If, like many families, you rely on your child’s school or other agencies to secure food, check with your district to see if they are still providing meals. You can also use the USDA’s “Meals for Kids Site Finder” to quickly and easily find nearby meal sites.
Many schools have set up distance learning to keep students and families safe from spreading COVID-19. As children adjust to virtual classes and parents adjust to working remotely, meal times may become disorganized. Without the right routines and habits in place, this can lead to over-snacking. Everything your child eats and drinks matters, and it is more important than ever to keep their energy sustained and to avoid “Zoom Gloom”. You can make a huge difference in your child’s day by following these mindful eating tips.
Help your child access the right foods.
Virtual classes are often back-to-back and there is little time for proper meals between each session. When your children scramble to get a snack you can be ready with healthy options.
Put fruit in a large bowl that is the very first thing children will see and is easy to grab quickly. You can also cut fresh fruit and put in see-through containers in the fridge on lower shelves. If you’re looking for affordable resources for fresh fruits and vegetables, check to see if your community has a farmer’s market or food share program.
As well as being eaten fresh, fruits can be frozen and will retain most of their nutrients and flavor. Freezing your fruit will prevent waste and give your kids the chance to eat seasonal fruits all year long. Be sure to wash and dry the fruit before freezing it, then simply divide it into portions that you can easily grab.
Focus on whole, protein-rich foods for snacks and meals.
The right foods will keep your child full for longer, which is more cost-effective and will prevent extra trips to the fridge. Aim to include vegetables, fruit, and wholegrain foods in all meals.
Choose foods that are close to their form in nature like raw fruits and vegetables rather than man-made foods. An apple will be more affordable and healthier than apple juice.
Teach your children to pay attention to packaging when they choose food. Look for the word “whole” on the package. You can also look for foods that have more than 5 grams of dietary fiber on the label.
Canned and dried foods like beans, lentils, split peas, rice, couscous, or quinoa can be affordable, stored for months, and provide many nutrients.
Be mindful of what your child is drinking.
During this new normal, staying hydrated throughout the day with the right kind of drinks is critical.
Keep a water bottle next to your child’s desk and set a digital reminder to drink between classes.
Try to reduce juices and remove sodas and caffeinated energy drinks completely. You can add fresh or frozen fruits like berries or slices of citrus to water as a substitute for sugary drinks.
Follow the rule of 5 and eat the rainbow.
To stay healthy and focused, children need five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. To reach all five, you can include 1-2 in each meal or snack.
Fruit and vegetables come in a range of colors, and each color contains different amounts of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. You can encourage your child to eat items from each color. Be careful to avoid snacks that contain dyes. These items can be full of added sugars and can end up making children crash by the end of the day.
As a fun activity, you can make a color wheel to engage your child. They can spin the wheel and pick a corresponding fruit or vegetable to match the color (cherry tomatoes, strawberries, oranges, rainbow carrots, yellow peaches, yellow bell peppers, granny smith apples, snap peas, blueberries, purple plums, etc.).
Keep treats for special occasions.
Distance learning can be hard and you may be tempted to use treats to encourage better habits or to make your child feel better about the situation. These snacks can be full of unhealthy trans fats with excess salt, added sugars, and can end up making children crash by the end of the day.
Avoid buying sweets and unhealthy snacks in bulk. It will cut down on the temptation if they aren’t available.
Keep treats for special occasions and avoid using sweets as rewards.
Schedule a snack schedule and try to set fixed mealtimes.
When children go to school they follow a schedule for when to eat lunch and snacks during the day. These structures and routines can help with anxiety children may feel during this situation.
If your children are eating three balanced meals each day, they will only need two small snacks per day. Schedule a snack time in the mid-morning and one in the mid-afternoon. To prevent all-day grazing, keep snack portions small and set time limits for eating. Allow fifteen minutes for snack time and then have your children put their snack away.
Cooking and eating meals as a family is a good way to create healthy routines and bond. If you can, involve your children in preparing meals. Young children can wash fruits and vegetables or set the table, and older children can help with stirring and mixing.