How COVID-19 Changed the Eating Habits of Santa Monica Families

SANTA MONICA, CA – The coronavirus pandemic has changed the lives of Santa Monica families in many and sustainable ways. Many parents had to cope with layoffs and a lack of income while the children got used to going to school from the dining table.

In between, the pandemic has also changed our eating habits – and not necessarily for the better, according to a new survey.

While many parents say their families have been eating healthier diets since the pandemic began, nearly 1 in 5 report their children ate more fast food, according to CS Mott Children’s Hospital’s national child health survey.

“The pandemic has disrupted many family routines, including where and what they eat,” said Gary Freed, MD, survey co-director and Mott pediatrician, in a press release. “We know that family lifestyles can affect children’s diets, and we’ve looked at how to do it.”

To conduct the survey, Mott interviewed more than 2,000 parents nationwide with children ages 3-18. It follows a separate report from the University of Michigan that found American children gained obesity during the pandemic.

The survey found that 1 in 6 parents say their child ate fast food at least twice a week. Parents also identified barriers to preparing homemade meals – about 40 percent said they were too busy to cook, and 1 in 5 said they were too stressed out.

While 85 percent of families said they knew fast food was unhealthy for their children, 33 percent said it was “good value for money” and 24 percent believed that fast food was cheaper than cooking at home.

For some experts, this may not be a surprising finding.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, billions of people suffering from food insecurity could not afford the cheapest options for healthy eating, according to the World Economic Forum. This sometimes forces those on the lowest incomes to eat the worst diet.

There are many people struggling with food insecurity right here in Los Angeles County, according to Feeding America, the nation’s largest network of pantries and chalkboards.

Before the pandemic, 1,079,900 people in Los Angeles County were considered food insecure, according to Feeding America. The ongoing economic fallout from the pandemic has increased that number by 14.4 percent, leading to more people on the verge of starvation.

The Mott survey found that fast food consumption is related to parents’ perception of their child’s weight.

Parents who said their children were overweight were almost twice as likely to say their children ate fast food at least twice a week, compared to those who said their children were of normal weight, according to the survey.

Parents also tend not to dictate food choices to their children in fast food restaurants. About 88 percent let their child choose what they eat, and only 1 in 3 parents read the nutrition facts.

However, 67 percent of parents say they encourage their child to choose healthier options and cut back on unhealthy products like fries and milkshakes.

“Parents mostly acknowledge that fast food is not an ideal choice but see it as an acceptable ‘sometimes food’,” Freed said.

On the other end of the spectrum, for some families, the pandemic may have been linked to healthier lifestyles. Almost half of parents who responded to the survey said their children ate more homemade meals since the March 2020 pandemic led to closings.

Find healthy food

If finding healthy, nutritious food for your family is too expensive or does not fit your budget, a wide network of pantries across the United States can help.

Here are the closest pantries in Los Angeles County:

  • Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, 1734 E. 41st Street, Los Angeles
  • Venice Family Clinic, Simms / Mann Health and Wellness Center, 2509 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica
  • Venice Family Clinic, Colen Health Centers, 4700 Inglewood Blvd., No. 102, Culver City
  • St. Mark Food Pantry, 940 Coeur D Alene Ave, Venice

If your family doesn’t need pantry help, a pantry donation is an option.

In fact, it’s easy to donate to a pantry. Pantries accept any food that is “shelf stable” or non-perishable – this means you can keep it in your pantry and it won’t spoil. It’s also a good rule of thumb to only donate food that has not passed its expiration date.

See a list of what to donate to pantries and what to avoid.

Feeding America serves 200 member boards that serve and supply 60,000 pantries, kitchens, and meal programs across the country.

Find your local board

Donate to Feeding America *

“The effects of the coronavirus on food insecurity”

Take action against hunger

(Patch photo / shutterstock)

Patch has partnered with Feeding America to raise awareness about millions of Americans who are starving. Feeding America, which supports 200 food banks across the country, estimates that by 2021 more than 42 million Americans will insufficiently eat enough nutritious foods due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. This is a social project from Patch; Feeding America receives 100 percent of donations. * Find out how to donate in your community or find a pantry near you.

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