If you’re a kid, there are few things better than an after-school snack. Whether it’s salty or sweet, it always hits the spot after the long school day ends and you wait on dinner.
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But with kids stuck at home thanks to coronavirus-related school closures, there’s a chance that, just like their parents, their diets could get a bit out of whack.
Previous research has shown children tend to gain weight during the summer months when they’re not at school. So how can parents keep kids from putting on excess weight while school’s out?
Dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, says setting a family’s meal plan for the day can go get everyone off to a good start.
“Make sure that you feed the kids breakfast within the first couple of hours of waking up,” she suggests. “Normally, we’re rushing out the door, trying to get to school. That’s not the case anymore, so while you can be a little flexible with the timing, you’ll want to have some form of breakfast within 2 or 3 hours of waking up.”
It’s also a good idea to keep track of when everyone is eating during the day, including adults. It’s best to make sure kids have something to eat every four to five hours, Dr. Zumpano says, as this will help cut down on all-day grazing.
“Make a note of what time you ate breakfast, make a note of what time you had the snack,” she says. “If you find you’re snacking all day, maybe just go ahead and have a meal. Maybe you’re hungrier than you realized and you’re just snacking throughout the day, because you’re not actually eating a meal.”
It’s easy to fall back on comfort foods when we’re feeling stressed and out of sorts.
And while it’s okay to indulge in a comfort snack here or there, Dr. Zumpano notes we want to make sure kids are getting balanced meals, with plenty of vegetables, at meal time.
“Really focus on the core of meals being a protein source, a fruit and a vegetable,” she says. “And the vegetable portion should exceed the portion of meat and fruit or starch.”
Have some healthy snack options available, too, and portion them out into bowls so kids aren’t eating right out of the box or bag.
If you’ve kept it healthy throughout the day, keep it going all the way. Dr. Zumpano reminds us it’s best to avoid snacks too close to bedtime, as night snacking is typically done out of habit, not out of hunger.
Instead, offer kids a healthy snack like an apple, celery sticks with natural peanut butte or an eight ounce glass of milk an hour or two before bedtime.