Steps Canadian families can take for a healthy lifestyle during the COVID-19 pandemic
Most importantly, follow the latest recommendations of public health officials. Information on the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada can be found at the Government of Canada website here and on the BC Centre for Disease Control Site here.
Connect with Others, Be Kind to Yourself
In this time of social distancing, it is important to our mental health to continue to connect with others. Spending time with those we live with, enjoying time together and practicing gratitude for those relationships will contribute positively to our mental health. Phone calls, texts or virtual visits such as dinners together and birthday parties using video calling platforms are all ways we can maintain connections with family and friends that we can’t see in person because of social distancing. It is also important to our mental health to be kind to ourselves during these stressful times. Appreciate the good things about yourself and all that you are doing to support your family’s health. Being kind to yourself can change your brain and boost your health and well-being. For tips on promoting health in your family, see “Parenting Practices that Promote Health”.
Cook and Eat Together
More time at home due to COVID-19 provides an opportunity to cook at home and eat more meals at home, together. Studies show that the more meals a family eats together, the more likely the children are to eat fruit, vegetables, whole grains and calcium-rich food and beverages. Children and youth who eat at home are also more likely to feel connected to their family. They do better in school and are half as likely to run into problems with substance abuse as teenagers. Keep in mind that the benefits of eating together are greatest if you don’t eat in front of the TV or any other screens. Also, involving the entire household in planning and preparing meals also has many benefits. It shares the workload, helps to develop planning, shopping and food preparation skills in other family members, and builds a sense of belonging within the family. For more information on healthy eating habits, including mindful eating and eating with others, visit Canada Food Guide’s “Your Eating Habits During The COVID 19 Pandemic”. For tips on cooking together and eating together, see “The Benefits of Eating Together”, “Getting Kids in the Kitchen” and “Feeding My Family – Everyone has a Job”.
Changes to the way we shop for groceries and changes to our daily routines can make it more challenging to eat well. Including plenty of vegetables and fruits in your meals and snacks is an important part of a healthy eating pattern. Vegetables and fruits contain many nutrients that a child’s body needs and they should be taking the place of high calorie, nutrient poor food from a child’s daily food menu. Canned or frozen vegetables and fruit can be less costly than fresh and can be just as healthy when you choose those that have the least amount of sugar or sodium added to them. Aim to make half your plate vegetables and fruit at one or more meals each day. For more on healthy eating during the COVID 19 Pandemic, including foods to buy during the pandemic, meal and snack ideas, and healthy takeout, visit Canada Food Guide’s “Healthy Eating During the COVID 19 Pandemic”.
Avoid Highly Processed Foods
It can be tempting to eat fast, highly processed foods in times of stress and anxiety. But remember that the majority of processed foods are high in natural or added sugar, saturated fat and/or sodium and are often made of refined grains or cereals. Highly processed foods include sugary drinks, chocolate and candies, ice cream and frozen desserts as well as bakery products like muffins, buns and cakes. Fast foods like French fries and burgers, frozen entrées like pasta dishes and pizzas, processed meats like sausages and deli meats and most crackers and granola bars are usually made primarily of highly processed ingredients.
Highly processed foods should be kept to a minimum. Whole foods or minimally processed foods are the healthiest choices. Whole grain foods (quinoa, whole grain pasta, whole grain bread, whole oats or oatmeal, whole grain brown or wild rice ) are healthier choice than refined grains (white flour products, regular pasta, white rice and quick cooking oatmeal) because whole grain foods include all parts of the grain and have more fibre than refined grains. And don’t forget to make water your family’s drink of choice and aim for 0 sugary drinks. For information on how to plan healthy meals, including meal planning on a budget, visit Canada Food Guide’s “Meal Planning During the COVID 19 Pandemic”. For more healthy meal ideas, see “Meal Ideas for Everyone”.
With family routines changing and stress associated with the pandemic, your regular family sleep schedules may be disrupted. Getting enough sleep each night is important for your physical and mental well-being, as well as your brain function. When children get sufficient restful sleep at night, they are also better able to make healthy choices during the day. Adequate sleep promotes optimal functioning in terms of cognition, overall health, emotional regulation, dealing with stress, and setting the stage for healthy eating. Adults need 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep, children ages 5-13 years need 9-11 hours and adolescents aged 14 -17 years need 8-10 hours of sleep each night. For strategies on sleeping well, see “Tips to Set the Mood for Sleep”.
Amid social distancing measures public health officials are encouraging individuals and families to be active every day and in fact daily physical activity is one of the approved reasons for being outdoors. Engaging in 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous activity each day is an important part of living a healthy life. This means activity levels which cause a person to breathe quickly or break into a sweat, such as walking, biking and running.
Although school closures and stay at home recommendations may increase sedentary behaviours, they also provide an opportunity for families to be active together.
The benefits of being a physically active family are staggering! Including number one — fun! The release of endorphins makes us happy, and energizes the brain keeping us sharp. And it can also be done anywhere and with friends and family. Being active in nature is good for the body, mind and soul.
If you choose to be active outdoors, Canadian public health officials advise keeping a two-metre distance from others.
Remember, parents and adult family members are role models. Kids will learn from what you do. For ideas on ways to be active with your family, visit:
Active For Life – this site has different activity ideas parents can do at home with their kids using everyday items. Activity ideas can be filtered by age.
Flaghouse Activity Channel – includes games that can be played with items that families may already have at home.
Y Thrive – a free virtual workout series featuring YMCA fitness trainers. Workouts are designed for almost any fitness level and can be done from your living room. Includes age-specific workouts for children.
Limit Recreational Screen Time
You may be finding your family’s screen time has increased during the pandemic. This is understandable. Between texting, talking with friends on video calling platforms, using electronic devices, connecting with family on social media, playing games or watching TV, many of us are spending a lot of time plugged in. Reducing the amount of screen time you have each day will free-up time for you to try a variety of other activities or hobbies. It is suggested that we should aim for 2 hours or less of recreational screen time each day (this includes watching TV/ Movies, playing on your phone or computer, and video games). Think of a new activity or hobby you could try instead of engaging in screen time. Remember, children should not be allowed on screens before 2 years of age and there should be no screens in the children’s bedroom, no matter what the child’s age. For strategies to reduce screen time, see “Tips to Reduce Screen Time”