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Nutrition in quarantine. The guide you’ve been searching for.
You woke up in a land where your whole family is confined to a small space, playing games, online schooling, and homemade haircuts. Kids (and adults) are getting on each other’s nerves. No place to hide. Seemingly incessant snacking.
Welcome to the Twilight Zone.
This is a wonderful chance for positive interaction, but it’s also a real opportunity for destruction as well. Our focus during this time should be on avoiding (or managing) trauma rather than on the details of WHAT they are eating, WHEN bedtime actually is, or WHAT exactly they decided to wear.
From my own hiding spot, here in Chandler, Arizona, I’ll give you some tips for how to best handle nutrition in the quarantine. Then I’ll print out this article for my own reference. Because none of us is perfect, least of all me. We are all trying to do our best in a unique and frustrating situation.
Look for the Silver Linings.
Yes, now you have quadrupled the workload that you did before – back when you thought you were overwhelmed. You were overwhelmed. And now the world is upside down and the life choices into which you put so much thought have been taken away from you. Now you’re living in a skewed version of that old TV show Little House on the Prarie. But there are benefits.
Now, younger children get to spend more time with their older siblings – the siblings who had been off at school. Parents are home, kids are home. Your pet dogs are loving this. Pet cats maybe not so much.
Your kids are learning how to do household chores. They are folding laundry, they are organizing shoes, and they are vacuuming under the couch. Kids are spending more time being creative with sidewalk chalk, with YouTube drawing tutorials, or even in the kitchen.
Scheduling is essential for proper nutrition in quarantine.
Different families have different concepts of this. Some prefer a by-the-clock schedule while others prefer a routine with some flexibility built-in. Whichever keeps the most peace in your house is the right way for your family. Having a predictable order to the day helps parents to feel some semblance of control, while it helps kids by providing predictability and clear expectations. A lot of misbehavior may result from a lack of expectations or predictability.
1A schedule or routine for snacks and meals is particularly helpful to your nutrition in quarantine for the following reasons: Meals and snacks can be planned for 2-3 hours apart, which provides nutrition while leaving room for appetite. Appetite is necessary for a child (or adult for that matter) to meet their nutrition needs. Grazing actually is an obstacle to appropriate nutrition, especially in quarantine!
2Parental sanity – you as the adult can accomplish more (including taking time for self-care) when nobody is asking for a snack every 10 minutes. By establishing meals and snacks at regular intervals, you leave the time between meals free for other activities.
3You know what’s in your kitchen. When you’ve got 3, 5, 7, or even more people going through your kitchen on a constant basis, it can make meal-planning very challenging. Planning on having pasta for dinner? Ooops – that was eaten earlier by a gaggle of teenagers. Now it’s 5 pm and you have to come up with a new plan based on what’s left after the daily ravaging. You have 10 minutes. Ready, set, go!
Do you find yourself eating your emotions in quarantine?
Here is the thing. Eating is comforting. Having a full belly is comforting. Eating something delicious is comforting.
There is nothing wrong with this.
It’s important to have multiple coping mechanisms, and eating can be one of them. It just can’t be the only one. Think about what else brings you and/or your children comfort and make a list. When you’re feeling low, refer back to your list.
Here are some ideas:
- Draw a picture
- Go tag a friend’s house with sidewalk chalk (where allowed and safe)
- Speak to a friend
- Learn a new joke
- Have a dance party
- Try a new recipe
- Punch a pillow
- Play a game
- Learn a magic trick
- Listen to a podcast about something funny or intellectual
- Read a book or an article
- Write a letter to a friend
- Take a bath
- Do an online workout video
- Connect with your spouse
I left some blanks there for you to fill in.
Body-positivity is part of proper nutrition in quarantine.
You might gain weight during this time, as we all hide out from the coronavirus. It’s ok, I promise. Toss the scale. Wear comfortable clothing.
I’ve never been a fan of looking to the scale to determine health, but right now that’s particularly true.
Health is a bigger picture. Often, we leave mental, emotional, and social health out of that picture. Right now, those neglected aspects have become even more important and the scale does not account for them. The scale doesn’t give a full picture of health, now, or ever.
Furthermore, there are certain times through the life-cycle when weight gain is healthy and expected. During infanthood, toddlerhood, and then again during puberty and during pregnancy. Often, we grow out before growing up.
It is always very important to keep our language neutral where food is concerned. Food is prepared and offered in a neutral way.
What does this mean?
In classic Division of Responsibility (Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, LCSW, BCD) the parent is in charge of WHAT is served, WHERE it is served, and WHEN it is served, with the family eating together as often as possible.
The child is in charge of WHETHER they eat, and HOW MUCH they eat. The child determines how much to eat by listening to their internal cues. A child who arrives at the table with an appropriate appetite (see the “scheduling” section) will eat enough to meet their hunger.
