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Parenting during COVID-19: Tips On Keeping Your Kids Healthy During Uncertain Times

By Jannell Baez, MS, RDN, LD/N

Parenting during the pandemic is subject to stress and anxiety in many ways. We worry about contracting COVID-19, money, work, protests, riots, wildfires, hurricanes, and of course, we worry about the impact this time is having on our children. Personally, I am concerned about their education, their social development. They are spending too many hours on a computer or smart phone and are mostly sedentary due to a lack of extracurricular sports programs and being quarantined at home.

Parents have had to face tough situations where they must assist their children with online schooling while working from home themselves. Some parents who can not work from home have had to find childcare services to provide supervision during school hours raising the cost of living during hard economic times. Other children are left home alone because their parents do not have any other option.

In my home, I am fortunate to have my husband working from home and caring for the kids during school hours. He seldom has time between his work and caring for the kids to provide healthy home-made meals and I often come home to processed food boxes and wrappers with the occasional evidence of fast food from a drive through. The poor guy is trying his best while I am at work, but I still wanted to find a solution to help the kids eat healthier foods without causing my husband more stress or time away from his work. Good nutrition, after all, is the one thing we can control that influences our kids’ development and fortifies their immune system keeping them healthy.

Cook a larger portion for dinner to have leftovers for lunch

Most of us have been cooking meals at home during the pandemic because of restaurant closures and because it is less costly. Double the amount of food you prepare to ensure there are ready to eat meals available in the fridge for the following day. Having a quick meal to warm up in the microwave is often a better option than relying on convenience items when you do not have the time to cook during the day.

Stock your home with more whole foods and less processed “junk” food

If there is junk food in my house, it will be eaten. Most processed snacks or cereals can be a quick option for hungry kids (and parents). Try to avoid stocking the pantry with too many chips or packaged goods. Instead, opt for healthier options such as fresh fruit, vegetables, hummus, yogurt, and nuts. A little nut butter and a sliced apple, for example, is a much better option than a bowl of sugary cereal.

Prepare healthy snacks in advance for a “grab and go” option

A little bit of food preparation in advance goes a long way. Once you have done your grocery shopping, wash and slice fruits and veggies and then place them in clear glass containers that are visible when the refrigerator is open. Provide interesting healthy dips to entice your family into eating the produce. There are many ready-made healthy options such as hummus, yogurt, and pesto you can have on hand. Use small jars or lunch containers to fill with cheese and crackers or yogurt parfaits with granola and berries will be an attractive option when kids go on the hunt for food.

Make a bag lunch for your kids as if they were going to school

Most parents that have the option of working from home are faced with dividing their attention between video conferences and hungry kids. Sometimes they are not available to help their child prepare lunch at the time the kids have their lunch break. Another easy solution is to make your kids a bag lunch as if they were going to school and have it ready for them in the refrigerator, so their lunch is ready to go when they need it. Making a quick sandwich along with some fruit and carrots is something you can make in advance easily when you know you have a work meeting during lunch time.

Teach older children how to prepare easy meals on their own

Teaching children basic cooking and food preparation skills will be helpful to you and for your children as well. Teaching your kids how to boil pasta, make a scrambled egg, or use a sandwich press to make a grilled sandwich will come in handy when they are more independent or live on their own. Some kids love the idea of making their own meals while others may push back. I have encouraged my thirteen-year-old to make her own meals by providing the ingredients she needs and coaching her on what a balanced meal should look like. It is a work in progress.

Don’t forget the importance of movement

After kids need to sit in front of a computer for 6 hours a day, they usually want to continue to be on some kind of electronic device to play games, watch YouTube or engage with friends online. This presents a new set of worries that kids are not physically active enough, that their brains are being stimulated in the wrong ways, not to mention, the effect of being exposed to too much blue light and electromagnetic fields. Getting the kids out of the house and outside is not easy when children are feeling lazy. Making sure kids get enough exercise is important for their health and development. Try to encourage kids to go for walks or bike rides in the evening. Play freeze dance. This game plays fun dance music and children must “freeze” when the music is paused. If the kids continue to move when the music is not playing, they are counted as “out”. The winner of this game is the person that lasts the longest playing without being called “out”.

Have kids earn screen time and set time limits on their devices. I am a big fan of bribery when it comes to getting kids to do non-preferred activities such as chores, physical activity, or any other work task around the house. Having them earn some extra screen time allows for them to accomplish their responsibilities while giving their brains a break from the highly stimulating video games and videos they watch. It’s a win-win in my book.

Encourage Connection with your Kids’ Peers

I have also noticed that my younger daughter is socially isolated since the pandemic has begun. She had started a new school last year and now is in a new virtual classroom with a whole new group of kids she does not know. I am concerned that she has not had many playdates or interaction with kids her age aside from virtual interactions on a computer. This dilemma is a bit harder to solve given social distancing requirements and people’s personal choices as to what level of social interaction they are comfortable with. I am hoping that schools and extracurricular sports and activities can safely open soon because kids need to be with their peers for proper development.

Until this happens, it’s a good idea to have the kids stay in touch with their friends. One idea is to engage the kids by having them writing a letter to their friends, having them start a sticker exchange club where they mail friends stickers and collect them in a sticker album, or having a book exchange where they can share books that they have already read with friends and vice versa.

Most parents are coping with different struggles during this time. Whether the struggle is financial, finding childcare, finding work or other challenges, everyone is trying to cope with the changes. We do the best we can, we give them plenty of love and we carry on.

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