With another school year wrapped up, many kids are looking forward to summer and lots of free time. You might think summer is when kids are more likely to drop a few pounds. But that’s not how it usually goes. Summertime is often when you'll see kids add pounds. Children who are overweight gain more and kids who are on the border of obesity, cross the line. Even children who are at a normal weight for their age and height during the school year tend to put on weight after school shuts down for summer break.

Why the weight gain?

Kids are not active as they used to be.  Instead of playing outdoors, too many kids spend hours in front of the TV or computer. You may have ridden your bike, played tag or hide and seek, climbed trees or splashed in the pool with friends until the sun went down, but a lot of kids today spend their time with friends on the computer or playing video games. It may be fun, but they’re not burning very many calories.

Kids tend to snack more when they are home. It’s easy to grab a bag of chips and a soda throughout the day when the kitchen is only a few steps away. Constant eating becomes a habit. Presently, US kids eat 27 percent of their daily calories in the form of snacks, typically eaten three times a day in-between meals. A yogurt here (110 calories), a freeze pop there (50 calories), a cookie (80 calories), a donut (200 calories), and another juice box. They all add calories above and beyond a child’s needs.

How can you help prevent summer weight gain? Make sure that there are healthy food snacks available. Get rid of sugary drinks in the house. Encourage your child to maintain a normal pattern of eating with breakfast, lunch, a healthy afternoon snack and dinner with the family rather than adopting a grazing style of eating.

Garden together. Besides being great exercise, gardening can be a way to introduced children to healthy foods. The experience of eating a fruit or vegetable they planted and nourished can help teach them about appreciating healthy foods for a lifetime.

Be a part of your child’s activities. Exercise as a family with bike rides, walking, sports, swimming and trips to the museums, parks, concerts, and recreation center.

Day camps may be a good option for some families. It’s probably too late to register for a stay-over camp, but many cities and local organizations provide day camps. These camps offer a wide variety of learning and fun activities for children.

Limit television, video/DVD and computer access to no more than two hours each day.

Maintain structure in your child’s daily schedule. While it’s good to let your child relax from a long 9 months of school, too much unscheduled time can lead to boredom, overeating and long hours on the couch or at the computer. Some kids do better than others with extra time on their hands, so knowing how your child handles unstructured time can help you create a doable schedule.

Having structure in the summer can also help kids make a more seamless transition back into school come fall. They will already be accustomed to meeting the demands of a schedule (and getting up in the morning), whereas if no summer structure was in place, the school routine could be a shock to their systems once the new semester rolls around again.

Summer should be fun. It should be a break from grueling routines and a time for families to enjoy doing things together. Too often it becomes about doing nothing. The best way to help your child (or you for that matter) avoid gaining weight during the summer is to live an active lifestyle throughout the year. Summer vacation offers many opportunities for families to try something new or different. Make this the best summer ever!