Back To (Home) School: 5 Healthy Habits To Adopt  

back to home school
Photo by Matthew Henry for Burst


It’s that time of the year…. Back To School! This year, with a few modifications. Whether you’re a parent home-schooling your child, a college student taking online classes, or simply someone who is working from home with endless virtual meetings, keeping good habits is essential for a healthy body and a healthy mind. 

Now that most of us have experienced being [constantly] home, we may have realized that it was easier to stick to healthy habits when we had a more structured routine, one that involved leaving the house. For some, having a mandatory lunch break during school or work was a way to ensure they were eating balanced lunch meals, and now, with this new take-your-break-whenever sort of deal, they find themselves grazing throughout the day with no set mealtimes. 

Back To School Healthy Habits
Snacking with JOI

 
As a dietitian, I have heard from several of my clients that being constantly home makes them reach for snacks a lot more often than they ever did while in school or at the office. They also find it more difficult to eat nutritiously and make good dietary decisions while managing kids, work, and/or classes all at once. The same goes for their kids; without swim lessons or dance class, they are stuck at home trying to entertain themselves while having several visits to the pantry.

Regardless of your current work, school or parenting situation, it’s fundamental that you adopt healthy habits for you and your family that you can sustain when you’re home or when you return to your usual routine. Not sure where to start? We got you! Here are five healthy habits to incorporate as we approach “back to school” time...

1. Stick to your usual routine

Routine is important; it ensures that we complete our daily tasks and get things accomplished. If quarantine turned things upside down for you (aka you were rocking your PJs all day long and having chips and salsa for dinner), you are not alone. But now it’s time to get things back on track. Whether your pre-quarantine routine included doing a morning facial cleanse, going for a run, reading the newspaper, or meal prepping on Sundays... it’s time to get back to it. Having a routine helps us stay accountable in making sure that 1. Your face is washed, and 2. You get things done! If you’re going to be hanging out at home for a while longer, it’s especially important that you stick to your normal daily rituals (and that you change your clothes in the morning) to set yourself up for a productive and successful day! 

Back To School Healthy HabitsOur morning routine consists of fresh milk. All day, everyday. 

2. Set meal times, and stick to it! 

When trying to manage all of your responsibilities, consistency is crucial. Pre-quarantine, most of us had some sort of meal schedule, meaning that we ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner more-or-less the same times every day. Your eating routine helps ensure that you are meeting your nutritional needs, but also that you are making better food choices when eating. After all,  have you had those days in which you are so busy you can’t eat for several hours, then you get home and you feel like you could eat an entire cow? The result: you eat so quickly you don’t even notice you were full 20 bites ago. Yes, we’ve all been there. This is why having consistent meals is important. Skipping meals increases hunger levels, and puts your body into “survival mode,” making us a bit less rational when making food choices (aka you get hangry). Not establishing meal times can cause you to graze all day, which is unlikely to meet your nutritional needs, and likely to add unwanted calories without nutrition. So please, take your lunch break, and do it away from your computer or workspace. Have a designated location in your home for mealtimes, one with minimum distractions. That way you can engage in mindful eating, meaning you can listen to your hunger and fullness cues, enjoy and appreciate your meal, as well as realize when you are full and satisfied. Mindlessly eating while in front of your computer or while doing homework can lead to overeating and a disconnect between you and your food.


Lunchtime vegan caesar salad ftwLunchtime vegan Caesar FTW

3. Stock up on healthy snacks  

Snacking seems to be my clients’ biggest enemy during quarantine. They refer to snacking like it’s a terrible thing, and are desperately finding ways to stop. Let’s clarify, if you get hungry in between meals (as most people do) you need to snack. Once when you feel the hunger creeping in, have a healthy snack in hand. Why? Well, your body is telling you something. It is saying, “I. AM. GETTING. HUNGRY.” So you should listen to it. In addition, it will prevent you from overeating during your meals. Now, we are not talking about nutrient-poor snacks, or what we call “empty calories” (foods that don’t provide any meaningful amount of nutrients). Having nutrient-dense snacks ready-to-go it’s a game changer. They should be able to fulfill your hunger while providing long-lasting energy, so that you don’t have to get up every five minutes during your online lecture. Balanced snacks include at least two of the three macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat) all which have different purposes, and together provide sustained energy and satiety. Here are some great nutrient-dense snacks:

  • Mixed nuts (protein, healthy fats) + dried fruits (carbohydrates)
  • Apple or banana (carbohydrates) + nut “energy butter" (protein, healthy fats)
  • Green smoothie or berry smoothie (carbohydrates, protein)
  • Plain yogurt (protein) + fresh berries (carbohydrates)
  • Raw veggies (carbohydrates) + hummus, vegan tzatziki or baba ganoush (protein)
  • Whole grain crackers (carbohydrates) + guacamole (protein, healthy fats)
  • Homemade granola bars (carbohydrates, healthy fats)
  • Chia pudding (protein, healthy fats) 
  • Energy bits (protein, healthy fats)

*Pro tip: leave fruits and veggies washed, cut and ready to eat in your fridge. You are way more likely to snack on healthy foods if they are conveniently accessible to you. 

Back To School Healthy HabitsCrudités and dips make us feel fancy

4. Plan and prep your meals

Trying to put a lunch meal together between your child’s virtual class and your next Zoom meeting is a recipe for disaster. With the little time you have, you will likely resort to convenient, ready-to-eat foods (looking at you, boxed mac & cheese) which are not always the best choice. Eating healthy gets a lot easier when we put a little bit of planning into it. We’re not telling you to start making gourmet meals from scratch every day (who has time for that, any way?) However, making sure you make time for grocery shopping and stocking up the pantry with nutritious, and easy-to-assemble foods, goes a long way. It sounds like a no-brainer, but if you don’t have healthy foods at home, you’re probably not going to consume healthy meals. This could mean putting some time into roasting a large batch of vegetables, making a large pot of grains and cooking a few protein options. If that’s not happening, make sure you have items that require minimum preparation so you can quickly put together a healthy and balanced meal. Some of my favorites are frozen vegetables, pre-washed greens, salad kits, microwavable whole grains, canned proteins (beans, chickpeas, tuna, salmon), ready-to-eat tofu, frozen veggie burgers, legume-based pasta, pasta sauce and whole wheat wraps. Having these items at home will reduce the gap between you and a healthy meal on days where cooking things from scratch is simply not an option. Whenever you do have time to cook, make sure you make plenty to last a few days. Batch cooking is a great way to ensure you have options for quick meals during the week!


Back To School Healthy Habits
Overnight oats are a great way to prep a nutritious meal

5. Be aware of mindless eating

Eating out of boredom, or mindless eating, is a common behavior, especially when you’re at home all day (and close to the kitchen). It’s important to assess whether you’re actually hungry and in need of a nutritious meal or snack, or if you’re simply bored. You may actually be dehydrated, and drinking a large cup of water may be sufficient. However, I have many clients who eat a filling meal and still have the desire to snack, even when they feel full. In those cases, I recommend trying to engage in activities they enjoy, whether it’s reading a book, listening to their favorite playlist, coloring, watching their favorite show, calling a friend, playing games with their kids, going for a walk with their pup, etc. If after engaging in the activity you still feel the urge to eat, then have a nutrient-dense snack. The worst thing you can do is ignore a craving and let it build up. Go for high-fiber snacks as those will help keep you satisfied and less likely to overeat. While you’re in-between online lectures or Zoom meetings, rather than going straight to the kitchen, find activities that help you relax, distract yourself, and make you happy. 

Carolina Schneider is an MS, RD

 

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