Summer holidays tend to follow their own timetables – erratic food choices, lethargic afternoons, late bed times and sleepy mornings. And while it’s all in good fun, these factors can mean tighter clothes and growing waistlines. So how do you ensure that kids are engaged and entertained without piling on the pounds?
As schools break for the holidays, we asked mums and experts for tips on what works.
Paola Surdo, Italian expat based in Dubai, admits that it’s complicated to keep mealtimes static, so she compensates by making them heathy. “This is helps a lot, because veggies can be very tasty. I spice things up or tweak recipes and always make sure there’s food on hand,” she says.
Keeping a healthy option in plain sight also introduces them to different foods and textures, expanding their repertoire of favourite tastes. Lebanese expat Rana Awkal’s strategy of tactile exploration begins by involving her child in cooking. “What I do is, I really involve him in the meal preparation, he is always in the kitchen, washing vegetables, cutting them; he tastes as he goes. Whenever we are cooking together he asks to taste things, I always say yes, even if it’s not palatable – things like garlic – let him try if he wants. And then I offer food and if he refuses, I say, ‘it’s okay, I’ll just keep it here in front of you, if you want it you can have it.’ It works most of the time,” she says.
It helps if she takes a few bites of the food. “Modelling when eating is very important,” says Nathalie Barsoumian, UAE-based Educational Consultant and mum of three. It’s only if the kids see you enjoy something that they’ll believe it’s worth putting on their plate.
Calories in, calories out
Weight-gain has a simple rule: it’s the product of consuming too many calories while expending too few. This calorie manipulation can be done in two parts: by monitoring what a child is consuming and by keeping them active. (The recommended period is at least 60 minutes for six to 17 year olds, according to US-based Centres of Disease Control.)
Elida Loresca-Shahabuddin, a 39-year-old Filipino and mother to two children aged five and two, says: “You need consistency and determination to lay a solid foundation for their healthy lifestyle. We are not athletic and until recently, we were not very active physically. My husband and I decided to train with a personal trainer to keep up with our young kids and we make sure that we show them and explain to them the benefits of the workout we do.
“To encourage them, we should lead by example. If they see that we’re enjoying what we do, it’s more likely that they’ll do so themselves. We don’t use a stroller for our two-year-old. We let him walk and run wherever we go.”
She also calls for infusing excitement into an activity. “Our five-year-old loves swimming and we all try to do this as a family activity every week. We also consider their age and ability and let them do activities that are appropriate for them and be mindful to not overdo it,” she explains.
Wondering what activities you can do to make moving fun?
- Water gun games,
- Bubbly water pit,
- Scavenger hunt,
- Circuit or obstacle course, and
- Manning a lemonade stand.
Spending too much time looking at a screen as kids are want to do, has a tumble down effect on eating without paying attention to each bite; a child may therefore eat larger quantities without even meaning to. “To reduce screen time, parents can engage children and set expectations about it. It’s important to be realistic too, so instead of reducing drastically, parents can do it gradually instead,” says Barsoumian.
To reduce screen time, parents can engage children and set expectations about it. It’s important to be realistic too, so instead of reducing drastically, parents can do it gradually instead.
Lebanese expat Rana Awkal kept her son away from ‘screen time’ until he was two and a half years old. The now three year old is not allowed on the phone; the Awkals don’t own an iPad; and the only screen he has (limited) access to is the television. “He can watch, but we set expectations. So sometimes he asks during the day and I set a timer so it’s visual for him and he knows so he turns off the TV by himself after 45 minutes,” she says.
Awkal adds that when weather permits, she and her son spend much of their time outdoors, doing things like gardening. When summer draws the shutters, she says, she has a few tricks up her sleeve. “We do a lot of science experiments using baking soda and vinegar, mixing colours, using scientific tools. We do something called oobleck – we mix cornflour and water and it turns into slime; he loves it.
“Plus, he paints in the bathtub, cooks, and loves role-playing and cleaning. He helps me a lot with the house work – like putting on the washing machine, cooking, you know, everyday stuff.”
A mindfulness activity
One of the things that can help a child self-regulate is mindfulness. “As they keep practising, they will become more familiar with what feeling full actually feels like. They can recognise when they are eating out of boredom, and will develop the capacity to tell when they’re full preventing them from gaining weight,” explains Sandy Zanella, a yoga and mindfulness educator who works with kids and has authored the children’s book ‘Happy Yogis’.
As they keep practising, they will become more familiar with what feeling full actually feels like. They can recognise when they are eating out of boredom, and will develop the capacity to tell when they’re full preventing them from gaining weight.
She suggests the following mindful eating exercise:
Start with a raisin or a raspberry.
- See: First have your child focus on looking at it, what colour, shape, form does it have? Is it heavy or light?
- Listen. Does your food make a sound?
- Touch. Is it smooth, bumpy or rough?
- Smell. What does your food smell like?
- Taste. Have them put the food on their tongue but don’t let them chew it just yet. Ask them how it feels in their mouth, feel the temperature, can they taste anything yet? Start chewing, does the flavour change?
Rola Fakhri Al Talafha, Nutritionist at UAE-based Bareen International Hospital - MBZ City, offers the following tips for food over the summer:
Try to keep meal and snack times consistent: When kids are don’t have consistent meal times, they tend to eat junk food – taking in more empty calories. Setting meal and snack time disciplines kids to eat only during those times.
Don’t keep the bad stuff in the house: Kids often tend to eat junk food when parents are not closely supervising them. So, instead of keeping chips, cookies, sugary drinks, and other high-calorie, low-nutrition foods in the house, stock healthy alternatives like low-sugar yogurt, low-fat cheese, hummus, fruits, and vegetables.
Kids often tend to eat junk food when parents are not closely supervising them. So, instead of keeping chips, cookies, sugary drinks, and other high-calorie, low-nutrition foods in the house, stock healthy alternatives like low-sugar yogurt, low-fat cheese, hummus, fruits, and vegetables.
Make a menu: Parents should try to plan meals and snacks for the week ahead of time. This will also help stick to the planned foods when going to grocery every week.
Get them involved in chores: Parents should try to involve kids in household activities like doing the chores and also encourage kids to do regular physical activities - add 60 minutes of activities like swimming, running, playing sports, ride a bike.
Set a sleep schedule: Kids tend to go to bed later during summer. This will lead to less sleep, and when they don’t get enough sleep, it can affect their hormone balance, energy level, mood, and even their appetite. Set bedtimes and wake-up times close to what has been followed during the school year.
Get the extended family involved if travelling, to dim the chances of holiday weight, suggests Indian expat and mum-of-two Hina Pancholi. She says: “When Zoran [older son] was younger, they [my kids] would get to spend time with their maternal grandfather, who is a retired army officer. So he’d ensure the kids were up and about, making them swim, making them go for long walks and basically, not letting them sit,” she laughs.
Summer holidays mean travel, family and heaps of fun. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to been an expanding waistline.
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