School Breaks Don't Have To Be Breaks From Healthy Habits

You’re already planning your activities for school vacations, but are you planning on how to keep your kids eating healthy while they are out of school?

Wait. Do breaks from school equal breaks from daily healthy habits?

With school breaks for Thanksgiving and Christmas lurking around the corner, school-aged children will be on vacation and likely be spending their time at home or away on trips. The routine of school often helps to keep kids on a regular, healthy eating pattern. But during these school breaks, parents should make sure their kids eat the right portions of nutrient-dense foods to ensure that they stay healthy while away from school.

If children don’t bring their own food to school, they are offered meal plans from the school that are nutritionally balanced and thoughtfully planned every school year. Thanks to key legislation such as the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010 and core child nutrition programs such as the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program, schools across the nation follow  the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate that are set by USDA. The guidelines help ensure children eat enough fruits, vegetables, lean meats, dairy and grains throughout the school year. Also, don’t forget all the “water breaks” (time for kids to grab their bottled water or refill their water bottles) kids get to ensure healthy hydration.

Science says …

Since the HHFKA implementation (in 2012), research from the Harvard School of Public Health has found that the school meal standards do significantly increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables for school-aged children.

In addition, recent research has found that, especially during summer break from school, kids are likely to gain an unhealthy amount of weight because of the time spent away from their regimented, healthy meals and activities provided by schools. The study followed a nationally representative complex random sample of 18,170 U.S. children from kindergarten from fall 2010 through the second grade in spring 2013. The study found that, “from the fall of kindergarten to the spring of second grade, the prevalence of obesity increased from 8.9% to 11.5%, and the prevalence of overweight increased from 23.3% to 28.7%.”

What’s a parent to do? Dietary Guidelines to the rescue!

To take the guesswork out of how to eat right in everyday life, USDA developed “MyPlate, MyWins.” This site includes multiple resources that break down many of the highlights of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans into easily digestible resources (no pun intended) for all Americans—even if you’re on the go, on a budget, or have picky eaters in your family. One of our favorites is the “10 Tips to Build a Healthy Meal” tip sheet.

The best part is that the tips are easy to follow. And even if you only follow five out of 10 in the beginning, you will still be helping your kids eat healthier. My favorite tips are “Increasing fruits and vegetables,” “decreasing fats and sugar,” and “remembering what you drink counts toward your calorie intake too.”

One more key tip is to put effort into being creative. Let kids help in the kitchen or with the shopping. Maybe you can recreate meals that they have had at school that they enjoy.