ROANOKE, Va. – Three meals and multiple snacks a day at home. That’s now the reality for millions of parents across the country and Virginia as schools are closed and the whole family is staying home.
Many parents are asking questions about why their kids are not eating enough or eating too much every day.
10 News took your questions to the women behind the popular Instagram page @FeedingLittles, with nearly 700,000 followers. Megan McNamee is a registered dietitian nutritionist and Judy Delaware is an occupational therapist specializing in feeding/picky eating.
They take on a lot of questions surrounding eating concerns, what’s normal and what’s not. Over the last few weeks, most of their posts and questions are about how to deal with the new reality we’re facing as COVID-19 spreads across the country.
Jenna: What are you hearing from parents right now about food and Coronavirus concerns?
Megan: Parents are really worried about what to feed their kids when they’re home for an extended period of time. There’s a lot of things that come into play with this. Maybe some of us use and rely on school lunches often so we don’t have to worry about making lunches every day. Maybe we don’t have as much access to food that we normally have because we’re limited with what we can get at the grocery store. Maybe your kids are just sitting at home all day wanting to snack. Parents are getting a little bit worried about that element of their kids’ lives. Something they might not have to deal with before.
I just remind parents this isn’t about being perfect. It really never is with nutrition, but especially right now we just have to work with what we’ve got and try our best in these moments. Sometimes we eat cereal for dinner and that’s okay.
Judy: We’re seeing anxiety, people being out of routines, difficulty getting kids to come to the table and stay at the table. Schedules have been completely thrown off. Parents wish that their kids would stay at the table longer and eat a little bit more food.
Jenna: What’s your advice for parents, especially when grocery stores may be out of kids’ favorites and you’re having to eat differently?
Megan: Try to go easy on yourself. This is a difficult time that none of us really know what to do with and what to expect. All of us are struggling in different ways. Remember that you have to work with what you have. If you only have access to frozen foods those have tons of nutrition and them. You can still get wonderful vitamins and minerals from frozen vegetables. Frozen vegetables can have more nutrition than fresh because they’re harvested right when they’re ripe instead of a few weeks before they’re ripened.
Judy: Get your schedule put together and have a list or blackboard that you know when you’re going to eat and what other activities are during the day. I think those are so helpful. Checking off a list as the day begins and getting into some form of routine. If your child doesn’t eat a big breakfast or they don’t eat a big meal just know that there is another meal coming right around the corner. When we talked about toddlers and preschoolers we don’t look at how much they eat per day.
Jenna: Many parents are concerned about how much their kids are snacking at home.
Megan: Try to step back and realize why they might be snacking. Are they snacking because they’re kind of hungry? Are they not getting filling meals? If we’re just eating toast for breakfast, we’re going to be hungry very shortly thereafter. Make sure that our meals and snacks still have plenty of protein and fat in them. For example, putting peanut butter on that toast will help regulate your kid’s appetite a little bit longer, regulate their blood sugar. Also, are they snacking because it’s become this habit? Every time you sit on the couch to watch a movie they grab a snack. It’s all about routine and repetition here. The more you can add that structure back to your family’s day the better.
We have to remind ourselves that this isn’t going to be wonderful every day. Some days we’re going to snack a lot more and kind of ruin our appetite for meals but the goal is for us to have a regular meal and snack routine with our kids. Three meals and two to three snacks a day can really help regulate our appetite so we’re not starving by the time we get to a meal, but we have enough hunger because we haven’t been snacking throughout the day.
Jenna: How can you get your kids interested in new foods right now? To try everything that’s put in front of them?
Judy: Get kids involved. What have we got today? Going into the cabinets even if it’s canned. It’s okay. Right now food is food. A can of corn is a can of corn and that’s what you’ve got. Ask that older child to be involved in the meal preparation. Whether they’re opening the can or maybe we make a quesadilla. How can we make something interesting and different with that? It doesn’t have to be gourmet. It doesn’t have to be on the cover of Food and Wine. If we can make the child feel like there’s some autonomy and they have some independence, that’s what I would focus on.
When you serve a meal you always want to be able to serve something that is familiar with a new food. That would be so it feels comfortable and safe with a little splash of something new or different.
Another trick would also be taste testing. Place a little tiny taste of things and maybe you taste them with just the tip of the spoon and talk about ‘How does that taste to you, what does it feel like in your mouth?’ Stay away from ‘Do you like it or do you not like it?’ Say instead, ‘Tell me what it tastes like. Is it sweet or salty? Is it kind of bitter or sour?’ Beginning to teach their taste buds because we all gravitate towards things that are familiar. We learn as we get older how to be able to taste more interesting foods.
Jenna: What can make this easier for families?
Judy: Now we have this great opportunity to be able to eat together. If you are just making one meal which we highly recommend from Feeding Littles, we don’t want short-order cooking, eat with your child. Show them how you eat it and model that. Be the example.
Megan: Just remember one of the most important things right now is connection and your child feeling safe and that they have enough food to eat. A really wonderful thing you can do right now is eat with them. Focus on family meals, focus on getting your kids into the kitchen when you can, having them help you cook, having them understand where their food comes from even if it comes from a can and eat together. Because we have an opportunity right now to have more connection than ever and eating together is one of the best ways to do that.
Jenna: How do you handle very slow and/or distracted eaters?
Judy: If we weren’t talking during these extraordinary times I might have a different opinion about screens and having kids being in front of screens. Right now, I would say do what you have to. If your child is really slow eater and you’ve been concerned about weight gain and you’ve talked about that with your family physician the big picture is looking at the long haul. What is that child doing over the week, as opposed to a meal? If the child is consistently a slow eater offering something that is the high-end food first. For example, if you want them to eat and get more calories put that high-protein, high-fat food upfront in the meal and then maybe follow up on fruit towards the end.
Judy: Be gentle. Be gentle to yourself, be gentle with your family, be gentle with your kids. This is an unprecedented and extraordinary time that we are all living through. I think my best suggestion is just be kind to yourself and think about the words that are coming out of your mouth on a daily basis. We will get through this together.