As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues, many parents are finding it difficult to keep up with healthy eating habits and exercise routines within the household. Children are snacking more and with the closure of parks and recreation facilities, children have significantly fewer opportunities for exercise.
Fortunately, we know that healthy eating and exercise are linked to improvements in children’s behavior, sleep and even with boosting their immune systems. Dr. Eleanor Mackey, and Dr. Kelsey Borner, both psychologists at Children’s National Hospital, provide tips to help children maintain healthy habits during the COVID-19 pandemic, below.
Make the Healthy Options the Easy Options
Children will only choose healthy food options if they’re available and easily accessible. Place healthy food options front and center in the pantry and refrigerator so they are easy to spot and put the less healthful food out of reach for children.
Sit down with your kids and make a list of foods the top categories of fruits, vegetables, protein and healthy carbohydrates they like and that fit your budget. Choosemyplate.gov has good lists of what fits in each category if you need some inspiration.
Lastly, make sure those foods make it on your shopping list and then mix and match for meals! For breakfast, a protein and healthy carb/fruit could be an apple with a little peanut butter. Lunch could be a whole grain wrap with chicken breast and a piece of lettuce.
Schedule Time for Movement and Exercise
Experts recommend that children achieve 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day, which is any movement that gets their heart rate up. Physical activity can occur all at once or in bursts throughout the day, so even a few minutes of movement at a time can be very helpful. To encourage your kids to move, create visual daily schedules with times for school/learning, creativity, fun, meals and sleep, as well as scheduled times for outdoor activity, movement breaks and “recess” or sports. Plus, consider setting daily limits on screen times or having portions of the day that are no-screen periods. But be easy on yourself—screen time is likely to be higher than normal these days.
Make it Fun
Children are more likely to engage in any activity or routine when it’s fun! When prepping food or planning meals, throw on some music and make it a food prep party. For younger kids, try cutting sandwiches into fun shapes or making a smiley face out of carrots and tomatoes. And, if you are creating family schedules with times for exercise/movement, let kids decorate their schedules to add some individual creativity.
Adding in some friendly competition can be especially fun and motivating for children and teens of all ages too. Try challenging your family to see who can get the most steps in a day, who can have the most colorful plate at dinner or try the most new vegetables in the week, or who can have the craziest dance move during the family dance party.
Kelsey Borner, Ph.D., is a pediatric pain psychologist and works with youth with various chronic pain conditions and functional symptom disorders.
Eleanor Mackey, Ph.D., is a child psychologist and works primarily with the Obesity Institute and Children’s Research Institute.
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