Summer is in full swing which means routines have changed. While in school, children are on more structured activity and eating schedules plus their brains are working more. During summer break, many experience what is called the “summer slide” due to poorer nutrition. Kids are active 8-9 months throughout the school year but during summer that changes. Nutrition goes down, some kids gain weight and many lose 2-3 months of learning that they had during the school year.
I had the privilege of participating in a webinar with Dr. Michele Borba, a recognized children’s health and development expert and award-winning author of 22 parenting books, including Parents Do Make A Difference. Michele is also a former teacher and mother of three. Below is an explanation about how the Walmart Foundation is stepping up to help our children avoid the “summer slide”.
Walmart is VERY concerned! In the United States there are 19.6 million low-income kids who fall into the “hunger gap” who rely on reduced and/or free school lunches throughout the school year. During summer they do not receive those meals and lack nutrition!
Eating regular, nutritious meals benefits children’s health and development, keeps children focused, less stressed and more prone to learning. Walmart recognizes this and has committed to out-of-school feedings through the Walmart Foundation. $14 million in grants will go to 5 nonprofits to help provide 1.7 million children and families with access free meals and nutrition education. The grants are part of Walmart and the Walmart Foundation’s $2 billion commitment through 2015 to help fight hunger in America, and Walmart’s 2011 initiative to provide customers with healthier and more affordable food choices.
- Alliance for a Healthier Generation: Increase access to healthy food and nutrition education for children and parents outside of school in eight U.S. cities.
- Food Research and Action Center: Increase access, participation and awareness of nutrition programs that provide meals to children across the country during the school year and summer months.
- National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families: Expand afterschool and summer nutrition initiatives and implement year-long feeding programs for more than 25,000 low-income children across the country.
- Texas Hunger Initiative:Expand sponsorship and locations for summer and afterschool meal programs throughout Texas, while increasing participation by 583,000 children.
- YMCA of the USA: Expand the YMCA’s Summer Food Program at more than 2,300 sites to provide children with access to meals outside of school year-round.
Now that we know how Walmart is helping, here are tips Michele discussed to help OUR children stay healthy this summer.
Make meal preparation fun for kids! The more fun they have, the more likely they will be to eat it!
- Crafts: Let children decorate an apron and/or construct chef hats out of paper bags.
- Buy cheap plastic mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons, recipe cards, etc.
- Have kids go through newspapers or magazines and pick out simple recipes.
- Plant a container garden. Have your kids help, it’s fun growing your own vegetables and herbs.
Together, choose weekly recipes and talk about the ingredients.
- Pick recipes for the week and discuss ingredients needed.
- Ask kids to help write the grocery list.
- Go to the produce section and teach about various fruits and vegetables.
- Bring kids along to the grocery store and involve them.
- Visit a farmers market or local farm to grab ingredients.
Color code foods to cuts down on “nagging”, which also helps kids understand what foods they should and should NOT be eating! Example: Stop Light – Green: Eat all the time; Yellow: Eat sometimes; Red: Eat once a week.
- Make healthy snacks visible and easy to grab on the way out the door (make homemade Popsicles out of blended fruits, whole wheat bread with a little peanut butter, pre cut vegetables and fruits, etc.).
- The goal is that kids will know which foods are good to eat — even when they aren’t at home.
Make meal time “unplugged time”. No tv, phones or gadgets! Make meals old fashioned, sit around the table and relax without texting or watching tv.
If you have a picky eater, introduce new foods in quarter-sized portions. Have the child try the new food when he or she is hungry. Introduce the new foods several times; it takes 7-15 times for taste buds to change.
Make eating fun and focus on the shape, size and color (NOT texture)!
- Have kids decorate the plates using carrot curls or raisins; they will be more likely to eat it.
- Focus on the shape, size and color of food and not taste or texture. Yale University found that kids were more likely to eat foods that they came up with funny names for (like “broccoli tree” or “dinosaur tails”).
Feed your child brain foods: blueberries, strawberries, nuts, organic peanut butter, hard boiled eggs, oatmeal and water! Smoothies are an excellent way to sneak in extra fruits!
Additional tips to avoid the Summer Slide:
- Find programs from local organizations you know and trust
- Look up free reading classes at your library
- Keep track of planned activities on a calendar your kids can access
- Collect baseball cards and have kids memorize facts and figures
- Share games and books with neighbors and friends
- Exercise together as a family! Bike rides, yoga, swimming, and walking are a few fun options!
- Put a white board in a visible place in the house for weekly schedules so you can keep track of summer activities and chores. This can help you transition back into a school year schedule in an organized way. It also helps you visually be able to determine if there is balance in your schedule
As parents, our goal should be to raise healthier and happier kids! Cultivating brains and monitoring what children eat will make the difference. Children cannot focus when they have bad nutrition, it impacts both focus and energy levels. We also must set good examples.
My son is 5 and leads a very active lifestyle. We are always on the go, so having healthy snacks and water handy is critical. Here’s a photo collage of our summer activities so far!
From libraries, sports, playgrounds, learning at our local Science Center, helping with our container garden and just playing in the dirt, he is constantly outside and busy. One of his favorite things to do inside is build Legos, he follows the instructions and builds his own sets!
He also enjoys shopping at our local farmer’s market and grocery store, then assisting in the kitchen. We only have one television in our home and it is rarely turned on (so we are definitely unplugged at dinner time). Also, we eat meals together as a family every single day. He is rewarded for good behavior and helping out with iPad time (under supervision) to play learning games. It’s been a healthy summer thus far because this is our lifestyle.
We are so inspired about the Walmart Foundation and their amazing efforts to help, so we are volunteering at our local food bank next month! It will be a rewarding experience for the entire family and it will help feed hungry children in our community!