10 Parents Share How They’re Feeding Their Kids Right Now

updated Mar 26, 2020
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Mother cutting her young son some melon at home in the kitchen
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As parents, we own the responsibility of thinking about where our children’s next meal will come from. And for those now in home quarantine with kids, the responsibility of feeding them all day, every day weighs on us heavier than ever before. If you’re feeling a little bit overwhelmed, you’re not alone.

To get some fresh ideas, I spoke to 10 parents around the country to hive-mind how we can cook smarter to feed our families in these strange times. They have children of all ages and varying levels of access to food and support. Some have to work; others don’t. These smart tips can help us all save money, reduce food waste, and get the job done without completely losing our minds. You’ve got this.

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1. Check with your local schools to see if they’re still providing meals.

“We went to get free breakfast at one of our school district sites today. They had just a single staff person running packed meals out to the vehicles of each family. We went at the tail end of the free meal pick up, just so I could avoid cooking (while pregnant!) for my family of 5 for just one meal.” — Helena C, (mom to three under 5)

If like many American families, you usually rely on your school, other community organizations, or government agencies to help secure food for your family, there are resources out there to help you. Many food assistance programs are still running, and some new ones are popping up specifically to help families quarantined because of COVID-19. Check in with the organization you normally work with and check out the resources available through Feeding America to continue getting the support you need.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

2. Give yourself permission to bow out of all kitchen projects.

“I keep reading about how we should be doing these fun projects but all I have time for is making sure my one-year-old doesn’t climb on the fireplace and smash his face.”
Alyssa J., Tinley Park, IL (family of 4, including 1- and 3-year-olds)

“I’m trying to use the commute time I’ve gotten back to get more sleep to keep my immune system strong.”
— Jen C., Gaithersburg, MD (family of 3, including a 3-year-old)

It takes all of five minutes on social media to come across posts of people sharing all the big projects they’re taking on while quarantined. And let’s not forget reminders like “Shakespeare wrote King Lear while on quarantine because of the plague.” Well, I’m here to remind you that Shakespeare didn’t have children at home while he was writing his masterpiece. If baking bread from scratch or playing a home version of Nailed It with your kids gives you the feels and helps you pass the time, go for it! But many parents report that, despite being home all day, time feels shorter than ever. Give yourself permission to be in the kitchen only when you need or want to. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

3. Cook food, not meals.

“We are trying to keep things simple. For example, we had chicken with pasta and veggies today. I shredded leftover chicken to roll into enchiladas or burritos with the beans that I have soaking. I’m just trying to keep things simple and moving along.”
— Cynthia P., Tucson, AZ (family of 3, including a nearly 2-year-old)

“The kids’ breakfasts have been ratcheted down in simplicity to things the kids can help with. Cereal, frozen waffles, English muffins with PB and fruit.”
— Lauren L., Bedford, NY (family of 4, including 5- and 8-year-olds)

Some home cooks, especially those of us feeding kids, tend to think in terms of meals: a main, side, and veggie. This is the moment to simplify and just cook some food. Quesadillas, a plate of rice and beans, a simple pasta are each enough to feed a family for one entire meal. Nothing fancy is required. And while I always love getting veggies in, it’s okay to skip them more than you normally would. Just fill those bellies.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

4. Stick to tried-and-true recipes.

“We have been cooking a lot of no-brainer crowd pleasers: simple things like spaghetti, grilled cheese, tomato soup, and rice and beans. We decided to fill our freezer with things like bread, cheese, and frozen vegetables instead of meat. I’m working from home with two kids and am getting through this by trying to make things as simple as possible. I can’t have one more thing to worry about right now!”
— Meghan M., Dayton, OH (family of 4, including 2- and 4-year-olds)

Many parents I spoke to are relying heavily on go-to recipes that they know their kids like. They are being resourceful (no breadcrumbs? try oats) about using what they have to make tried-and-true favorites. 

Credit: Peter Colin Murray/Kitchn

5. Prep ahead (as much as possible).

“Today, I even prepped all the snacks and chopped fruit on their way to spoiling and popped them into the freezer.”
— Cynthia P., Tucson, AZ (family of 3, including a nearly 2-year-old)

With kids at home all day, parents are looking for ways to be more efficient with their time, and spending an hour on food prep every time you have to feed the family is not feasible. Prepping food in the morning for the entire day can save hours and also helps preserve longer chunks of focus time during which you can concentrate on work, engaging with the kids, or just taking some much-needed time to yourself. 

