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Feeding children during a pandemic

“Can I have a something to eat?” This phrase is likely to be heard more frequently throughout houses all over the world, as children stay at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but what should our children be eating during this time?

Feeding children during a pandemic

To meet the demands of growth and development, children have higher energy and nutrient requirements for their body size compared to adults. It is therefore important that they are offered a variety of foods and drinks that provide adequate energy and nutrients for their needs. The diets of children from the age of 5 years should be based on the principles of the Eatwell Guide. Whilst recognising the challenge we are all facing in shopping for food, ideally childrens diets  should include plenty of starchy carbohydrates, such as potatoes, pasta, rice, bread, or cereals; fruit and vegetables, aim for 5 portions a day, where a portion is the size of your child’s hand; some protein, for example lean meat, fish, dairy products, eggs, beans, pulses, or soya products; and calcium-rich foods, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, or fortified non-dairy alternatives. 

Eating, along with other lifestyle habits including physical activity, are established in childhood and track into adulthood. The eating behaviours of children can be influenced by those around them. Therefore, during this extended period at home it is important that the whole family adopts a healthy lifestyle, by eating a nutritious meal together. Eating together is associated with better health and wellbeing throughout life. During this stressful period of social distancing, eating as a family provides an opportunity to share concerns and plan future adventures, including what food you want to eat when its next available. 

Top tips for healthy eating with children: 

  • Eat meals together as a family, children learn from the environment around them. 
  • Encourage children to aim to eat a rainbow of different coloured fruit and vegetables to help achieve their ‘5 a-day’. 
  • Choose healthy snacks that are low in sugar and salt, for example, whole or sliced fruit, vegetable batons or bread sticks with houmous or plain popcorn. 
  • Most importantly, enjoy your food. Encourage children to help with preparing and cooking food so that they learn how meals are created, they will be more likely to eat what they have prepared. 

About the Author

Hannah Greatwood

Hannah Greatwood is a Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Hannah's main interests lie in multi-factorial interventions for healthy eating and physical activity in children.

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