Everyone has heard about the Freshman 15 - those extra pounds that sneak up on unsuspecting college students when parents are no longer supervising their eating habits. But what about the Summertime 6 or 7?

Everyone has heard about the Freshman 15 - those extra pounds that sneak up on unsuspecting college students when parents are no longer supervising their eating habits. But what about the Summertime 6 or 7?

Nobody knows precisely how much extra weight kids gain during the summer. They are growing after all, so it's natural for them to weigh more as they get taller. Still, a recent study at The Ohio State University found that the rate of weight gain for 5- and 6-year-olds increased during the summer. That's worrisome because summertime used to be when kids burned every calorie they consumed by riding bikes, doing chores and just running around.

The researchers speculated that the reason today's kids might put on pounds is that summer schedules are less structured and often include sugary snacks, soft drinks and frozen treats. They also pinpointed more sedentary summer activities.

Much of what kids want to do with their free time involves screens - flipping through TV shows, competing at video or computer games, and catching up on websites and social networks. All these activities have one common feature - backsides planted firmly in chairs.

That's the bad news. The good news is the very screens that are keeping kids - and often their parents - enthralled also can supply good ideas for how to help kids establish the healthy eating and exercise habits that will lead to lifelong weight control.

For the most part, parents should skip dieting websites. Your goal isn't to make kids self-conscious about their bodies or obsessive about their eating habits. Instead, look for creative ideas to help achieve a sustainable balance between what kids eat and how they play. Here are some promising places to start:


Go back to basics.
Children of all ages are more likely to make good food choices for themselves if they know what a healthy diet looks like. Study the government's food pyramid together at www.mypyramid.gov/kids/.


Slim down family favorites.
In many families, summer is a time for eating traditional foods while gathering for special occasions. Analyze the nutrition content of beloved family recipes - and any other food - at Nutrition Data (www.nutrition data.com), a Web site that takes its information from the USDA's national nutrition database. Then start tweaking the recipes to improve the ratio of nourishment to calories.


Find skinny snacks.
When kids are home, they want to snack. Make sure they have healthy, kid-friendly choices like the 25 snacks recommended by the American Dietetic Association (http://tinyurl. com/p3t8zl).


Track down local produce.
If your kids aren't vegetable fans, introduce them to the pleasures of really fresh produce. Local Harvest (www.localharvest.org) makes it easy to find the markets and farmstands near you. Better yet, get exercise and dinner by picking your own vegetables and fruits. To find local farms that welcome families, visit www.pickyourown.org.


Eat out less.
Thanks to the economy, families are eating more meals at home. When you do take your family out for a treat, choose wisely. Calorie counts and nutrition information for menu items at over 500 restaurants are available at Diet Facts (http://www.dietfacts.com/fastfood.asp).


Give kids a screen time allowance.
Most experts recommend kids spend no more than two hours daily on TV, video games and online activities combined, but you may want to hold a family meeting to decide what makes sense in your household. Let your kids set up the rules about how minutes can be allocated. Can they "save" minutes from one day to the next? Is there an extra allowance for playdates or sleepovers? Can they "earn" extra minutes by doing more chores or exercising? Once you've set the rules, use timers to enforce them if necessary.


Get interactive.
Whenever possible, build movement into the interactive pastimes your kids enjoy. Obviously, this is easiest if you have an "exergame" system like the Wii or Dance Revolution. (A list of active games is available at http://tinyurl.com/pe3kce.) Even without those devices, game time will be less sedentary if you encourage kids to play while sitting on a balance ball or even an exercise bike. As a last resort, try hiding the TV remote, computer mouse or video games. Then send the kids on a treasure hunt to find the missing equipment.


Go where you've never gone before.
Getting out of the house is often the best way to disengage kids from their screens. This summer, make it a point to explore all the play spaces within 15 minutes of your home. Kaboom makes this mission easy with the Play Space Finder (see below). Encourage your kids to rate the playgrounds and add their recommendations to the website. Look for other great ways to explore in Columbus Parent Magazine's Summer Fun Guide. Click on Guides in the top navigation.


Make family fun physical.
Parents can often mine their own memories and come up with ideas for active summer fun, such as water balloon battles or family bike rides. If you're feeling low on inspiration, check out a website that corresponds to the ages of your kids. Kids in Action lists simple activities for children under 5 (http://tinyurl.com/qk6rpw). Smartspot offers setting-specific ideas for school-age children (http://www.smartspot.com/beactive/children). And Kidnetic recommends the kind of goofy games that will appeal to pre-teens (www.kidnetic.com).

Any of these ideas are likely to make your summer happier and healthier. The bonus is that when kids head back to school this fall, they'll carry fewer extra pounds and more light-hearted memories.