it is part of the DUTY of a parent to keep their children fit for summer
Recent research indicates that children's average weight gain can increase up to three-fold during the summer months versus the school year.
It goes against the grain to think that this can be so. Surely they're out and about a lot more, now that the holidays have arrived; surely salad is the order of the day; surely they have to be dragged in to eat, only to run out the door straight after dinner because of the craic and freedom they are experiencing with their buddies outside.
The truth is, the freedom afforded our kids during these extended holidays is causing them to gain even more weight than they may have done all year long.
While this research is from the United States, it must be taken as a warning sign by the rest of us. Alarm bells are ringing and we need to hear them. The evidence is definitive; those already at risk (in other words, those already overweight) gain the most weight over summer.
It may seem confusing, but when you look more closely there can be no confusion. A recent example in my house brought this observation home to me.
As the end of year certificates were being given out for achievement in my teenager's gymnastics class, she had me on a promise that if she got her final badge she could treat herself to a milkshake at a local cafe.
Her nine-year-old sister, who was also hoping for a certain result from the class, was in on the promise. Sure enough, to their delight, they got what they'd hoped for and the treat was set up.
As I ordered my coffee and waited for said milkshakes, I had to restrain myself from quizzing the girl, as I stood, frozen, by what I observed.
I assumed that a milkshake still contained, primarily, milk with a scoop of ice-cream and some flavoured syrup. This concoction contained an entire Kinder Bueno (double) bar, a very hefty scoop of decadent ice-cream (God be with the days of HB) and the merest hint of milk. I couldn't help but add up the calories in this monstrosity. I approximated them to 500.
Neurotic as I may seem, I do this purely from a scientific standpoint. I don't calorie-count my children's intake; they get chocolate bars and treats aplenty; they have no weight issues. This is not the point. The point is very much that neither child nor adult should EVER consume a drink of such excess under any circumstance other than, perhaps, recovery from intensive, competitive sport or illness.
Drinks such as this can only result in weight gain - they tend to skip past our appetite's radar. It's the most surefire way of becoming overweight if allowed to become a habit.
Let's pretend your teenager gets to go to that cafe every day because of the freedoms they now have, financially as well as socially. The stark reality is that he or she will have gained a full pound of body fat after just one week of it. There are 3,500 (calories) in one pound of fat. Fact.
After my girls had their 'milkshake', I told them not to expect one again in the near future, as €3.20 is an outrageous price for any drink. That's my story for them and I'm sticking to it. It's not their job to understand calories as yet, it's mine to manage.
Exaggerated as this example might seem, it happens to amount to the same thing as a child being allowed free rein to go to the local shop as often as they want. They might buy a chocolate bar on one trip with one friend, an ice-cream later with another.
Children eat rubbish out of boredom, as a result of skipping meals or simply because the schedule becomes a bit harum-scarum.
Adhere to a tight schedule on holiday as much as you do year-round. A 7.30 wake-up call can become a nine o'clock one, but really not much later than that, except on a rare occasion.
As a result, a one o'clock lunch becomes the norm, followed by, say, six o'clock dinner. The idea here is that your child gets to build up an appetite for meal-time. When that's the case they have to 'save' their appetite for dinner in the afternoon and so get to walk to the shop to get their chosen dessert only after dinner.
We need to monitor their cash use too. They should really only have one euro when visiting the shop. Kids are trustworthy and can manage this themselves as they are getting what they want but in a structured way.
It's a win-win. The maturity that comes from managing their own money and trips to the shop are useful tools for when they get older.
While it may seem hard work now, in setting up such structures your effort will pay dividends over the coming years as your child holds on to an appropriate weight-for-height over the summer months as well as the school year, and gets the freedom to eat a treat every day at the same time.
Life can indeed be very good during the summer holidays.