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Human Nutrition experts offer lockdown advice for families

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

As other parts of our lives have shut down during lockdown, food has become increasingly important as a focus in our daily routine. Despite the initial panic buying that many fell victim to, supermarket shelves have mostly remained well stocked and access to the usual food supply remains accessible for most.

Department of Human Nutrition experts Professional Practice Fellow Mary Spiers, a New Zealand Registered Dietitian, and Senior Lecturer Dr Claire Smith discuss some food-related challenges people may now be facing and offer simple advice to help you flourish during this time.

What are some of the possible food related issues?

Mary-Spiers-small-image
Mary Spiers.

Lockdown has imposed a variety of food related challenges for a lot of people, from not being used to preparing three meals a day, every day, to a lack of confidence or skill to cook for the people in their bubble. These sorts of issues can add stress and pressure, particularly if one member of the bubble is solely responsible for all the food preparation.

A severely reduced discretionary budget resulting from reduced income is also impacting people’s ability to provide adequate food provision. This is evident in the increased number of first-time food bank users reported recently in the media in both Christchurch and Auckland and likely to be occurring to some degree across the country. Families being at home all day can also contribute to a higher consumption of food, which will eventually increase the overall amount spent on weekly groceries.

The balancing act of trying to work from home, home school children and provide nutritious meals and snacks also takes some managing. This can be exhausting and even more so for single parent families. You may be used to being at home with your children over the holidays where you have carefully planned outings and activities using a ‘holiday budget’ that you have squirreled away over several months. Now you find yourselves in the situation where that ‘holiday wasn’t planned, the budget was not accumulated and the holiday could possibly be ongoing!’

Trying to maintain a healthy dietary intake while being in such close vicinity to the pantry and fridge along with a recent proliferation of online cooking shows can make healthy eating difficult to master, even for the most highly motivated and knowledgeable. Most parents are likely to acknowledge that attempting to spread meals and snacks over some sort of planned daily schedule can be extremely challenging when kids are home all day. It is challenging for adults also with such ready access to a well-stocked cupboard.

Remember however that these are unprecedented times so go easy on yourself. You may be baking a bit more to help entertain your kids and cut costs a little, but you may also be out exercising more too. Find a balance that works for both you and your family.

Creative solutions to try

Trying to master food and meal preparation skills can be stressful for those who lack self-efficacy in performing these types of tasks. Asking someone in the bubble to support you or asking for virtual support from friends and family may help to slowly develop the confidence to undertake these tasks. Use ready-made foods like frozen meals once a week to give yourself a night off. You could put a blanket on the floor and have a picnic (with or without the teddy bears) with these pre-made supermarket items to create a fun dinner night.

A limited budget can severely impact food choice with respect to quality and quantity. Some simple suggestions might help to stretch your budget a little further:

  • Plan meals and snacks and then write a shopping list
  • Buy in season fruit and vegetables.
  • Use canned or frozen fruit and vegetables if fresh is too expensive
  • Use good quality meat (e.g. lean mince) and add legumes like red kidney beans or lentils to make it go further.
  • Wholegrain breads tend to be more satisfying than white bread due to their higher fibre content.
  • Use rolled oats to make porridge and add flavour with banana and yoghurt or grated apple and cinnamon.
  • Try to use all food and leftovers before they go off, this saves wasting food.

Get the kids involved

A great solution to lockdown, aka the mundane ‘never-ending holiday’ could be to get your kids in the kitchen to help with meal preparation.

Children are more inclined to try something new if they have helped prepare it. This can also keep them busy, the meal is made and they learn some key life skills. The kids can also help plan the menu for the week letting them choose one or two meals a week. Many young people go flatting for the first time without having ever prepared a meal at home. Unfortunately, this is no longer something that most kids get to experience during their childhood.

Establish a routine

The biggest challenge of all, irrespective of your age is trying to consistently stick to a healthy and nutritious intake when the food supply is constantly in the next room. Setting up a regular daily schedule for meals and snacks can be a great way to bring in some structure. Managing the food environment in your home by having more healthy options and less special occasion foods available can be an effective strategy for eating healthily most of the time, particularly for older kids and adults. Having good healthy snacks like fruit and yoghurt or vegetables with vegetable-based dips readily available saves having to ‘stop and prepare’ food in amongst trying to get some parental work tasks achieved. Try to keep to your usual meal routine, and try not to graze in between meals and snacks. You and the kids are much more likely to enjoy your meal when you arrive at the table hungry.

Looking for new ideas?

With one week left in Level 4, now may be a good time to try out some new recipes or find some new inspiration, and the following websites offer some useful suggestions:

Cheap recipes with beans and legumes
Snacks for families and kids
Reduce Food Waste

An excess of homegrown vegetables or fruit?

If you have excess of homegrown vegetables or fruit or are financially able to donate, then please consider donating to one of the local food banks:

Presbyterian Support Foodbank
St Vincent de Paul
Salvation Army - Dunedin