Pandemic meal preparation: How parents are coping with kids at home

(BPT) – In March, parents across the country had life flipped upside down. All of a sudden, they had to figure out how to work from home, guide their kids through e-learning, prepare more meals and manage the other regular duties of parenting. Little did these parents know that all those stressors would return in the fall.

Three-fourths of America’s school children were engaged in some form of e-learning in late September, leaving the burden of food preparation on parents for almost every meal. According to a new Castle Wood Reserve consumer survey, seven in ten K-12 students get breakfast at home, while 66% get lunch from home and 74% get snacks at home.

Because of the demand to cook and eat at home more frequently, about one-third of parents said meal preparation is more difficult this school year than it was last year. Parents also cited food availability and the challenge of planning meals as top reasons that meal preparation is more difficult.

The coming months are not going to be any easier on parents. With COVID-19 case counts rising across the country, even more school districts are transitioning to full-time virtual learning. Parents are seeking convenient, delicious solutions that save them time in the kitchen.

Cargill’s Castle Wood Reserve brand is working to satisfy kids on each end of the K-12 spectrum. Cargill chefs have developed an array of quick and easy recipes with time-saving tips. Parents can make roast beef cheeseburger sliders, Monte Cristo rollups or ranch chicken club rollups for their younger kids and offer waffle toasted ham and cheese or a pizza melt to their older kids, who can handle a simple five- or ten-minute meal prep on their own.

Deli meats can also be used to vary your snack routine. Simple snack recipes, like pretzel bites with ham or melon and ham skewers, can be a fun snack time change of pace for kids and help keep them satiated.

Consumers can find a variety of deli meats and premium snack kits at their local retail stores that can make any meal convenient and provide the protein to keep kids full and energized throughout the day. In the survey, for most dayparts, parents cited protein as the most important nutrient that they seek for their kids.

According to the USDA Dietary Reference, the recommended daily allowance of protein is 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight as part of a balanced diet. So, someone who weighs 120 pounds needs about 43 grams of protein each day.

Why is it important to achieve an adequate intake of daily protein? Protein helps repair cells, boosts energy and keeps us satiated longer, so kids are not constantly asking for another snack. Protein also serves a vital function as building blocks for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood.

With health and convenience in mind, parents are making the most drastic changes to their lunches and snacks. Three-fourths of parents in the survey reported that lunches in their household had been impacted by returning to school, and 68% said that snacking had been affected.

Planning these meals ahead of time can be a lifesaver for time-crunched parents. Consumers should map out daily meal choices based on activities and school schedules for the week. When students are at home for e-learning, parents can assemble bento boxes or pre-packaged meals, leave them in the refrigerator and allow their kids to grab them once they are hungry.

Smart shoppers will also plan meals before getting groceries and stick to the outside perimeter of the store to purchase fresh ingredients, including vegetables, fruit and lean meats. Creating a shopping game plan leads to healthier meals, while saving time and money. This approach will eliminate extra trips to grab takeout or fast food, while diversifying your cooking routine at home to keep everyone in the family excited for mealtime.