6. Plan ahead to reduce waste (and grocery trips).

“It’s 100% about planning and standardizing more than ever. How many pieces of bread for five lunch sandwiches this week. Rice twice this week, so make a double batch once. Set snack times for the littles that we are being way more firm about than we would have been on weekends in the past.”
Lauren L., Bedford, NY (family of 4, including 5- and 8-year-olds)

“I’m meal planning and cooking as normal, leaning more vegetarian as meat supplies are mostly nonexistent here. I’m doing all the shopping as I have to leave the house anyway [Sara is a healthcare worker; her partner  is quarantined]. Kids are making their own breakfast, sometimes lunch and doing dishes.”
Sara F., Fairfax, VA (family of 4, including 8- and 15-year-olds)

I’m always a proponent of meal planning, but now more than ever. It’s a critical strategy for saving time and reducing waste, both of which parents report as being of paramount importance. Take 10 minutes — it doesn’t have to be more; keep it simple! — to jot down what you plan to serve at each meal that you will be prepping this week. Be sure to start with dishes that will use up perishables that will go bad soon. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

7. Keep track of perishables.

“We are a mix of vegetarian/vegan, so we eat a ton of fresh produce normally. We aren’t big canned or frozen veggie people. I’ve been using up our fresh produce first, planning meals around what is about to go bad — strawberry pancakes to use up the soggy strawberries, and fajitas to use up soft avocados and wrinkly peppers.” 
— Heather E., Durango, Colorado (family of 4, including 9- and 11-year-olds)

“I’m trying to watch expiration dates and wilting produce and use things efficiently.”
— Eliza M., Austin, TX (family of 4 including a 5-year-old and 11-month-old)

Speaking of perishables, keep track of them! This will go a long way to reduce food waste. As you buy new perishable food, move things already in your fridge to the front and put the fresh stuff behind it since it will last longer. And if you see something about to turn, quickly use it up or freeze it. This way, you won’t have to leave your house as often to pick up groceries.

8. Cook in batches. 

“I have been trying to freeze half of everything I cook to try to plan for the coming weeks, so I’m mostly making things like soups, stews, and burritos that cook in batches and freeze well, as well as baking bread to slice and freeze.”
— Rosa M., Platteville, Wisconsin (family of 3, including a 5-year-old) 

It can be anxiety-provoking to pour half of your bag of rice into the pot, but don’t let a hoarding mentality keep you from cooking what you’ve got in big batches. Part of keeping things simple is being prepared to eat similar — or the same — things several meals in a row. And if that sounds terrible, you can always freeze half of what you cook, from beans to rice, to that cooked pasta. Ultimately, cooking in batches saves time and that’s more important than meal variety right now. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

9. Schedule snack time.

“I’m actually scheduling snacks, which I’ve NEVER done before, because they asked for them about 20 times on the first day and I was like ‘Nope, this isn’t gonna work.’” 
— Sarah M., Woodbridge, VA (family of 5, including a 2-month-old, 3-year-old, and 6-year-old)

This suggestion is mostly about managing resources and saving money — because every parent knows that, if allowed, kids will graze on snacks all day long, even when they aren’t particularly hungry. But feeding kids snacks many times a day also takes time that truly adds up, and mental energy too. So consider this tip a time and sanity saver as well. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

10. Teach older kids to cook. 

“I’m using this opportunity to finally teach my tweens to cook dinner. It’s been on my list forever, but has felt really difficult to execute. Each kid is cooking with me twice a week. My daughter made delicious fish packets and helped prep other dishes and clean up tonight!”
— Amara O., Tacoma, Washington (family of 5 including 11-, 12-, and 14-year-olds)

If there was ever a time to get your kids in the kitchen, it’s now. And we’re not necessarily talking about fun kitchen projects. Rather, distribute the workload and include kids in the responsibility of helping feed the family. They may bristle at first — especially those tweens and teens — but in the end, it’s empowering for kids to feel like they are contributing to the family’s health and wellness. 

Looking for more ideas? Listen to the Didn’t I Just Feed You podcast on cooking for pantry staples.

What’s your best cooking advice for parents right now? We want to hear!