Quarantine has brought about a host of changes for families. How we work, how we go to school, and how we stay in touch with friends and family have all been altered for the stay-at-home lifestyle. It’s not unlikely that your snacking habits have grown lax to cope with the new routine— especially now that we all have easy and consistent access to our kitchens. It’s tempting, no doubt! You may find yourself snacking for a moment of relief, or providing snacks to your children to occupy their time. But just as we follow schedules for work and school, mealtimes and snacks can also be planned to keep you satisfied and on track to accomplish everything on your agenda during the day.

Structure Snacking

You’ve heard it before when dealing with children: structure, structure, structure! And it’s true, children do excel when provided with structure, eating habits included. While it’s particularly easy to snack frequently while we work and play at home, it’s important not to overindulge outside of mealtime. The best way to combat this is to limit snacking to designated times throughout the day that won’t interfere with your three consistent daily meals (and make sure these portions are snack-sized, not meal-sized!). Sticking to a snack schedule will help structure the day and make it more likely that your child will be hungry and willing to stay seated when it’s time for a meal.

Create Consistency

Maybe this sounds familiar… you had a late lunch and didn’t end up eating dinner until 10pm, or your child snacked all morning, then wasn’t hungry once lunchtime rolled around. Without structured snacking, maintaining a consistent mealtime schedule becomes that much more difficult. To help stay on track, try to have meals look as similar as possible on a daily basis. This means serving meals around the same time, in the same place (like the kitchen or dining room), and with the same rules each day.

Mealtime rules may include needing to stay at the table for a certain amount of time, finishing a certain amount of food, or limiting electronic usage at the table. Set consistent expectations and let your children know these rules in advance, as well as what will happen if they adhere to or break the rules (e.g. you can have dessert only if you finish your main course).

If you already had a mealtime routine before quarantine, stick with it! And if you’ve slipped out of it, try your best to get back on track. But if you didn’t have one before, then mealtime may be a good place to start establishing structure that will help you get through the rest of the day.

Establish a Mealtime Routine

In addition to creating consistency within the mealtime itself, you can also establish a routine around meals to increase the likelihood of your children coming to the table. If your children have difficulty transitioning from activity to mealtime, try giving them a five minute warning that the meal will be starting soon. Older children may need an earlier heads up, so see what works best in your family.

If you find that transitions to the table are still an issue, have children end their favorite activity (screen time, probably?) 10-15 minutes before the meal begins. Then, have them engage in more moderately preferred activities, such as reading, coloring, or puzzles, in the moments leading up to the meal. When their favorite activity isn’t interrupted by mealtime, the transition to the table becomes that much easier.

Be Kind to Yourself

This is a strange time for everyone, and no one (except maybe you!) expects you to be perfect. The grocery store may be out of your typical staples or you may find yourself exhausted after working, cleaning, and helping your children with remote learning. This might mean serving the same meal two days in a row or heating up frozen pizza for dinner. That’s okay! Give yourself permission to take it easy and recognize that your best may vary from day to day.

Remember – developing structure around meals is a process. You don’t need to make changes all at once! Pick one change to start with and try to implement that change consistently. Once that has become part of your daily routine, pick another strategy to try. Once your mealtimes are structured, you may find that this makes it easier to structure other parts of your day.