During the first phase of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, my two college-aged children found themselves suddenly back at home, taking their classes remotely from their bedrooms.

I would get texts asking me to bring up some coffee “and please stay out of the Zoom.” In the mornings, I would find a sink full of dirty dishes, and clear evidence that someone had been up in the middle of the night making pancakes, boxed mac-and-cheese, or omelets. The grocery list grew long with requests for all kinds of chips and dips and ice cream.

In what some are calling the second phase of the pandemic response, many schools from preschool through college are returning to academics this fall in person, online, or a combination of both. Parents must certainly be wondering how to get a better handle on food and nutrition in the home this time around.

“There certainly was a lot of mindless eating,” back in March, April and May, as families found themselves homebound and working/studying remotely, said Cathy Schneider, a clinical dietician at Backus Hospital in Norwich. “Any time you are eating in front of your screen, it’s easy to lose track of what you are doing. Suddenly, you’ve eaten the whole box.”

Heading into a new season of virtual work and school, Schneider said it can be most helpful to create a schedule similar to what one would have if you were attending school in person. Children aren’t allowed to eat all day at their desks, and they shouldn’t have that luxury during virtual school either.

Schneider recommends:

  • Create and stick to a schedule.
  • Schedule meals and snacks.
  • Take “activity” breaks, so that everyone leaves their screens and moves around. It can be as short as 15 minutes a couple of times a day.
  • Don’t eat in front of the computer.
  • Prepare snacks and meals in advance to ensure proper protein, healthy fats, and good carbs are being consumed.

The best way to prep meals and snacks is to do it the same day you do your grocery shopping, Schneider said. “That way, as you are putting away the groceries, you are creating what you need for the week. Individually packaged hummus with raw veggies, yogurt with fruit, or cottage cheese with nuts or seeds means that the kids can easily grab a healthy snack.”

She said even the youngest children can learn independence with a designated “snack shelf” in the fridge or cupboard filled with prepackaged items.

High school and college-age children studying at home may be harder to control, she said. “Encourage fruits and veggies and make sure you have them,” Schneider said. “Buy single-serve packages of chips and cookies to discourage overeating. And air-popped corn is great because you can consume a large volume for not a lot of calories.”

And while the family may feel like they are already spending way too much time together, setting aside an hour for everyone to prepare and eat dinner together is real quality time that ensures good nutrition and a break from the screens, she noted.

For information on nutritional counseling at Backus Hospital, click here.

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