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How to get kids to eat healthier while stuck at home

How to get kids to eat healthier while stuck at home

It’s safe to say most of us, including our children, have been staying home more than usual due to the pandemic. Young minds may often get bored or restless quite quickly, which can lead to unhealthy habits including overeating.

Here are some tips for snacking and eating smartly while spending more time at home.

  • Cook in quarantine: This is the perfect time to plan meals and snacks ahead of time and try new recipes with your kids. Cook together as a family. Including children in meal planning, recipe choosing, prepping and cooking increases their interest in a meal, which can be helpful with picky eaters who are hesitant to try new things.
  • Ask for help: Have children help pour and mix ingredients, set the table and help make a salad.
    • Your children can even help you in ways that allow them to practice reading and writing skills. Have them make a list of what’s in the pantry/fridge and help look for recipes in cookbooks or online. Practice math skills with measuring cups and spoons, counting the number of ingredients or taking stock of pantry items. For science skills, get your children involved in cooking an egg, baking bread or making homemade salad dressing. Look online for the science behind why ingredients change when combined, cooked or blended.
  • Eat together: Make electronics off limits during meal times. This also helps you and your kids to focus on your food, practice mindful eating and avoid overeating. Go around the table and share your favorite part of the day, something new you learned or what you’re thankful for.
    • Be a good role model and eat the foods you want your child to eat. They will be more likely to eat their broccoli if they see you enjoying it!
  • Healthy at home: Keep healthy foods in the house. When grocery shopping, stick to a list to help avoid those last-minute add-ons that tend to be less healthy.
    • Children are less likely to snack on junk food if it isn’t available at home. For a healthy snack, try pairing a protein source with produce.
    • Choose foods from all food groups to ensure balanced meals:
      • Include fruits and vegetables for antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, all of which promote overall health and immune function.
      • Eat whole grains, which contain more fiber, vitamins and minerals, than enriched white flour.
      • Eat low-fat dairy for calcium intake, which is important for bone health. Consider Greek yogurt, Kefir, milk and cheese. Dairy not your thing? Try fortified alternatives like oat or almond milk. Choose the right alternative to fit your family’s needs (oat milk if more calories are needed, almond if you’re focused on reducing caloric intake.)
      • Eat lean protein sources like chicken, 90% lean beef, wild-caught fish, beans, nuts/nut butter and seeds. Include protein at all meals and states to promote satiety.
      • Choose a healthy fat, such as avocado, nuts, seeds, coconut oil or olive oil.

For many more helpful tips and suggestions, check out the KidsHealth Library on the Advocate Children’s Hospital website.

Contact your pediatrician or your local Advocate Aurora Health site for the outpatient nutrition contact information.

Megan Kochanek is a pediatric dietitian at Advocate Children’s Hospital.

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Megan Kochanek

Megan Kochanek is a pediatric dietitian at Advocate Children's Hospital.