Kids and COVID-19: Healthy Eating in a Pandemic

Feeding your children nutritious food is important, but setting realistic goals and being patient with both yourself and your child is equally important. There is no right or wrong way to manage your time, your lives, or your stress levels right now. There is only you, doing your best, whatever that looks like

We have gathered together minimal-effort suggestions to help you take small steps to add healthy options into your child’s diet. 

Go Back to Basics – You don’t need to be fancy to be healthy! 

  • Build your kids’ meal around 4 basic elements (but if they’re not all there every meal, that’s okay, too!):
    • 1 protein (dairy/meat/eggs/beans/nuts/seeds)
    • 1 vegetable (anything your kid will eat)
    • 1 fruit (fresh, frozen, or dried)
    • 1 whole grain (bread, tortilla, rice, oatmeal, cereal)
  • A few meal examples: 
    • Waffles (whole grain, frozen are just fine) + peanut butter (protein) + berries
    • Vanilla yogurt (protein) + banana (fruit) + granola (whole grain)
    • Smoothie with yogurt (protein) + strawberries and bananas (fruit) + canned sweet potato (veg) 
      • Bonus: freeze leftovers into healthy popsicles if you have molds or ice cube trays
    • Whole grain bread (whole grain) + turkey (protein) + carrot sticks (veg) + apple slices (fruit)
    • Whole wheat tortilla or english muffins or pizza crust (whole grain) + cheese (protein) + tomato sauce  (veg) + orange wedges (fruit)
    • Tacos with corn tortillas (whole grain) + beans and taco meat (protein) + corn and/or tomatoes and/or lettuce (veg) 
  • A few snack examples:
    • Low-fat cheese, hard-boiled eggs, popcorn, Greek yogurt, fresh veggies (broccoli and cauliflower florets, zucchini and cucumber slices, celery, carrot or bell pepper sticks, cherry tomatoes, even rolled up lettuce leaves, etc.) with dip, fruits, nut/seed crackers, deli meat.
  • A few drink examples:
    • Milk, plant-based milk alternatives, sparkling water (add a splash of juice for flavor!), kombucha, coconut water, tea (hot/cold, decaf, unsweetened)
  • For tons of resources, visit https://www.choosemyplate.gov/

Minimize Effort – Get the most from healthy options with the least input!

  • Focus on one meal per week, or just breakfasts, or just snacks… Find what works best for you to take some pressure off the rest of the day or week. Making a big pot of soup on a Sunday can be a time saver the rest of the week. 
  • Help your kids be self-sufficient during the day while you’re working by packing their lunch the night before and pre-portioning snacks that they can grab during the day.
  • Put easy-to-grab snacks front and center on your counter or in your fridge and hide those treats. 
  • Don’t get creative, get predictable: have breakfast for dinner, taco Tuesdays, and fish stick Fridays – whatever is easy and familiar!

Get Them Involved – Your kids may enjoy this grown-up topic!

  • Have conversations with your kids about why healthy foods are important and they may be more likely to buy in.
  • Make different snack options available so that your kids feel empowered to choose for themselves.
  • Ask your kids for fruits, vegetables, and snacks that they want to eat before you go shopping so they feel involved and may be more likely to eat them.
  • Build-your-own meal “bars” are great! Lay out all the topping options and let your kids choose for themselves what they want: tacos, burrito bowls, nachos, baked potato or sweet potatoes

Resources – If you are having difficulty getting healthy foods, there may be support available

  • For up to 60lb of rescued produce for only $10, Market on the Move has distribution sites around Tucson, Phoenix, and Northern Arizona. Find out more here: http://the3000club.org/wordpress/marketonthemove/
  • Contact Arizona 2-1-1 (dial 2-1-1 on your phone or visit https://211arizona.org/about/ for assistance with a wide variety of services, including food, shelter, utilities, and more. 
  • To find out if you qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps, please visit Health-E-Arizona, a service of the Department of Economic Security (DES): https://www.healthearizonaplus.gov
  • Many schools in Arizona are offering free grab-and-go for anyone younger than 18, regardless of attendance at that school. To find a school near you and learn more, please visit: https://www.azhealthzone.org/summerfood/ 
  • For an interactive map of services in your community that are providing healthy meals, please visit No Kid Hungry: https://www.nokidhungry.org/find-free-meals or text the word “FOOD” to 877-877
  • To find your nearest food bank and more information on how the foodbank can help you, please visit AZ Food Banks Network: http://www.azfoodbanks.org/ or call call 602-528-3434 or 1-800-445-1914
  • If you are able and want to help you can donate to one of the foodbanks in your community.

If your family is not struggling with food insecurity, please consider supporting a local food shelter. To find a food shelter near you and how you can help, please visit: https://www.feedingamerica.org/take-action

Take Away:

During times of heightened stress, it is important to focus on what feels achievable and to give yourself and your child room to cope and manage stress as best you can. And with the return to school this fall looking different from anything we’ve ever known, there are a lot of reasonable questions and worries.

There may be times when stress levels even out and you and your child can begin to adjust to a new normal. This may take time, but eventually you may be able to shift your focus from navigating online classes to other aspects of your child’s well-being. It is during these times that you may have the opportunity to think about nutritious food and healthy snacks, particularly as home schooling means a lot more meals to provide–with, or without, the support of meals from your child’s school(s). 

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