The Pandemic Changed How Parents Feed Their Children, Study Says

The pandemic changed a lot, even the way we feed our families.

By: Amanda Mushro

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Pretty 4 years girl eating carrot in kitchen, sitting on her kitchen counter


Pretty 4 years girl eating carrot in kitchen, sitting on her kitchen counter

Photo by: Antonio Garcia Recena

Antonio Garcia Recena

Trying to make sure that our kids eat a healthy and balanced diet is tough on a regular day. Then, you throw in the craziness of Covid, and sometimes, our best efforts get lost in treats and snacks instead of fruits and veggies. Our whole world has changed because of the pandemic — work, school, childcare, and activities. So, of course our food choices would reflect those changes. While we were all trying to make the best of an unprecedented situation, researchers wanted to understand what those food changes meant for our kids and for us.

According to a new study, during the height of the pandemic, the way parents fed their kids changed drastically — especially for younger kids. They also found that many of those changes have stuck around.

Researchers collected surveys from parents who shared how their food choices for their kids changed from pre-Coivd life to life during Covid. The study also looked at how parental stress, mood, and child behavior influenced any changes with food choices.

"Parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic was challenging for most families," said Katie Loth, an assistant professor of family medicine in the University of Minnesota Medical School and leader of this study. "Understandably, we found that many families shifted their approach to feeding their child during this time as well."

With parents working from home and kids' regular schedules being completely changed, meal times and food choices changed as well. For one, the study found that the lack of a regular schedule meant a lot more snacking and indulging in treats for the whole family. Also, for parents who had preschoolers at home, they were handing out a lot more snacks in order to keep the kids entertained while parents balanced working from home.

The study also found that as parents' moods shifted to more stressed or angry, they had less patience with trying to get their younger kids to eat healthy foods. This totally makes sense because if you’re feeling overwhelmed, the last thing you’ll want to do is take on meal time battles with your kids. On those days, it’s just easier to make food that you know your kids will eat.

Loth added that even the way we prepared food changed during the pandemic. "We found that during the pandemic, the parents in our study were less structured in their approach to feeding compared to before the pandemic — using fewer rules and limits, less routine, and less frequent modeling — and that parents engaged in fewer behaviors known to support children's independence around eating, such as involving children in food prep, talking to children about the foods they were being served or providing children with praise and encouragement for trying new foods."

The study also revealed that many of these new habits have not changed, which makes parents nervous.

The researchers from the study say they hope they can encourage parents, schools, and health care professionals to take a real look at our food choices now that many Covid restrictions have been lifted. Since many of those not so healthy habits have stuck around, parents and kids might need help shifting their food choices to healthier options.

It may be as simple as starting one meal at a time or reevaluating the types of snacks we offer our kids. Small steps can make big changes in the health of our children and ourselves.


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