Now that half the school year is over, I thought it would be a good time to take a peek behind the curtain and see what distance learning has looked like inside our house. My youngest, Kai, and her Mom, Renee, are both currently in school. Kai is our elementary schoolgirl. She misses her classmates and can’t wait to get back to the classroom. Renee is a high school language teacher and misses her daily, face-to-face student interaction. It has been a struggle for both, with the uncertainty of online classes, in-person but socially distance learning, socially distanced play dates, and a lack of after school activities creating an increased level of stress for the entire family.
During these days, weeks, months of the pandemic, one of the biggest challenges has been eating healthy. I know for sure this has been a big challenge for my family, especially my youngest. Both are used to the planned, or semi-planned breakfast and lunch schedules that the in-class school day can provide. And we are not the only families facing this challenge. Did you know that most US students consume over 50% of their daily calories during the school day? While surprising on its face, it makes sense when you consider that about half your child’s (or child’s teacher) day is spent at school.
This can become a problem when kids are at home, distance learning. Gone are the lunches and breakfasts – not always the most healthy - but cover most of the food groups and meet a minimum nutrition level as mandated by the FDA.
During Kai’s school day, which has been virtual for the most part, there are two short breaks and one longer break for lunch. The small breaks are the critical. They give Kai the time to energize and refocus for the day. The small breaks should function as a small recess and be used for your kid to recharge their mental batteries. Let them have a snack, let them stretch their legs, and let them take a couple minutes to unwind and refocus.
When it comes to food, a snack, a drink, or even lunch, the trick is to stay away from sugary snacks and drinks that can lead to an afternoon crash. These sugar crashes can ruin your little one’s mood, make it harder to focus, and waste an afternoon of classes. And if both parents happen to be working, and or teaching at home, work and school gets disrupted. Juices historically have been go-to drinks when our little ones wanted a snack. Most folks today are aware that juices are mostly sugar, with very little fiber along with little nutritional value. Eating an apple is not the same as drinking a glass of apple juice.
Stick to the apple.
There are some newer, supposedly healthy kid-focused products, but many of them suffer from the same problems. Many of these new products have hidden sugars and sugar alternatives that don’t show up on the back of the package. Most are filled with sugar alternatives or artificial sweeteners which can cause your child digestive issues and damage your child’s gut biome. Our go-to snack is, of course, Sneakz Organic Milkshake. Our milkshakes have a ½ serving of vegetables, 5 grams of protein, and are a great source of calcium and vitamin A. They will keep your little one focused and engaged. Some other options that would be great for these small breaks would be a glass of regular milk or water, a milk alternative (we think Elmhurst is great – they have clean labels and no hidden sugars), a small serving of broccoli or carrots with hummus or a healthy dip. And remember fruit is always great but stick to whole fruits and not juices.
Remember this is 15 minutes, a short break, but still something that is looked forward to at our house and critical to a good afternoon. So, we always have something that is easy to prepare – prepped and ready to go - that minimizes distractions, and has little or no cleanup.
I like to watch the classes from afar, sometimes hidden behind the house fern, and see how the classes are being managed by Renee from a teacher’s point of view and from Kai our elementary student. I am constantly impressed by how attentive the kids are during these virtual sessions. If it were me, since I have the attention span of a gnat, I would be watching “Pawn Stars” or “90 Day Finance” after 10 minutes.
For educators like Renee, there are multiple challenges. She is at the school for in-person learning with some students, and at home, teaching remotely for others. So along with executing a regular, in-person class, some of her “break” time is now spent uploading, sending, and confirming digital work and attendance.
Whether virtual or in person, I have gained a tremendous amount of respect, and admiration for our teachers and school staff. They are real troopers and they become the front line in providing not only education, but for moral support, humor, and compassion during these times of COVID-19.
Again, with limited time, only 22 minutes, Renee needs something that she can quickly consume and prepare without losing too much time for her work with students or addressing administrative tasks. These teachers are truly heroic in what they are doing and their health for many of them has suffered because of all the variations of in school, virtual, part virtual, part in class, or all virtual along with variations from 1 school district to the other.
This new world has impacted the health and nutrition of our teachers, students (of all ages), and parents who are now working from home. In our household, we try and have a renewed focus on the big three; a good, consistent sleep schedule, active playtime and exercise (outdoors if possible) and, of course, the most critical element of all, whole food nutrition.
Make those snacks count.