This is a surreal time in our country and across the world. Our homes have simultaneously become our schools, our offices, our workout spaces, and our places to seek comfort and unwind from the outside world. Adjustments are likely being made in all areas of our lives, including our family’s food choices.
With all that is going on in the world, know it is normal to reach for comfort foods during this time. And it’s OK if all you have energy for at the end of the day is to open a box or can and heat it up. Now, just as always, fed is best, and nutrition is only part of what makes a healthy lifestyle. A few weeks of a different eating pattern is not likely to cause any long-term effects on your child’s health, and experts have assured our food supply is not going to run out.
When you’re ready, the tips below can help you overcome a variety of challenges you may be facing right now when it comes to feeding your family during a time of crisis. While it may seem like there are a lot of things not in your control right now, you can provide a sense of security, normalcy, and comfort for your children through your food and mealtime practices.
Eat Together as a Family
Since most of us are home now more than normal, it’s the perfect time to continue or start eating family meals together. The time spent together provides a sense of community and comfort and may be just as beneficial in the long term as the actual nutritional content of the meal. It’s likely when your children reflect on family mealtimes when they are older, they will remember the environmental circumstances rather than the food that was served.
Stick to a Mealtime/Snack Schedule
Kids thrive on routines and knowing what to expect, but right now, most of us are struggling to define new routines or with uncertainty. One way to add more routine to our lives is by defining, and sticking to, a mealtime/snack schedule. Offer food during these times and “close” the kitchen otherwise. Not only does it provide kids a predictable time that food is offered, it prevents grazing all day and allows them opportunities to feel hunger and fullness cues.
Provide Healthful Pantry Staples
Foods that come in a box or a can gained a reputation for being unhealthy somewhere along the line. However, that’s not completely true. Many pantry staples and frozen foods can offer lots of nutrition, especially during a time when we may not be grocery shopping as often as normal. For example, canned beans provide a source of protein, fiber, and iron. Whole grains such as brown rice and whole-wheat pastas provide fiber and B vitamins and pair well with frozen vegetables to create a variety of meals. Read nutrition labels and aim for foods as low in sodium and added sugars as possible.
Supplement with Fresh Produce
While grocery stores remain open and fresh produce is still widely available, many of us may be grocery shopping less often. Be flexible with the amount of fresh produce in your family’s diet right now and supplement pantry meals with it as possible. This doesn’t have to be a time-consuming or fancy feat. Simply offering cut up apple or cucumber slices along with a bowl of macaroni and cheese provides kids with an opportunity to try fruits and vegetables.
There are a lot of ways kids of all ages can be involved in the kitchen so why not make preparing meals a family affair? Allowing kids to participate in planning and preparing meals increases the likelihood they will eat what’s served and provides an opportunity to learn not only about food but to practice math and reading skills. Plus, it may be a new activity for your family, and we could all use some kid-friendly activity inspiration right now. If you are able, you can add extra fun to the food you serve by making a “Make It Your Own” meal.
Create a taco bar with your choice of protein such as chicken, steak, or beans and a variety of toppings such as salsa, guacamole, onions, tomatoes, etc. Let everyone make their tacos exactly as they like them! Serving a meal this way provides children with a sense of autonomy and choice which may increase the likelihood they will eat what is on their plate. It’s also a great way to introduce new foods to your children in a low-risk environment. Other meal ideas that work well for this serving style are pizza, salads, baked potatoes, or oatmeal.
Create a Positive Mealtime Environment
Family time is more abundant these days, so it’s still beneficial to make mealtime a positive family experience. Set rules around mealtimes to encourage bonding and conversation; this could be something like “no phones, tablets, or TV at the table” or whatever works for your family. Have each family member share one thing they are grateful for or one thing they learned that day.