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Smarter Lunchrooms Doesn’t Take a Summer Vacation: Strategies to Try at Home, Part 1: Dinner Solutions!

Smarter Lunchrooms Doesn’t Take a Summer Vacation:

Strategies to Try at Home, Part 1: Dinner Solutions!

Smarter Lunchrooms and Smarter Mealtimes strategies encourage kids to try, select, eat, and enjoy healthy food choices in schools and early childhood education settings. But what about summer vacation when many kids are at home? Try these strategies adapted from Smarter Lunchrooms and Smarter Mealtimes to nudge kids to enjoy healthy food choices and practice healthy food habits all summer long!


  • Eat meals together as a family whenever possible (with the TV off!). If your family schedule is packed, schedule a family dinner at least once per week. You can even make it a fun “event” by sending invitations and reminders (email or text is fine), writing conversation topics, or suggesting a fun dress code and menu.
    • Eating at the table in the dining room or kitchen was linked to lower BMIs for both children and parents, and watching TV was correlated to higher BMIs for parents. 
    • TV viewing has been associated with lower intakes of fruits and vegetables. 
    • Parents can serve as good role models for children in terms of food choices.
  • Keep your dining area clean, well-lit, and inviting.
    • Ambiance strongly influences eating behavior. Important factors include the ambient temperatures and lighting (cooler temps encourage people and kids to eat less), ambient sounds (loud, disturbing noises can cause people to eat more), and distraction (increases consumption). 
    • Diners tend to choose less healthy options when lighting is dim
  • Proximity matters! When serving, keep less healthy food away from the table, either on the counter when you eat in the kitchen or in the kitchen while eating in another area such as a dining room, den, or patio. Keep a pitcher of cold or ice water on the table encourage everyone to stay well hydrated.
    • The accessibility of dessert in a hospital cafeteria affected the likelihood of eating low-calorie desserts and of eating any dessert.
    • More water is consumed when it is available on the table.
  • Serve meals family-style.
    • When younger children serve themselves, they play an active role in determining their portion sizes in response to their hunger, which encourages improved self-regulation. 
    • Providing a sample plate as a model encourages children to serve themselves reasonably sized, balanced portions.
  • Include a vegetable at dinner.
    • Veggies can be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried. They can be served cooked or raw.
    • Pair raw veggies with a healthy, low-fat dip such as salsa, hummus, or low-fat ranch. Here are some easy dip recipes to try.
    • Summer is a great time to try fresh and local produce and experiment with new recipes!
    • Serving vegetables improves diners’ taste expectations for the entrée and enhance perceptions of the meal preparer (more thoughtful/attentive, less lazy/boring/ self-absorbed). 
  • Take time to talk with your children about nutrition education.
    • Discussing nutrition is important as children become more independent and start making their own food choices. Learning about fruits and vegetables and the importance of good nutrition can encourage children to make more nutritious choices. 
    • This can also include visiting a farm or farmers’ market, talking to growers, or reading books about nutrition and food together.
  • Ask children for feedback.
    • Receiving input from kids about what encourages or deters them from eating healthier can help you improve the home environment/nutritious options available at home to meet their needs. 
    • Trying different recipes can be a great way to get your kids to find healthy dishes they enjoy.
    • Let them pick out a new fruit or vegetable the next time you buy groceries.

Coming later this month: Part 2: Snacking Solutions!