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Outdoor Kids Fitness and Nutrition Guide for the Summer

Summer is a time for children to take a break from school and have fun. More than ever, kids are spending this time engaging in activities that are sedentary and lack any real physical challenge. In addition, as kids become more sedentary, they may also indulge in unhealthy foods that contain little, if any, of the nutrition that young bodies need to grow. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines of America, children should participate in 60 minutes of daily physical activity that is of moderate to vigorous intensity. The summer months have all of the right conditions to make it the ideal time to get physically active. With the right know-how, parents can help their children to be as healthy and active as possible while still having fun and doing things that they enjoy.

The Importance of Staying Active and Being Healthy

There are plenty of reasons why kids need to be active during the summer months. Some of the obvious reasons include staving off boredom; however, more importantly, kids need to be active for their health. One of the most common reasons why staying active and healthy is important is to help combat obesity. Obesity is related to health problems including diabetes. When a child is active outdoors, they are getting sun exposure that helps the body make vitamin D, which helps strengthen children's bones and is good for the immune system and muscle health. Vitamin D also helps reduce the chances of diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer. Another reason why it is important to stay active, particularly outdoors, is that it improves and helps build coordination, confidence, and self-esteem. It also helps children learn to use all of their senses and provides them with the freedom to explore nature. In general, staying healthy during childhood can help lay the foundation for good health as an adult.

Nutrition and Dietary Guidelines for Kids

The dietary and nutritional requirements of children change with their age. Fortunately, there are guidelines that parents and guardians can refer to when it comes to meeting these needs at various ages. The recommended caloric intake for children 2 to 3 years old is 1,000 calories a day. When children are 4 to 8 years old, they need between 1,200 and 1,400 calories daily. The calorie needs of children 9 to 13 years old differ based on gender: Boys need to consume 1,800 calories a day, while girls in this age group need 1,600.

Overall, parents and caregivers should limit foods containing salt and sugar, such as processed foods, sugary drinks, and sweets. When it comes to salt, the amount should be adjusted according to age. For example, from the age of 1 to 3, children should consume less than 1,500 milligrams a day. Children who are ages 4 to 8 should have less than 1,900 milligrams daily, and intake should be less than 2,200 milligrams for children who are 9 years old to 13. School-age children should be given fresh vegetables and fruits, protein, dairy, and whole grains to eat. According to the USDA, children who are 2 to 3 years old should consume one cup each of fruit and vegetables, 2 cups of dairy, 3 ounces of grains (with half being whole grains) and 2 ounces of protein daily. Children ages 4 to 8 who participate in less than 30 minutes of moderate additional activity daily should eat between 1 and 1 1/2 cups of fruit daily, 1 1/2 cups of vegetables, 5 ounces of grains foods (with a minimum of 2 1/2 ounces being whole grains), 4 ounces of protein, and 2 1/2 cups of dairy products.

Of the many vitamins and minerals that children require, the ones that they often get the least of are iron, calcium, and vitamin B6. It is advised by both the American Dietetic Association and the American Medical Association that children receive their nutrients from the foods that they eat as opposed to taking supplements. To get the additional calcium that they need, children should be given foods such as milk, broccoli, canned salmon with bones, and cheeses. Children can get the necessary iron from fortified cereals, beans, spinach, poultry, fish, and meat. Food sources for vitamin B6 include nuts, fish, organ meats such as beef liver, fruit (with the exception of citrus fruits), and starchy vegetables. While it is not the preferred method, children can be given a multivitamin to supplement a nutritious diet. In general, it is recommended that toddlers receive 700 milligrams of calcium, 7 mg of iron, and 0.5 mg of B6 on a daily basis. From the ages of 4 to 8, children require 1,000 mg of calcium, 10 mg of iron, and 0.6 mg of B6. Children between the ages of 9 and 13 need 1,300 mg of calcium, 8 mg of iron, and 1 mg of B6 per day.

Ways to Keep Your Kids Moving

Getting kids to keep moving over the summer can be a challenge for some parents. One of the best ways to get kids moving is to set and enforce rules for children regarding what they can do and for how long. Television and video games are two of the big challenges, or obstacles, for parents. By setting aside time for this type of entertainment and play, kids are then more open to other more physical pursuits to keep themselves busy. Parks and other outdoor venues also encourage physical activity and are fun. Purchase toys and equipment that encourage and/or require physical exertion such as bicycles, skateboards, jump ropes, and even hoops. Naturally, these items should be appropriate for the child's age. Talk with kids to find out what physical activities they enjoy the most and help them to pursue them. Encourage kids to invite friends over for safe and supervised play time.

How Families Can Be Active Together

One way to get kids active is to turn physical activity and fitness into a family affair. Families can go bicycling together around the neighborhood or at a local park. Plan weekend trips to the beach, or go swimming together at the gym or local swimming pool. Hiking and camping trips are also a great way to get active during the summer and spend time together as a family.

Healthy, Kid-Friendly Foods

The eating habits established during childhood can follow kids into their adult lives. For this reason, it is important for parents to create healthy meals for their kids throughout their childhood. "Healthy" and "delicious" don't have to be two separate things when it comes to creating good-for-you dinners for children to eat. Kid-favorite recipes for dinners such as chicken fingers can easily be adjusted to be healthier. For example, when recipes call for frying, reduce the amount of grease by oven-frying instead. When foods call for pasta, replace traditional noodles with the whole-wheat version. For drinks, skip sugary drinks in favor of milk or water. Carrot sticks and celery, apple wedges, and grapes are good replacement snack foods for chips, cookies, and other unhealthy options. Parents can also make healthy smoothies for their children that combine fruits and even vegetables with lowfat milk and/or yogurt.

Summer Activities, Recreation Ideas, and Team Sports

Summer is a great time to get kids moving, and courtesy of the warmer weather conditions, there are often plenty of activities that kids can get involved in. Involve kids in outdoor sports such as softball or basketball, provided the weather is not overly hot for this type of play. Many children enjoy summer camp, where they can participate in various activities with other kids their age. Water-based activities are also fun but should be age-appropriate and adult-supervised, particularly when pools are involved.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart