How to eat well while staying home

How parents & children can stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic

UNICEF
two parents in vietnam cooking food while the mothers holds her newborn
UNICEF/UNI279557/Viet Hung

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a dramatic impact on the lives of families in East Asia and Pacific. As schools and childcare centres close, many parents and caregivers are finding themselves at home for most of the day coping with childcare, full-time work and other competing responsibilities. Working out what food to give children to best protect their health can be yet another daily challenge. 

To make things even harder, many people have lost their jobs or livelihoods, children are no longer getting school meals and some families are struggling to buy food. Some families who are having to spend a lot more time at home are understandably depending more on home-delivery of food in the form of ready meals and processed foods that are not fresh.

Children enjoy a nutritious meal prepared from carrots, winter melon, chicken and rice
UNICEF/UN0248191/Noorani
Children enjoy a nutritious meal prepared from carrots, winter melon, chicken and rice

A varied, nutritious diet is one important way that families can help to maintain their children’s immunity against COVID-19. There is no one food that can provide protection against the virus. These are myths which are being circulated with no scientific backup. A diet that has all the essential nutrients and avoids foods that are unhealthy is the best to support the growth, development and long-term health of children. And an additional benefit is that children may start to develop healthier eating habits!

A diet that has all the essential nutrients and avoids foods that are unhealthy is the best to support the growth, development and long-term health of children.

5 ways to eat healthily 

A girl in Mongolia eats a carrot
UNICEF/UN0255546/Pasquall

1. Have regular meals with a variety of foods

In these exceptional times, when daily routines are disrupted, it is important to continue to eat regular meals and a variety of food. The daily diet should consist of about one third rice or other starchy staple, and one third fruit and vegetables. The remaining third should be shared between protein sources like meat, fish, beans and pulses, and dairy sources such as milk. This will provide all the nutrients – in the right amounts – for a growing child. Try to provide as many different types of food as possible so that children don’t become bored with the same meals every day.

2. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables

Buying, storing and cooking fresh fruit and vegetables can be challenging, especially when parents are advised to limit trips outside of the home. But wherever possible, it’s important to ensure children are still getting plenty of fruit and vegetables because they are full of vitamins, minerals and fibre. The aim should be for at least five portions a day. Fresh produce is best, but canned or frozen fruit and vegetables still contain essential vitamins and minerals and are good substitutes when fresh items are not available.

3. Drink plenty of water

Staying well hydrated, mainly through drinking lots of plain water helps to maintain the immune system. Encourage children to drink plain water instead of sweetened drinks which contain too much sugar and are damaging to teeth and long-term health.

4. Limit unhealthy foods 

Foods that contain large amounts of sugar, salt and/or animal fats and low amounts of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals are unhealthy. Unfortunately, many ready-to-eat meals and convenience foods such as pot noodles, pizzas, burgers and fries fall into the category of unhealthy foods. Many families are now depending on the delivery of ready-to-eat meals and/or convenience foods and it may be difficult to completely cut out unhealthy foods.  Where possible, try to order healthier options by checking the label, reduce the number of ready-to-eat meals that your family eat a week, take care to control portion sizes and where possible cook or prepare meals using fresh ingredients. Children need to eat a snack or two during the day to keep them going. Rather than giving children sweet or salty snacks, try out some healthier options like chopped fruit or vegetables that can be eaten raw.  
 

5. Start cooking and have fun!

Not everyone has the luxury of being able to cook at home. For those who do, this is the chance to try out some home cooking and getting your children involved. Even small children can help with washing or mixing food items while older children can take on more difficult tasks.