Comments about a child’s food choices are inappropriate. Comments about a child’s body are inappropriate. These comments will only serve to either decrease the child’s appetite or drive them to eat more for comfort. I love the expression “Look up, not down.” Look at your child’s face. Ask them about their day. Ask them if there is anything special they would like to do that day or the next day. Ask them about their friends. Plan a fun activity together. Get a joke book and laugh together. Google “conversation starters” for some help in this area.
But what if I’m concerned that my child will become overweight?
All good parents are concerned about their child’s health. I’ll repeat what I said above – the scale does not determine a comprehensive concept of health.
Just as people have different kinds of hair, different color skin, different heights, different tastes in music, and more, each person has unique nutritional needs based on many many factors. These include, but are not limited to, genetics, lifestyle, growth patterns and stage of life, hydration, activity level, sleep quality, and hormone fluctuations. A person’s body is the ONLY calculator sensitive enough to determine that person’s needs on a given day, and the body communicates that information through appetite.
There are two angles to this concept: avoiding a negative relationship with food and body and active pursuit of a positive relationship with food and body. Negative comments about food choices or a person’s body will only serve to decrease their confidence at a time when we could build them up instead.
The pursuit of a positive relationship with food and body can come in many ways:
- Looking at recipes together
- Cooking experimentation with a new or unusual food item
- Learning about a food (YouTube is a great source for that) – where and how does it grow? How is it used? What does it taste like? How was it brought and introduced in different places?
- Food activities, like creating painting stamps from potatoes, carving radishes, or simply creating a broccoli forest on the plate. You can check out my new book Beyond a Bite on Amazon for more of these ideas.
- Learning how to draw a new fruit or vegetable
- Starting a garden – an herb garden is an easy place to start
- Reading food-based books. See my list of recommended books at Pinterest.com/yaffi
The number 1 best thing you can do is to have peaceful family meals, sitting down together (yes, you too mom) and enjoying each other’s company. Whether that’s simply pizza or a three-course meal, it’s the intent that matters at this moment.
How Can We Pursue Health and Nutrition in Quarantine?
Great question, and one we all have.
Step 1: Expand your definition of health, understanding that persistent stress is inflammatory, and can lead to many of the diseases we are trying to avoid by micromanaging our nutrition.
Step 2: Remember that this is a blip. We are not moving, eating, or relating to each other in ways we normally would. Food choices are often based on what is available, rather than on preferences or usual eating choices. Things will get back to normal in that regard. And when real life makes its big comeback, our bodies will likely follow suit. This leads me to my next point…
Step 3: Eat and move your body in ways that make you feel good mentally and physically – and involve your family. Ask for input for meals (or even just sides or salads) and activities. Being in charge is so stressful. Delegate where you can.
This is a real opportunity to create something beautiful. By focusing on the bonding opportunities within your family, we can strengthen the confidence we are instilling in our children.
On the flip side, we have a real opportunity here to cause some lasting damage. By being overly critical, by focusing on things that don’t matter in the long run (like that extra piece of bread or that second helping of dessert), we can cause damage to our children’s’ self-esteem and sense of self.
The WHAT is much less important than the HOW.
What are they eating versus How does your child feel about him or herself?
What is going in their mouth versus How was the mood at the table over dinner?
What types of foods did they choose versus How are they coping with this crazy scenario?
Touchdown: Putting nutrition in quarantine (and everything else) into perspective.
I’ll leave you with this, written by an anonymous teacher concerning the parenting goal right now:
School is canceled for the rest of the year, and our students will miss 2.5 months of education. Many people are concerned about students falling behind because of this. Yes, they may fall behind when it comes to classroom education…
But what if…
What if instead of falling “behind”, this group of kids are ADVANCED because of this? Hear me out…
What if they have more empathy, they enjoy family connection, they can be more creative and entertain themselves, they love to read, they love to express themselves in writing.
What if they enjoy the simple things, like their own backyard and sitting near a window in the quiet.
What if they notice the birds and the dates the different flowers emerge, and the calming renewal of a gentle rain shower?
What if this generation are the ones to learn to cook, organize their space, do their laundry, and keep a well-run home?
What if they learn to stretch a dollar and to live with less?
What if they learn to plan shopping trips and meals at home.
What if they learn the value of eating together as a family and finding the good to share in the small delights of the everyday?
What if they are the ones to place great value on our teachers and educational professionals, librarians, public servants and the previously invisible essential support workers like truck drivers, grocers, cashiers, custodians, logistics, and health care workers and their supporting staff, just to name a few of the millions taking care of us right now while we are sheltered in place?
What if among these children, a great leader emerges who had the benefit of a slower pace and a simpler life to truly learn what really matters in this life?
What if they are AHEAD?”
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