With the lazy days of summer, it’s easy to let good eating habits slide, especially if your school eases the burden by providing a meal or two. But getting the right nutrition remains important during the summer to combat obesity and child hunger and to keep children’s maturing brains healthy. Many California public libraries are standing in the gap with the Lunch at the Library program.

What should my child eat?

Although school lunch programs and vending machines on campus have taken a lot of heat for contributing to a nationwide epidemic of childhood obesity, schools are not the only ones to blame. In a 2007 American Journal of Public Health study, the data showed that the body mass index of kindergartners and first-graders increased two to three times as fast in summer as during the school year. This may be because students are more likely to have structured days and regular meals during the school year, as well as regular exercise. They may be watching less TV during the school year too.

The library program helps parents provide structure for their kids during the summer, as well as the opportunity to participate in the many activities available at community libraries.

Stock up on fruits and vegetables

To keep things balanced and nutritious at home, health experts at the Harvard School of Public Health recommend eating nine servings (about 4½ cups) of fruits and vegetables a day. That means including fruits and vegetables at every meal — and in between too! Fruit slices and carrot and celery sticks make good snacks and are easy to take along in the car or on summer outings. The health benefits of eating lots of fruits and vegetables include lower blood pressure and reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and possibly some cancers.

Stick with whole grains and low-fat proteins.

Make sure your child is in the habit of eating a good breakfast well before the start of school. Look for breakfast cereals that have little to no sugar and contain whole grains such as oats, bran, and cornmeal. Choose whole-wheat bread for sandwiches and whole-wheat pasta for your next spaghetti meal. These healthy eating habits will help prevent heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Cut down on saturated fats and sugar.

Lemonade, juice, and soda are all big sources of sugar and empty calories. It’s tempting during the summer to reach for these to quench your child’s thirst. In preparation for back to school, switch to water and low-fat or nonfat milk. Cut back on other summer treats like ice cream and French fries too. Good alternatives are easy-to-make fruit pops, smoothies, and these healthy snacks.

Check out the Harvard School of Public Health’s Nutrition Source site for more healthy eating ideas.

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