SUNDAY, July 13 (HealthDay News) -- Even though it's summertime, children shouldn't be allowed to take a vacation from healthy eating habits, advises Dr. Sarah Armstrong, a pediatrician at Duke University Medical Center.
"Routines go haywire, and with nothing to do after a few days in the pool, kids head straight for the refrigerator or snack bar, because they think they're hungry, when they're actually just bored," Armstrong said in a university news release.
Add in things like regular servings of ice cream to beat the heat, hot dogs at the ball park, and funnel cake at the fair, and you have a summer-long binge of bad eating that can lead to weight gain.
Armstrong offered parents a number of ways to prevent their children from packing on excess pounds this summer.
Make sure kids get enough sleep. Research shows that late nights and sleeping in are known risk factors for weight gain. "When kids stay up late, they are more likely to watch TV and snack on dense, low-nutrient foods," Armstrong said.
In addition, a shorter night's sleep limits the body's production of leptin, a hormone that promotes satiety. Lower levels of leptin mean children wake up feeling more hungry and are quicker to grab high-carbohydrate, calorie-rich foods.
When children wake up, encourage them to eat healthy breakfasts that include things such as fruit smoothies, high fiber cereal or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread.
Take a holiday from fast foods. Instead of going to a burger joint, pack a picnic with healthy foods such as turkey sandwiches and salads and go to the park or beach. Armstrong said it's important to "incorporate protein in every meal. It releases insulin at a slower rate, and that keeps your blood sugars -- and your energy level -- constant throughout the day."
Parents should check out the menu at their child's summer camp. If the meals and snacks aren't acceptable, pack your child a healthy lunch that includes things such as lean lunch meats, raw vegetables and whole wheat crackers.
During the summer, parents also need to limit their children's consumption of sweets and make sure kids are active.
The Nemours Foundation has more about children and healthy eating.