Lucy Upton, Specialist Paediatric Dietitian and Nutritionist
Although the number of people in the UK forced to turn to food banks has been on the rise for a number of years now, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the already worrying situation even further. Data gathered by the Trussell Trust shows that there was a 47% increase in the number of people relying on foodbanks during the first six months of the pandemic compared to the same period last year. It seems families with children have been hardest hit with 2,600 food parcels being provided for children every day.
The opportunity to eat healthy foods in such circumstances may seem to be impossible for parents and, understandably, can feel like less of a priority, especially with the prices of fresh meats, vegetables and fruits rising every year. However, the importance of a healthy, balanced diet, particularly for young children cannot be underestimated, and whilst more challenging on a budget, it isn’t impossible.
Fortunately, there are a number of initiatives designed to help struggling families such as vouchers and food banks, of which there are just over 2,000 in the UK. 1,200 of these are run by the Trussell Trust who provide emergency three-day food parcels which are planned to make sure they are nutritionally balanced. Although they generally don’t include any fresh food, as this makes them easier to store until they are needed, they do contain a variety of tinned vegetables and tinned fruit.
According to the Trussell Trust, a typical food parcel includes:
- Tinned tomatoes/ pasta sauce
- Lentils, beans and pulses
- Tinned meat
- Tinned vegetables
- Tinned fruit
- UHT milk
- Fruit juice
We’ve come up with a several different and exciting ways to use some of these foods which we hope will help inspire you to come up with some ideas of your own:
- Top chicken with canned tomatoes and cheese. Bake in the oven
- Cook canned tomatoes, onions, ground beef and macaroni to make Goulash
- Add to canned soups and stews
- Mix with tinned beans to make your own baked beans
- Mix with cooked rice
- Use instead of ground beef in spaghetti sauce
- Add to soups or stews
- Mash with breadcrumbs to make lentil ‘meatballs’
- Mix with yoghurt
- Use in a smoothie
- Add to hot or cold cereal or oats
We know that providing your family with food is not cheap and the price of your weekly food shop can add up very quickly so here are some of our top tips to make your money go further whilst maintaining a healthy balanced diet:
- Reduce food waste – Plan what you’re going to eat before you go shopping and keep an eye on your fridge contents so you can use up fresh produce before it needs to be thrown away or put it in your freezer. Using a weekly meal planner can also help.
- Get your 5-a-day – Frozen or tinned fruit and veg can be cheaper than fresh – and count towards your 5-a-day.
- Cook your own – Home-made food is usually cheaper and tastier than convenience food, and you can control the amount of sugar, fat and salt that goes into it.
- Shop differently – Go to your local market or greengrocers and try shopping online as it can often work out cheaper than going to supermarkets. Buying fruit or vegetables in season is also cheaper
- Choose cheaper alternatives – Replace unhealthy snacks with fruit, consider ‘value’ versions of foods (make sure to check the label for saturated fats, sugars and salt) or try replacing meat with dried beans or pulses which are lower in saturated fat
It’s important to note that pregnant women and women with children under 4 years old could also be entitled to financial support through Healthy Start vouchers. You get free vouchers every week to spend on milk and fresh, frozen or tinned fruit and vegetables, fresh, dried and tinned pulses, and infant formula milk. You can also get Healthy Start vitamins specifically designed for pregnant and breast-feeding women and growing children. All families are advised to take vitamin D supplements as vitamin D is essential for healthy bone growth through regulating the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from the diet – minerals that contribute to the structure and strength of bones during child development.
If you have found this helpful check out our website for more useful advice and resources designed to help parents give their children the healthiest start to life!