Staying Healthy and Happy During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Supporting your child’s health and wellness is more challenging than ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Check out the tips below for ways you can help your child manage excessive snacking, decrease emotional eating, and increase physical activity.

If you are interested in helping your family make healthy eating and exercise choices, ask your child’s doctor about the Healthy Weight Program at CHOP. The Healthy Weight Program is available for in-person and video visits, and is designed to help your family and child reach your health and wellness goals.

Managing snacking

It can be easy for snacking to get out of hand when you are home all day. Grazing throughout the day can interfere with your family’s nutrition goals and disorganized eating patterns can also make kids feel even more out of control in these uncertain times. This is especially true if kids are used to a standard eating schedule at school.

What you can do:

  • Focus on having scheduled meals and snack times. Even if these times can’t be the same each day, you want to offer your kids a chance to eat every 3-4 hours. An example may be: 7a.m. Breakfast, 10a.m. Snack, 12p.m. Lunch, 3p.m. Snack, 6p.m. Dinner.
  • It may be helpful to have the family eating schedule written and hanging in the kitchen so everyone knows when the next meal or snack will be.
  • For younger children, it can be helpful to have a sign that indicates when the kitchen is ‘open’ and when it is ‘closed.’
  • If your child asks for a snack before the scheduled meal or snack time, remind them of your next scheduled time to eat as a family.
  • Between scheduled meals and snacks, let kids choose fruits and vegetables if they are really hungry and feel they cannot wait for the scheduled meal/snack.
  • Structured eating should also include scheduled family treats! This helps reinforce to kids that all foods are okay to eat sometimes and that they should not feel shame about eating sweets. Shame around eating treats can lead to unhealthy food behaviors like sneaking or hoarding food.
  • Structure is key! This includes maintaining structure around sleep. Helping your child keep a consistent bedtime and wake time routine each day can go a long way in supporting other healthy habits, including healthy eating habits.

Emotional eating

  • Just like adults, kids are experiencing higher stress right now. This can impact their hunger cues, as well as result in having cravings for less healthy food options.

What you can do:

  • Help your child learn about the differences between emotional hunger and physical hunger.
    • Physical hunger – comes on gradually and can be postponed, can be satisfied by any number of foods, means you’re likely to stop eating when you’re full, and usually doesn’t cause feelings of guilt.
    • Emotional hunger – feels sudden and urgent, causes very specific cravings, means you may eat more than you usually would, can cause feelings of guilt afterwards.
  • Help your child learn strategies for managing emotional hunger, such as building in a PAUSE between the urge to eat and the action of eating. If it is not a scheduled meal or snack time, help your child get in the habit of taking a PAUSE and doing something fun/distracting for 10-20 minutes before deciding if they are physically hungry and want a snack. Cravings/emotional hunger usually pass if we wait them out AND do something to address the emotion behind them.
    • Ideas of coping strategies to use during your PAUSE: talk to a friend, journal, spend time in nature, practice mindfulness/relaxation, listen to music, read, sing or dance.
    • It is important to write out your child’s emotional eating plan, because when kids are upset, it is much harder for them to remember their coping strategies. Write them down and hang them where your child will see them when they are feeling emotional hunger.
  • Helping your child manage stress can also help. This may mean daily relaxation, family walks, discussions about worries/anxiety, or talking to a therapist. Check out these websites for some great ideas on how to help your child manage stress during the pandemic:

Staying active

Most kids are getting much less physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. It can be a challenge to get children moving – but regular physical activity is important for both your child’s mental and physical well-being throughout this stressful time.

What you can do:

  • Make outside time and/or exercise part of the schedule. Children thrive with structure and predictability. Having planned outside time, exercise video time, or a family walk can help the whole family stay on track and fit in physical activity.
  • Work to limit screen time. Kids may be getting more screen time right now than usual, and that is okay, but work on providing opportunities each day for your child to have fun without screens (e.g. arts and crafts, reading, building with blocks, board games, playing outside).
  • When it is difficult to find activities your child is interested in that are not screen-based, it can be helpful to use a motivator or reward. For many children, screen time is motivating. Parents can make video game or TV time contingent on doing something active for 60 minutes (playing outside, dancing, walking, jumping rope, etc.)
  • Make it fun! Remember – physical activity can also be broken up throughout the day! Check out these fun kids ‘ exercise websites for ideas: Youtube channels – Cosmic Kids Yoga, P.E. with Joe, Little Sports;;