As we deal with the COVID-19 crisis around the country, families are suddenly facing the reality of having their children at home 24/7. Some pieces of this new normal might feel ok, but some parts are challenging. Food is a significant difficulty for many families right now. Between limited grocery availability and newly restricted budgets, making nutrition fun and easy right now is tricky.
If you feel overwhelmed by meeting the nutritional needs of your family during this time, we are here to help. Portland Pediatric and Family Nutrition is ready to serve you as we all navigate this era of uncertainty. Reach out today with questions.
How to Build a Nutrient-Dense Diet On a Budget
There’s no denying that food can be expensive. And with a whole family at home day in and day out, your food consumption is likely going up. And when you add the stress and anxiety that surrounds us at the moment, you may see that your family wants to snack all day long.
So, how do you give your kids the nutrients they need without breaking the bank? You make a plan and choose foods carefully. Let’s take a look.
Create a Meal Plan
Meal plans are all the rage right now, and they were even before the coronavirus emergency hit. You may have seen Pinterest-worthy color-coded plans on lovely homemade calendars in your friends’ social media posts. If that is your style, then go for it!
For most families, however, that type of planning is not a good fit. So you have this nutritionist’s permission to keep it simple. Consider something like the following:
- Pasta Monday
- Taco Tuesday
- Soup Wednesday
- Rice Bowl Thursday
- Leftover Friday
- Take-Out Saturday
- Kid Choice Sunday
As you plan recipes and meals, look through websites or magazines for ideas that include foods your family will eat. And while you do this, keep in mind your time commitment and your skill.
If you hate cooking, then gourmet recipes that take advanced skills are probably not a good match. If you are now working full time from home, you should consider quick meals with minimal preparation. Fast, fun and easy meals can still be healthy.
Choose Budget Friendly Nutrient-Dense Foods
Although the current crisis has caused some food prices to spike, there are still many affordable options that provide a powerful nutritional punch. For budget purposes, the less meat you eat, the lower your grocery bill will be, so including more vegetarian meal options will certainly be a way to save money.
Here is our list of top dollar-friendly food options that meet a lot of nutritional needs:
- Brown Rice
- Canned Pinto Beans
- Sweet Potatoes
- Frozen Broccoli
- Frozen Berries
- Applesauce – BONUS: This is also easy and inexpensive to make at home!
Some people are surprised to see frozen fruits and veggies on the list. But canned and frozen foods can be just as healthy as fresh, and you generally have less waste. Be sure to choose items without added sugar or sodium. Then you can maintain the nutritional value of what you feed your family.
To make your food budget stretch during tough times, be strategic in your shopping habits. Now is probably not the time to try unusual specialty items. Instead, you can make your dollars go farther by following three simple tips:
- Buy fresh food rather than pre-packaged items. Dollar for dollar, you get more from fresh choices than from packaged meals. And cooking from scratch is almost always more nutritious.
- Buy seasonal local produce. Yes, fresh strawberries are delicious and packed full of nutrients. But if it isn’t strawberry season, you will pay a lot of money for those red gems.
- Buy in bulk. At this particular time, as stores deal with the pandemic, bulk areas may be unavailable, unless you are able to shop at Costco. Under normal circumstances, purchasing from the bulk bins provide significant savings.
- Buy generic. If you do choose some boxed items to have on hand, look for store-brand options. The same goes for canned and frozen foods. Generic brands are usually much cheaper than name brands.
- Buy foods your children will eat. When you need your food budget to stretch for you, buying a lot of unknown foods might not be the best choice. Be sure you at least have some familiar options on hand, especially if you have a picky eater. At the same time, this could be an opportunity to start introducing a few new items that are nutrient-dense. Keep in mind that it can take 12-15 exposures before a child accepts a new food. Be patient!
What About Snacks?
Do you feel that your kids are on a non-stop snacking train? Boredom, anxiety, and a disrupted schedule can make it likely that everyone in the house is more snacky than usual.
Children need to eat something between meals if they are hungry. The trick is making it nutritious and inviting at the same time. And it’s also important to help them recognize if they are truly hungry, or if their body needs something else.
To make snack time manageable and add some fun for all, try these tips and tricks:
- Consider setting “open” and “closed” kitchen hours for older children to avoid constant snacking even when they aren’t hungry. For younger kids, you can set a timer or alarm for snack time.
- Be sure everyone in the family is drinking plenty of water. Hydration helps you feel full, boosts the immune system, and keeps the body working well.
- If your child is asking for a snack after they just finished eating, consider a quick walk around the neighborhood or a board game first. Sometimes kids think they are hungry when really their body needs some movement or a new activity.
- When it is time for some munching, refer to the division of responsibility. The adults choose what and when the snack is. The child decides how much of it they eat. Obviously, you are in control of how much is available in the first place, but younger children might not even notice that!
- Make snacks fun and inviting. Consider some version of a snack board or pupu platter. Use these options to offer a variety of nutritious foods. Better yet, allow your child to assemble their own tray from the choices available. Kids almost always eat more when they get to help prepare the food.
- Make snack “art.” There are a lot of fun ideas online for making designs and animals out of food. Some are nutritious, and some are more of a treat. Either way, they are engaging for most children.
- Turn eating into learning. There is a lot of interesting science and history surrounding food choices. You could start a container garden of herbs and veggies to learn about seeds and plants. Or take a look at online resources such as Choose My Plate for even more education.
In It Together
During tough times like these, remember to give yourself some grace. Parenting is hard enough under ideal circumstances. Right now? Being the grown-up in the household is extra challenging.
In general, try to allow your meal times to be peaceful, so they nourish the soul as well as the body. Meals and snacks don’t have to be fancy to be nutritious, and your child doesn’t have to have a “perfect” diet. Your child likely would be really excited with a picnic that includes a simple menu of finger foods and you likely can use a break from cooking another meal.
If you have any questions about how to support your family’s nutritional needs, reach out to Portland Pediatric and Family Nutrition today. During this time many insurance companies are allowing virtual visits to keep you safe and healthy. We can’t wait to connect with you.