Many of our school-aged children have passed the one-year anniversary since becoming virtual students! Our brave students had to shift from being able to join their friends during recess or participate in after school basketball practice, to signing into virtual classroom to watch those same friends from a computer screen. No recess. No basketball practices. No physical activity. Less structure.

Now, we are sure children have no problem signing into their first hour block still in their pajamas. Having the refrigerator only a few steps away can be very tempting for children who want to lounge around and snack all day long. Potato chips and pasta for lunch and dinner? Yes! Unfortunately, with the lack of physical activity that is happening due to school closings and the COVID-19 pandemic, many of our school-aged children are feeling the effects of decreased physical activity, and in some communities, lack of access to nutritious meals. With less physical activity and fewer healthy food options, our students are at-risk for becoming overweight and developing chronic conditions that come with the increased intake of packaged and processed food and decreased physical activity. Let’s look at ways we can promote healthy eating and physical activity while your children are learning at home.

Daily schedule/routine

Our children are used to schedules. Schedules help implement a routine, which helps children learn the concept of time and what to expect. For example, if you create a routine where you child eats breakfast at a certain time before virtual school and will need to wait until the next break to have their morning snack, that is the routine your child will learn and adapt. Daily routines will bring more structure to their school day and it will also give parents more time to plan out meals and snacks in moderation.

Modeling healthy eating habits

Simply put, children model after the adults that influence them, which includes their own parents. Parents and caregivers should take an active role is showing their children how they want them to adopt healthier habits. If you want children to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains throughout day, then adults will need to model the same desired behaviors. No more midnight trips to the fridge for ANYONE, including the caregivers.

Make snack time fun

When incorporating healthier food options, having children make their lunch and snacks along with you will encourage them to want to eat it. In addition, provide a couple of options for kids at snack time. The parents’ job is to decide what a child is served. It is the child’s job to determine how much or how little of that option they want to have. If a child decides they do not want the option served, they do not have to eat it, but other snacks should not be offered. Make sure to schedule in a snack that your child loves (like chips!) in the week so that your child knows that no food is off-limits, but that there are other options we should have more often.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mareesha Walker, MSA, CHES is the Community Education Specialist for the Child Health Advocacy Institute (CHAI) with the Department of Advocacy and Community Affairs.

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