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My child snacks all day long since the beginning of lockdown… I can’t stop him!

Dr Vincent Trebossen and Dr Coline Stordeur (child psychiatrist)

Reference center for endocrine growth diseases

Reference center for rare disease – Early-Onset Anorexia Nervosa

Center of Excellence for Neurodevelopmental Disorders – Robert Debré Hospital, Paris

We are all overwhelmed by the stressful situation induced by lockdown

With the ongoing lockdown measures, loss of bearings is important. We sometimes do not know if it is weekend or a weekday. Mealtimes have changed or have totally disappeared. Due to this new organization mealtimes are the first to be considerably modified. We are bored, we worry. The kitchen is not far, the fridge is very friendly and the cupboard full of appetizing cookies… Moreover, the only free time for us, parents, is to go shopping… Meanwhile, during lockdown children snack all day long (and maybe you too). You are worried, you yell on them… but nothing works! Your children snack again and again…

15 ideas to guide families during these difficult times and help your child to reduce snacking!

1. Put it into perspective! Children are well aware of routine changes: the new family organization due to lockdown measures can affect them, cause anxiety and/or defiant behaviour and have an impact on their diet.

2. Rebalance meals in quantity and/or quality. Nutritional needs change with age. Right now, your children may not exercise a lot, so their needs will be lower than during schooltime. In quality, all food groups have to be included into the four daily meals: carbohydrates (pasta, rice, bread, …), fruits and vegetables, proteins (meat, fish, eggs, beans, lentils,…), dairy products (yogurts, cheese, milk …), fat (butter, oil, nuts, …) and sweet products. Diet should be as varied as possible (the best you can) and there is no forbidden food. The best drink is water.

3. Explain to your child why it is important to have a balanced diet with four daily meals: growing up, being in good shape, learning/thinking well. Even during lockdown, he still does all of this!

4. Introduce clear objectives about food with him and be consistent on how those rules apply to all the family (except in the case of a special diet due to a medical condition). Lockdown measures may modify the food habits of all the family, be consistent and set a good example!

5. Install a routine, try to maintain four meals with fixed mealtimes during weekdays. It will decrease hunger and food cravings. Mealtimes can be included in a visual schedule for example.

6. Make your meals pleasant moments, favour enjoyable conversations and a peaceful atmosphere.

7. Encourage your child to participate in planning weekly menus and in the preparation of meals. It is a good way for him to tell you what he likes and for you to teach cooking basics! Take this opportunity to introduce to him new flavours!

8. Reward and congratulate your child for the achieved goals: for example, when he tastes new food or when he participates in meals preparation. As a reward, you can suggest a board game with you or a videocall to his friends or cousins for example.

9. Allow him his favourite food but at the pace you decide. By just forbidding what he prefers, you may even reinforce his craving for it. As such, you can allow it sometimes, but decrease quantities, the frequency and the moment when it’s allowed. For example: allow a candy at the end of a snack or some crisps during a weekend meal.

10. When your child wants to snack, ask him if he is hungry, bored or anxious? Talk with him, reassure him if he needs it and suggest him an activity.

11. If food cravings are really important and no activity is diverting your child's attention from food, you can offer him light snacks from time to time (apple’s bites or plain yogurt).

12. Avoid tempting him. During this period, it is very hard. If possible, place tempting food in a hidden or hard-to-access place. It will be more difficult for your child to find something to snack.

13. A trap!!! Avoid using his favourite food as rewards. Prefer, as a reward, a pleasant activity you can share with your child (for example: board game or listen to music. Children enjoy when you spend time with them…).

14. Brush your teeth – especially right now when it is difficult to find a dentist. Snacking increases the risk of dental cavities. Ensure your children carefully brush their teeth twice a day. During lockdown dentists are only handling emergencies.

15. A general rule – foster communication and emotional feeling expression. Diet modification can reflect worries. As the current situation is totally new, ask him what he already knows about the subject in question, clarify and with simple answers and reassure him.

If these difficulties persist after following the advice given here do not hesitate to call a health professional (paediatrician, psychologist, child psychiatrist) by phone or videoconference.

If one of your children eat less or almost nothing during lockdown, check the post "My child refuses to eat since the beginning of CoVID-19 lockdown... What can I do?". You can also check the post "How to help your child anxious about Coronavirus".

Translated by Dr Vincent Trebossen (psychiatrist)

48 Boulevard Serurier, 75019  Paris France

©2020 by Dr. Benjamin Landman. Child Psychiatry, Robert Debre Hospital - Paris