Written by: Marjolaine Cadieux
Our kids have been at home for a few weeks and the exhilaration and excitement of this forced leave is probably already starting to wear off. Result? Boredom shows up. No matter how hard we try to find educational activities (or not) for them, the children are bored. They’re pacing around the house and may turn to one of the most popular activities right now: snacking.
So here are my tips to keep snacking under control, and as a bonus, they also apply to parents!
With no more daycare, school and some parents having to telecommute, former daily routines can get disrupted. We can sleep in, eat at random times, etc. And while flexibility is important, maintaining a certain meal schedule is just as important.
As parents, it’s our role to determine when food is eaten. It might therefore be appropriate to establish a new meal schedule according to your current routine and to involve your kids in creating it. This allows you to supervise and reassure your child, while establishing clear meal and snack times.
To tame boredom, create a collection of activities unrelated to food. There are several such lists on the Internet from which you can draw inspiration. You can also involve your children in developing this collection and make it a DIY project. So when you see the kids roaming around the kitchen or peeking into the pantry, ask them to choose an activity from the list!
In trying to entertain our children, we take a shot at several different activities. The majority of these are likely to take place at the kitchen table: the kitchen is a gathering place for several families. However, always being in the room where we eat can make us want to snack without actually feeling hungry.
It might be a good move to convert another space in the house into a family area or workspace. You could also turn this into a fun family project: designate a family room for activities, then organize it, decorate it, etc. This offers an out-of-sight, out-of-mind solution since ideally, the kitchen is a place for meals only.
It’s important to distinguish mindless snacking from a healthy snack. Mindless eating implies that there’s no defined portion (and often served directly from the packaging) versus a healthy snack, where a quantity is determined. In addition, mindless eating often occurs when you aren’t really hungry, unlike the healthy snack.
To reduce snacking, you can try to raise your child’s awareness of bodily signals. It’s key not to see eating as a way to kill time, to comfort or to make us feel better. Food has a function: to nourish us. It’s therefore relevant to ask our children what they feel when they have an urge to snack. Hunger is a physical sensation accompanied by signs (stomach growling, slight pangs, hollow or empty feeling in the belly, etc.). This is what your child should describe when hungry. If your child is unable to express these signals, it’s probably boredom or other emotions creating a false sense of hunger.
As a parent, you might want to take this opportunity to chat with your kids to help them verbalize what they’re feeling and to explain the purpose of food (to nourish, not to manage our emotions or our boredom).
It’s possible you'll follow these recommendations and snacking will persist. It’s not a big deal! The current situation is new and can be anxiety-provoking and stressful for our children (and us!). Turning to food to soothe these reactions is normal. It’s not healthy, but it’s normal. We therefore need to remain easy-going with our children and ourselves if we still snack! Afterwards, try to pinpoint what triggered the need to eat without being hungry and put solutions in place, without beating yourself up.
Finally, I wish to emphasize that limiting access to food (refraining from buying our favourite snacks), making derogatory comments when you or your children are snacking, or even punishing them for these behaviours are NOT appropriate solutions. Rather, it can be very unhealthy for your child’s relationship to food! Keep in mind that attempting to limit snacking through drastic measures will have more negative effects than positive ones.