Despite the warmer weather and the freedom to play all day, research has shown that many children actually gain weight when they’re not in school.

In fact, a recent study shows many kids struggle when it comes to eating a healthy diet during summer months.

The study looked at 218 children over a six-year period.

Researchers found the largest discrepancy for children from lower-income households on the weekends.

“What the study found was that during the week day, they’re getting more fruits, and they’re getting less sugar-sweetened beverages, but during the weekend, they’re getting less fruits and they’re getting more sugar-sweetened beverages,” said Jennifer Hyland, RD, of Cleveland Clinic Children’s, who did not take part in the study.

Regardless of a family’s socioeconomic status, Hyland said summer diets can change.

Other factors such as more sedentary time, less structure, and easier access to snacks can lead any child to consume more calories than they’re expending, leading to summer weight gain, according to officials.

She said the key to avoiding weight gain during the summer is to keep a set schedule for meals, and be aware of what children have access to.

“I think the biggest thing for parents, is still having a set schedule for meals,” said Hyland. “Still serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, and one or two snacks throughout the day, but having it be a little more structured, that way kids also know what to expect and know they’re not going to have free-reign to things at any time during the day.”

If cost is a concern, Hyland said summer is a good time to explore local farmer’s markets for fresh fruits and veggies – which are often less expensive when bought in season. She also recommends growing vegetables at home if possible.

“The best, most cost effective way to get more vegetables in your child’s diet is to grow a garden at home,” she said. “If you have that opportunity, or you can even use planters; growing fruits and vegetables are wonderful way to have a surplus at home, and also get the kids involved too. It’s really fun and they’re more likely to eat the vegetables if they’ve grown them themselves.”

Complete results of the study can be found in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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