurt. It’s more economical to purchase a large block of cheese, but parents can cut and package it into single servings so it’s ready to go.
Snacks and drinks that are not as healthy should be stored in less convenient places. Soda should be stored in a cabinet where it is not cold and ready to drink. A half-gallon container of ice cream should be stored toward the back of the freezer. Ice cream in a tub is not nearly as easy to snack on as individual ice cream bars.
This same strategy goes for baked goods and salty snacks. First, it is best to limit how much of these types of food come into your kitchen. If you must have chips, consider purchasing small or individual size packages. My daughter-in-law buys economical size chips and puts individual servings in snack size baggies. She then places the baggies back in the original chip package and grabs individual packets when she is brown-bagging at work. Cookies, pretzels and popcorn also can be put into single-serve baggies.
These smaller portions help provide a signal that an appropriate amount of food has been eaten and helps prevent children from overeating. While your children are enjoying their time out of the classroom this summer, help them make the most of their vacation time with a healthy diet.
For more information in Pittsburg County, call 918-423-4120 or log onto www.oces.okstate.edu/pittsburg.
Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability or status as a veteran and is an Equal Opportunity Employer.
LaDell Emmons is the Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Educator for the Pittsburg County Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.