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Don’t let school closures lead to weight gain for kids

Happy Cow - Photo junk food grocery cart
Happy Cow - Photo junk food grocery cart

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 navigating COVID-19 school closures?

According to registered dietician Julia Zumpano, of Cleveland Clinic, parents can start by setting a meal plan for the day.

“Making sure that you feed the kids breakfast within the first couple of hours of waking up,” she said. “Normally, we’re rushing out the door, trying to get to school -- and that’s not the case anymore. So while you can be a little flexible with the timing, usually within the first 2-3 hours of waking up you want to have some form of breakfast.”

Zumpano said it’s best to make sure kids have something to eat every four to five hours, as this will help cut down on all-day grazing.

Have some healthy snack options available, and portion them out into bowls, so kids aren’t eating right out of the box or bag.

It’s also a good idea to keep track of when everyone is eating during the day -- this includes the adults.

“Make a note of what time you ate breakfast, make a note of what time you had the snack,” said Zumpano. “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, Zumpano said we want to make sure kids are getting balanced meals, with plenty of vegetables, at mealtime.

“Really focus on the core of meals being a protein source, a fruit and a vegetable,” she said. “And the vegetable portion should exceed the portion of meat and fruit or starch.”

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, such as an apple or celery sticks with natural peanut butter, or an eight-ounce glass of milk, an hour or two before bedtime.