Food security for your family during COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a whirlwind throughout the United States, forcing many Americans to adjust to a “new normal.”
Parents who typically rely on schools and childcare facilities to care for, and to feed, their children have been notably impacted.
While the logistics of virtual classrooms have proved challenging, millions of families are also dealing with the loss of school meal programs.
“Missed meals can lead to fatigue, decreased concentration, and reduced immune response, factors that all impact academic performance,” says Dr. Alexander Ford, an osteopathic physician and registered dietician. “Nutrition is the backbone of good health, and you can—and should—talk to your doctor about food insecurity.”
The pandemic has placed many children at a further disadvantage, making access to nutritious food even more difficult and magnifying nutrition pitfalls. However, resources are available for families.
Curbside pick-up may be available
Many school districts have implemented curbside pick-up at school sites. Others have been delivering meals along school bus routes or to neighborhoods at set times. Despite these efforts, access to meals is still a challenge in many areas. For some districts, the number of “grab-and-go” sites are outnumbered by the schools they serve, notes Dr. Ford. There are other options.
Check local organizations, not just food banks
Community partnerships are essential in supporting school districts with meal delivery. As an example, in Upstate New York, community organizations like the YMCA, 4th Family, and The Albany Fund for Education have alleviated some of the burden surrounding food insecurity by supplying meals to families.
“Connect with healthcare providers and the local government to identify resources that may be available in your local community,” says Dr. Ford, who is a native New Yorker.
The USDA offers a meal finder tool
The USDA has developed an online mapping tool called the “Meals for Kids Site Finder” to conveniently find meal sites in local areas. The site finder is free and allows users to enter an address, city, state, or zip code to find nearby locations, hours of operation, contact information, and directions.
How to boost health at home
Meal planning saves time and allows the opportunity to develop healthy meals that are also enjoyable. When developing a shopping list, it is helpful to consider recipes that include ingredients from each of the five food groups, notes Dr. Ford.
The food groups include fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and protein. High fiber grains, such as whole-grain cereals and bread, are excellent, says Dr. Ford. Other options are brown rice, wheat pasta, oats, and quinoa. Recipes that incorporate whole grains with lean protein, vegetables, and fat, offer balanced and nutritious meals, for improved satiety and sustained energy.
Canned goods provide nutrition and value
Protein options like canned tuna and salmon or canned beans, nuts, and seeds are healthy and long-lasting. Eating fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables are all ways to meet daily vegetable recommendations. Healthy oils like olive oil, canola oil, and fish oil can be integrated into recipes to enhance nutritional value and heart health.
When choosing to eat out, avoid descriptions like “battered,” “crispy,” or “breaded,” says Dr. Ford.
These words are often associated with frying and higher amounts of fat and calories.
Moreover, meals described as “creamy,” and “cheesy” should also be limited and are typically higher in cholesterol and saturated fats. Food items that are grilled, baked, and steamed are lower in fat and calories and are healthier options.
Beverages like unsweetened coffee, tea, water, and seltzer provide calorie-free hydration. Sauces and dressings should be requested on the side to control the number of added calories to your meal. Eating takeout meals on plates instead of containers is another approach to portion control and calorie management.
Food is fuel
“More than ever, it is crucial to provide our bodies with the sustenance needed to support immunity,” says Dr. Ford. “As we adapt to a new reality, we must prioritize our mental and physical health. Nutritious food helps achieve that objective.”