Child Nutrition: Top 10 Healthy Summer Foods for Children

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Ball games, cookouts, festivals. Summer is ripe with our children’s favorite foods. Yet so many summer foods — from BBQ turkey legs to ice cream and hot dogs — are dietary disasters.

Can children eat healthy, yet still enjoy their favorite summer foods? Yes, they can have hamburgers, hot dogs, ice creamy treats, and desserts — if you handle it right.

Healthy Food Rule #1: Let them eat sweets, says Sarah Krieger, MPH, RD, LD, a dietitian in St. Petersburg, FL, and an American Dietetic Association (ADA) spokeswoman. “It’s really important to treat sweets like any other food, to have a little bit every day. That’s how kids develop a healthy relationship with sweet foods.”

Healthy Food Rule #2: Make sure they burn off the calories, says Elisa Zied, MS, RD, a nutrition consultant in New York City, author of the book Feed Your Family Right!, and an ADA spokeswoman.

At a carnival, “if your kids want a funnel cake or corn dog, go for it,” Zied tells WebMD. “You don’t want them to feel deprived. Pump up their activity that week or that day so they can burn it off.” She also teaches kids to share sweet and fatty foods — so everyone gets a taste, but no one overeats.

Healthy Food Rule #3: “Be a good role model,” says Sheah Rarback, MS, RD, director of chocolate and vanilla have about 100 calories per half-cup, while other flavors are 120 to 130 calories — even 250 calories per serving.

  • Another option: “If kids get a Fudgsicle or Popsicle, they’ll be dodging lots of fat and sugar,” Krieger says. In fact, Fudgsicles now come in fat-free or low-fat, no sugar added versions. Popsicles are fat-free, even sugar-free if you want. And both have built-in breakfast food is fun for kids. It’s made easier with frozen, whole grain, reduced-fat products. The toppings boost the nutrition: natural applesauce, blueberries, sliced banana and strawberries, and a little light syrup, Zied suggests.

    • Another classic: Scrambled eggs mixed with low-fat shredded cheddar, tomatoes, asparagus, mushrooms (or whatever veggies your kids like).
    • Scrambled-eggs-in-a-cup: Take a slice of whole wheat bread, break it up into a cup, top with the cooked egg mixture. You’re good to go!
  • 6. Top Summer Food: Marshmallows

    What’s cool about marshmallows? “Even kids with antioxidant. Watermelon is 92% water and 8% sugar, and a favorite sweet treat for kids.

    • Make sure watermelon wedges make it to your table. But don’t stop there. A platter or bowl of other seasonal fruits — fresh blueberries, strawberries, cherries, peaches, plums — makes a yummy treat, too.
    • Taub-Dix suggests putting the fruit bowl in the freezer, and serving it frozen. Her 13-year-old son, Jesse, would rather have the fruit in a smoothie instead. “You won’t get kids to pick up frozen fruit,” he says. “But a smoothie would be great.”
    • Introduce kids to fun veggies, too, says Rarback. “Edamame is fun to eat because you pop out the little soy beans out of the pod. It’s an engaging thing. But have most kids ever tried it?” Include edamame on raw veggie platters, along with baby carrots, celery sticks, asparagus tips, cherry tomatoes — plus nutritious dips like or low-fat yogurt.

    9. Top Summer Food: Anything Sweet

    Chocolate cakes, carrot cakes, cakes of every flavor are all-American picnic fare. Is that really such a bad thing?

    If they eat just a slice, that’s fine, says Rarback. “In the summer, kids should be active enough that they can eat a piece of cake if they want it — especially if the majority of their foods are nutrient rich. It’s all about balance and moderation.”

    • Bake cupcakes, brownies, or dessert bars — instead of layer cakes — for portion control. Lighten up cake and brownie mixes by replacing oil with half oil and half applesauce (or another fruit puree).
    • To give kids a chocolate fix, use chocolate shavings for flavoring on angel food cake, frozen yogurt, seasonal fruit, or other healthier treats. “It’s better than giving them a candy bar,” Rarback says.
    • A naturally sweet treat: grilled bananas, low-fat ice cream, a drizzle of melted chocolate — and light whipped topping .

    10. Top Summer Food: Thirst Quenchers

    At the ballpark, at the carnival — it’s hard to find a good replacement for soda, says Zied. “Even lemonade isn’t a great option, with all the added sugar.”

    “One soda once in awhile is fine,” she says. “But I also give my kids the option of choosing whether they want a can of soda or three cookies instead. I let them make the choice. That empowers them to not waste calories.”

    • Share those huge lemonades — divide it in cups. Dilute with a bit with water.
    • Carry fruit juice with you. Or, flavor ice water with an artificially sweetened powder. “If it’s hot, they’re not going to fuss over drinking water,” Zied says.
    • Another option: Make a spritzer with exotic fruit juices (like pomegranate or noni juice) plus sparkling water. Or, use blueberry extract with sparkling water. “Kids love blue food,” says Rarback.