By: Ann Condon-Meyers, RD, LDN, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC
After the winter we just endured here in the tristate area, who isn’t celebrating the fact that summer is almost here?! I’m thinking about frozen desserts, watermelon, and grilled everything. Summer provides a perfect opportunity to enjoy food favorites and make new summer memories. It’s a great time to enjoy the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables from our local farms, farmer’s markets, and grocery stores. In my mind, summer may be the best season to introduce our children to the wonderful rainbow of healthy foods.
Let’s start with beverages. As the temperature rises, so does our thirst, providing an opportunity to try some new hydration ideas. First, let’s dispel the myth that our children need sports drinks. Even on the hottest days of temperatures in the upper 80s, it is rare that a child needs a sports drink for rehydration. Water remains the best beverage to quench thirst and replace fluids lost in sweat. It is only in extreme conditions that children and teens need rehydration with water, sodium, and potassium. Think about serving sports drinks during football and band practices under the full sun with a temperature above 80 degrees or when the humidity is high. That is, when your kids are really sweating a lot!
Not sure how much your child is sweating? Here is a “body function lesson” that your child may not know regarding urine. If your urine is straw colored or darker (and not pale yellow), it’s time to rehydrate. It is reassuring to know that kids, given free access to water, will not dehydrate themselves. Check with your children’s coaches and camp counselors to make sure that everyone is allowed to get water at any time during a game or event held outside.
An alternative to sugared sports beverages is … milk! That’s right – cow’s milk has been proven in studies to be as effective as a sports drink for rehydrating athletes. Other milk beverages such as soy or rice milk can hydrate but don’t have as much sodium or potassium in them as cow’s milk. Are your kids begging to add flavor to their milk? Fruit can be the answer in the form of a fruit smoothie – milk, ice, and fruits in a blender can make a refreshing drink and will rehydrate well since a fruit smoothie will have ample (and naturally occurring) sodium and potassium in it.
Infusion waters are another good way to offer water to your kids and expose them to some healthy fruits at the same time. Fresh fruits with strong flavors work best such as pineapples, berries, mangos, oranges or lemons and limes, papaya, coconut, and kiwi. Put at least 1 cup of the cut-up fruit in the bottom of a 2-quart pitcher and add cold water. Store in the fridge overnight and you will wake up to delicious fruit-flavored water.
There are other flavors for fruit infusion waters as well for the discerning palate. Try using herbs such as rosemary sprigs or mint leaves. They provide a more subtle flavor but look so beautiful! Having a party or picnic? Cut pineapple and orange slices in 1/2inch-thick wheels. Fill a glass container with ice 1/3 full and put the “wheels” flat up around the side of the glass. Add more ice and do it again until the entire container is lined with the fruit. Pour in water over the ice to completely fill up the container. This “pineapple – orange wheel” drink looks festive and makes the fruit easy for kids to eat once the water is all gone. Infusion waters last about two days before they get a little strong, but keeping them in the fridge helps with this.
Looking for some new snacks this summer? Start with a trip to your grocery store or farmer’s market and have your children pick out a new fruit or vegetable. Next, find a recipe that uses that “new” fruit or vegetable and make a snack or meal item out of it. Or, if your child is old enough, let him or her search for a new recipe on the Internet or check out a kid-friendly recipe book from your local library. Of course, if you have a budding chef in the family, maybe he or she would like to make up a new recipe. Cooking is a great way to practice reading and math skills in a fun way.
One of the best ways to foster a love of new foods is to allow your kids to have a choice of new and familiar foods. For example, have a pasta bar for dinner:
Grill or roast a variety of veggies with a drizzle of olive oil and salt. Vegetables such as zucchini, yellow squash, Brussels sprouts, and beets work well on the grill or roasted in the oven. Cut the cooked vegetables into bite size pieces and put in separate bowls. Prepare whole wheat pasta such as penne, angel hair, or potato gnocchi and present along with the veggie “toppings” and shredded mozzarella cheese or grated parmesan. Grilled chicken strips or shrimp as lean protein choices work well too. Other delicious ingredients include chopped basil leaves, tomato chunks, or pine nuts.
Allow your children to make their own “rainbow recipe” at the pasta bar. Resist the temptation to sing the praises of any one food – no pressure when offering healthy vegetables since they are all good choices! Instead, giving your child a plate or bowl to fill up at the pasta bar, you can make zucchini boats: cut zucchini length wise, hollow out, bake or grill al dente along with the other vegetables.
This idea of a “serve yourself” bar works well with lots of entrees such as tacos, roll-up wraps, salads and fruit plates. Giving your children a choice at meal times will help them feel in control of their food choices, respect their palates, and steer them toward healthy choices.
Remember too, that kids like moist foods that are easy to chew. After all, their jaws are not as strong as the jaw of an adult. Long, tedious, chewing sessions take the flavor and fun out of many foods for kids. Giving dip options with drier foods such as meats or raw vegetables may entice your kids to try a new food. Besides Ranch dressing or ketchup, try making a lemon or lime melted butter dip. Melt ½ stick of butter and add the juice of one half lemon or lime. How about peanut butter sauce? My kids love this with meats such as pork tenderloin or chicken breast.
Mix ¼ cup peanut butter (melt in microwave or on stove) with ¼ cup soy or canola oil and 1 – 2 T of soy sauce with a splash of hot sauce. Or allow your child to make his or her own ketchup or Ranch dressing.
Looking for a nutrition project that doesn’t require cooking? Have your child tell you about the “My Plate Model.” If he or she hasn’t been exposed to this concept yet, you can get the information on the website ChooseMyPlate.gov. The healthy plate model has replaced the food guide pyramid. MyPlate is a great way for kids to understand why a slice of pizza or a burger and fries is not, by itself, a healthy meal.
Challenge your kids to plan snacks that are half fruits and/or vegetables and half protein and grains. Some examples of this would be fruit tacos with shredded cheese sprinkled on top, of pita bread stuffed with peanut butter and lots of apple slices or Naan bread with hummus and a pile of roasted red peppers on top.
Some families have even started using divided plates to help remind everyone that half of their plate should be fruit and vegetables. For more information about the divided plate, check out the website KidsHealth.org. If you are looking to buy these plates, shop around on the Internet. These plates cost anywhere from $8 to $26. Or make your own plates with a kit – there are websites that allow you to make a drawing. You send the drawing to the company and they will adhere the design onto a melamine plate and mail back to you for $11.99 per plate.
Your challenge to meet the MyPlate model will be to adapt your cooking as well. Serve more fruits and vegetables and fewer protein foods and starches. Try adapting your recipes to include more vegetables. Most recipes can be adapted by doubling the amount of veggies while cutting the starch or protein in half. Pasta served with lots of vegetables such as peas or broccoli, meatloaf with extra diced celery, onions and carrots, macaroni and cheese with chopped tomatoes and peppers stirred in, casseroles with mixed vegetables added — these versions will please everyone and meet the MyPlate guidelines easily.
Once summer comes to an end, you and your children will have made some new food favorites along with healthy nutrition habits that will stay with you through the seasons. For now however, let’s get ready to enjoy the fabulous foods of summer!