starkel nutrition six kid food routines during quarantine

Like many of you out there, I’m now working from home and sharing the new adventures of doing this with my kids. I’m not sure what my initial thoughts were when this reality hit me, but any grandeur I once had about everything I could get done came crashing down week one. What has developed was a routine where I am more present with my family, we sit down to a more relaxing dinner each night and we share our feelings, frustrations and jokes. Gone are the days of putting together the 15 minute meal, eating quickly just to say we were eating together and rushing to take someone to a practice, rehearsal, friend’s house or out to buy some new cleats. Suddenly, we’re all there, looking at each other and as much as it pains me to say this, getting reacquainted through food.

When I’m reading through an intake form one of the first questions I look at is “describe your childhood mealtime environment”. Would you describe it as peaceful, nurturing, rushed, chaotic, hostile, lonely, or irregular? This one question gives us insight into how we view meals and possibly our relationship with food later. And this question is the time for whoever is filling this form out to reflect. So, parent to parent, when I’m sitting down to a meal these days with my family, I think about what I’m bringing to the table aside from food.

Do I want my kids to enjoy fruit and vegetables? Yes. Do I think they should know the difference between processed and unprocessed foods or foods that don’t serve their bodies? Yes. But do I get there by teaching them “food rules”? Probably not. I’m not saying that we can’t have teachable moments, but let these moments come from a place of happiness. Let these moments be part of a fun experience that you share with your kids. And guess what, for many of us, now’s that time.

So as we all are adjusting to this new ‘normal’, here are some ideas for making a new routine:

1. Have your child help to make dinner.

If you have more then one child, take turns so it’s one on one time. And if making a meal together is new, take this slowly. Don’t expect them to know what they are doing in the kitchen. It may start with them watching you and talking. Ask them to wash something, grate carrots or cheese or stir. If you’re not being met with resistance at this point, maybe share a few pointers like how to use a knife (if age appropriate), how to wash produce, safety with stoves, or taste this new food. Keep it simple and fun.

2. Make a meal plan together

With fewer shopping trips come more planning. I ask everyone to write down two meals they would like for the following week. If needed, you might ask them to take into consideration what other people would like as well as their own tastes. Use this for a foundation for your menu then chose at least one of the meals from each person’s list. This may not be as nutritious as you’d like but everyone has a voice. If the meal is missing something like a vegetable, protein, etc, ask the person who suggested it for some ideas. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Trust me, we have “interesting” combinations at my house some evenings.

3. Have everyone contribute to the shopping list

Have everyone contribute to the shopping list. Ask them what food they need for the meal they chose. Then you might make a scavenger hunt of finding foods you already have in the kitchen/pantry for that meal.

4. Choose a new fruit or vegetable each week and find a way to introduce it

Choose a new fruit or vegetable each week and find a way to introduce it. Many of the produce sections in our grocery stores are still well-stocked. Tell a story about how you used to eat it, was it grown in a family yard, or why you like it. Describe the taste or memory. If your kids don’t like it, no sweat. They tried it. Maybe get them to describe what they didn’t like. Was it too sour, too bitter, or maybe they don’t like the texture.

5. Introduce a favorite recipe from your childhood

Introduce a favorite recipe from your childhood. Something that puts a smile on your face. Even if this doesn’t fit the criteria of “healthy”, introduce it and tell them what it means to you.

6. Ask your kids to find a food they want to prepare

Ask your kids to find a food they want to prepare or they want you to help them prepare. This could mean looking in a recipe book you may have at home, or doing some online searching to find something tasty. The goal is to make this accessible and exciting.

Some of these ideas may resonate with your kids and others may not. The objective is to build a family relationship with food. Listen to how they experience food. This will lead you to new adventures. You may start your garden with them this year, learn to make bread together or find a new favorite food. Or it may just be that sitting down to dinner is the best part of everyone’s day. So, parent to parent, come to the table with an open heart this week.

Have you found a new way to connect with food in the last little while? We would love to hear from you about how your new routines are changing and what you are learning from the transition.

In the meantime, we are here and happy to see you via Telehealth to check in about your nutrition plan, health goals or just for some extra mental health support. We are indeed all in this together, so make sure you as a parent find time for you in the midst of taking care for others.

Schedule your appointment with us online here. We look forward to connecting with you.

Interested in learning more? Schedule an appointment with us to get support on your journey to holistic health.

Written by nutritionist and oncology nutrition specialist Gretchen Gruender, MS, CN, CSO