Helping kids to eat well during COVID-19

Young girl eating wrap and smiling

Are the kids at home and looking for snack-shaped boredom busters? Here are practical ways to manage pester power and help kids and teens to maintain healthy eating habits over the coming months.

Healthy foods to the front

The first step in creating a healthy food environment at home is to make the healthy choice the easy choice. Here are a few ways to do it:

  • Maintain a regular eating routine – children typically need three main meals and two healthy snacks from the five food groups
  • Have a ‘munch and crunch’ fruit and vegetable break for morning tea
  • Kids learn to like new foods by exploring them with all five senses. Get them involved by helping to wash, dry and prepare fruit and vegetables
  • Have healthy snacks at eye level in the fridge or pantry
  • Put treat foods into containers you can’t see through and plan when you will enjoy these together
  • Help your child pack a lunch box with their healthy snacks for the day, and if they get hungry, direct them to their lunch box
  • Take the opportunity to slow down and share healthy meals and snacks together – kids tend to eat better when their parents, carers and siblings do the same.

Healthy snack ideas

Looking for new ideas for healthy snacks? Why not try…

  • Chopped carrot, cucumber and capsicum sticks or snow peas with low-fat dips
    • Chop up enough vegetables for 2-3 days – these will last in the refrigerator stored in an airtight container with some damp paper towel
    • Serve with salsa, hummus, low-fat cottage cheese, tzatziki or avocado dips
  • Seasonal fruits – apples, oranges, grapes, cherry tomatoes
    • Have these washed and ready to eat – they’ll be less likely to go to waste
  • Apple slices with peanut butter or a slice of low-fat cheese
  • Vegetable soup
  • Wholegrain muesli bars
  • Boiled eggs
  • Low fat yoghurt
  • Air popped popcorn
  • Freeze dried apple or beetroot chips
  • Spiced roasted chick peas

Discover more healthy snack recipes on the Growing Good Habits website.

Balance your plate

It’s important to be mindful about how much we’re eating and what we’re choosing, especially when we’re less active than usual.

  • Be familiar with the recommended serves of the five food groups for children – they vary depending on age, gender, and other factors
  • Have older children weigh or measure out typical portions for different foods and see how close they are to the recommended serve sizes
  • Fill up on fibre by mixing zucchini and carrot noodles into spaghetti or noodle dishes, and swap some rice with cauliflower rice (you can make it yourself or find it in the freezer section)
  • Serve pasta and lasagne dishes with a side salad
  • Make your own pizza using wholegrain pita bread and low-fat cheese
  • Use low-fat milk, cheese, and cottage cheese in recipes
  • Swap corn chips for baked tortilla chips – preheat your oven to 180 degrees, chop wholegrain tortillas into wedges, spread out onto a baking tray in a single layer and bake on each side for 5-7 minutes until crispy
  • Use a non-stick pan to avoid using too much oil in cooking.

Choose water

Water is the best drink all year round. Have water freely available during the day and at meal times. To make water more fun you could try:

  • Making pretty ice cubes with chopped fruits or berries
  • Mashing up frozen berries and top with carbonated water
  • Adding lemon, lime and mint
  • Trying a sugar-free iced tea
  • Sipping from a curly reusable straw.

Juices, cordials, soft drinks, flavoured milks and milkshakes contain lots of energy; limit these to special occasions or weekends.

Avoid ‘snaccidents’

To avoid consuming excessive amounts of energy without realising, here are a few tips:

  • Always having meals and snacks at the table
  • Set a ‘no screens at mealtimes’ rule
  • Slow down your eating – allow 10 minutes for a snack and 30 minutes for a main meal
  • Slow your fast eaters down by using chop sticks… a bowl of popcorn will last much longer!

Boredom busters

It is okay for children to be bored sometimes, as it forces them to get creative and find ways to entertain themselves. In saying that, some children might need a hand getting their creative juices flowing. Here are some suggestions:

  • Draw
  • Read
  • Make and play with playdough
  • Create an obstacle course
  • Play hopscotch
  • Clean: your room, the cars, the skirting boards or windows
  • Write a letter or make cards to grandparents and friends – then walk to the post box together
  • Start a veggie patch
  • Have a dance party
  • Make paper planes and fly them
  • Plan a scavenger hunt
  • Have everyone in the family plan a dream holiday – then try to recreate it at home
  • Paint sea shells or rocks
  • Make a meal plan as a family
  • Try a new recipe
  • Have a step-a-thon with friends

Older children could plan and start your family’s own MasterChef competition:

  • Do a blind taste test
  • Try a mystery box – hide a new vegetable in dinner and see who can identify it
  • Film your kitchen adventures to share with grandparents
  • Set a challenge – aim to eat a green, red, orange, purple and yellow fruit and vegetable everyday

Baby’s first foods

If you have a baby and you’re looking for guidance on introducing solid foods, these baby’s first food resources can help. They cover:

  • Readiness for solids
  • How and when
  • Fluids
  • Allergies
  • Safe food preparation.

This information has been provided by the Department of Dietetics and Food Services at the Queensland Children’s Hospital to assist parents and carers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please reach out to your local Accredited Practising Dietitian for individualised dietary advice.