In these times of COVID-19 confinement, parents at home with their kids are struggling to keep everyone properly fed. Questions abound over what to eat in order to maintain healthy nutrition and manage weight gain during this period of reduced physical activity filled with impulses for more comfort food.
Renowned nutritionist Dr. Carla Habib Mourad Community Nutritionist specialized in child nutrition, and Regional Scientific Coordinator for Nestlé Ajyal Salima answers some of parents’ most frequently asked questions:
What are important core foods that should always be included in a child’s daily diet?
There are no definite answers as far as the best foods to include in a child’s diet, as all food groups provide essential nutrients for children. Generally, it’s important kids eat four to five portions of fruits and vegetables a day, in addition to three portions of dairy products such as milk, cheese, or yogurt which supply proteins, calcium, and vitamin D. Eggs and beans are excellent sources of protein as well, when meat is not available. You can choose whole grain breads, pastas, or breakfast cereals for a good source of carbohydrates.
What should I do if I run out of my child’s favorite food?
If you are dealing with a picky eater, try involving your child in menu planning and encourage cooking together, as many picky eaters will agree to try new foods in the process. Also aim to share meals as a family, ideally at fixed mealtimes. Routine can help ease anxiety for younger children during these stressful times.
Are there any foods or supplements that boost our immune system?
At this time, there is no considerable evidence that any single food item can ‘boost’ the immune system. Several nutrients – mainly vitamins C, B6, Beta-carotene and D, Zinc, Selenium and magnesium – play an important role in our immune system. It is generally advised to receive these nutrients from a healthy balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and beans. In addition to healthy eating, children need to be physically active and get enough sleep to help support their immune function.
Can I use canned or dried produce when fresh options are not available?
Whenever possible, aim to consume fresh produce. Cook all remaining in large batches of soups or stews and freeze them, so they can be reheated for later consumption. Canned and dried produce offer excellent alternatives in times of lockdown. Just make sure you drain canned foods properly and rinse them with clean water to decrease the amount of salt used during canning. Try to choose fruits canned in juice rather than syrup whenever possible. Keep in mind also that canned oily fish such as sardines and tuna are rich in protein, omega 3 fatty acids and a variety of minerals. These can be prepared cold in sandwiches and salads. Dried goods such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, or bourghul are long lasting, affordable, versatile and healthy produce to add to recipes.
What are examples of healthy snacks for nibbling?
One of the parents’ major concerns during lockdown is whether their children are consuming too many snacks. It is important to make sure that your child is eating properly during main meals, as they would snack more often if they remain hungry. Some children mostly snack out of boredom, which is okay as we are in crisis mode and trying to deal with many issues simultaneously. Ideally, children should have three meals and two snacks per day, thus making it necessary to stock healthy snacks options. Nuts, cheese, unsweetened yoghurt, boiled eggs, homemade air popped popcorn, fruit salad or dried fruits, carrot and cucumber sticks with labneh or hummus dip are nutritious and filling snack foods that most children like. Homemade desserts such as carrot, banana, or zucchini muffins, milk smoothies and milk custards are good options as well. When purchasing packaged snacks and desserts check the label and try to choose healthier options containing less Trans and saturated fats, added sugars, and sodium.