In the summer, everything moves a bit more slowly, it seems. Maybe it’s the daylight that lasts longer giving us the perception that we have more time in the day, maybe it’s the sweltering heat that makes us slow down a bit and conserve some energy, or maybe it’s our memories of our summer breaks when we were kids that kicks in and reminds us of the “good ol’ days.”
Whatever it is, in reality, there is no shortness of items on the to-do list, and when we check off one thing, it seems that two additional items are added. But summer can be a time to reset and simplify not only our to-do list but also our personal goals. While the kids are out of school, we can use this time to refocus on our family and work on goals that will make a lasting impression as our kids grow. This can also help us in our health and wellness goals as well.
Prioritize family dinners together.
Involve kids in meal planning. Ask the family what meal they would like to have included for the week. For younger children, you can play kitchen with them and encourage them to see what they’d put on their own menu. Throughout the summer, create a bank of dinner items that everyone enjoyed and keep a journal or calendar to reflect upon, when ideas are needed for dinner.
Remind kids to choose at least two different food items for snacks and three or more items with dinner, when they are planning and actually serving themselves at meal time.
Pick out recipes from cookbooks for inspiration.
Rest assured that snack-style and sandwich dinners can be nutritious. For snack-style dinners, remember the three plus goal above and include something like whole grain crackers, cheese or nuts, fruit and/or a vegetable. For sandwich dinners, aim for a whole grain bread, protein and/or fat and a veggie like an ol’ fashioned BLT on whole grain bread, maybe modernize it with some avocado.
As challenging as it can be, involve little ones in grocery shopping. Keep your kids occupied in the grocery aisles and teach everyone to make chores fun by pretending it’s a scavenger or adventure hunt.
Share the responsibility of meal prepping and cooking (keeping it age-appropriate as needed). From cleaning, mixing, seasoning, shredding, topping and eventually cutting, kids can help take some work off your plate and get everyone comfortable in the kitchen together.
At meal time, examine how your kids are with manners, how well they use utensils and if they chew with their mouth closed.
Slow down at dinner and focus on how the food smells, tastes and its textures. Talk about your day, sharing your struggles, what you learned, how you overcame obstacles, highlights of the day and really connect as a family. If this can’t be at the dinner table every night, can you still find the time to slow down and eat together at one spot. Whether it’s at a ball game, park or by the pool. When you want to eat outside, but it’s simply too hot and humid and the bugs are flying, set out a blanket on the living room floor and have an indoor picnic.
Family meals can be thought of as the ultimate opportunity for meaningful multi-tasking – spending time together, a teaching opportunity and nourishing our families.
Hydrate, especially during these hot months.
Keep an eye on everyone’s fluid intake by refilling water bottles between meals.
Reserve sugary beverages for special occasions to minimize them in your diet but not feel deprived when present. When you may want something flavored, mostly water beverages like unsweetened, homemade brewed teas, water with a splash of lemonade or juice would be better alternatives.
Tend to your own garden.
Whether you plant a few herbs in pots to keep in your kitchen or have a plot outside to tend to, planting a garden as small or as lavish as you want can help everyone to get outdoors.
Fresh herbs can be added for flavor interest to meals and beverages, and parsley would be great to add subtle flavor in a meal and mint can boost aroma in water, tea and homemade fruit infused water.
Kids can water plants or learn to pull weeds, as a gentle way to nudge them out the door and away from all the screens in the house. If a little water splashing party ensues, just think of it as a fun and playful way to keep everyone cool and have some fun while tackling a chore.
Get active together.
We all need to be more physically active. Try going for a walk together, riding bikes or do an online free yoga class. We’ll all be more likely to do things when we do them together!
We all need to learn how to make daily tasks like cooking, cleaning and exercising fun and enjoyable. We’re more likely to accomplish them and not feel as burdened, if we are able to enjoy these things.
You may feel overwhelmed thinking about implementing all of these ideas. You may already be doing some of these, some may not apply to you. If you feel like there’s more than one thing you want to do, try just one at a time for a set time, like a week or so and add more as you are able. Don’t feel the need to cave to the pressures of society to be perfect and do all the things. It’s not possible, it’s not necessary, and it’s not helpful to your mental health.
Rebecca Miller, MPH, RDN, LDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist who shares recipes and inspiration on her blog, Twisted Nutrition. She can be reached at TwistedNutritionBlog.com or via email BMillerRD85@gmail.com