Has the pandemic negatively impacted your mealtime routines?

Almost nine in 10 parents with seriously ill or disabled children feel the pandemic has negatively impacted their mealtime routines.

A study of 1,142 parents with disabled children found 48 per cent also said their youngsters’ different needs has stopped them coming together as a family. And 58 per cent have become more lonely or isolated as a result of the pandemic.

But while 87 per cent said the past year has affected their mealtimes in a negative way, of the 1,000 parents of children with no disabilities who were also polled, just 45 per cent said the same. It also emerged that parents raising disabled children have been hardest hit financially, with 47 per cent not paying household bills in order to afford food. Two fifths (42 per cent) have also skipped or cut down the size of their meals, while 31 per cent had to turn to a food bank. However, the number of mums and dads without seriously ill children who have reduced the amount they eat drops to one in 10, and one in 20 have had to use a food bank.

The ‘Mealtimes for All’ study was commissioned by McCain in partnership with Family Fund, as part of its wider Nation’s Conversations research series, and explores some of the barriers to family life experienced by those raising disabled and seriously ill children. It also found more than one in 20 parents (seven per cent) have gone without food for a whole day because there wasn’t enough money, but this rises to a fifth of parents with seriously ill children. And 66 per cent of parents with disabled children had to pay more for the weekly shop during the pandemic – more than double those without seriously ill children (24 per cent).

Mum-of-three Christine McGuiness said: “As a mum of three amazing children with autism, I understand the additional challenges faced by many families across the country raising disabled or seriously ill children. While me and my husband have embraced more time with our children over the last year, there is no doubt we’ve faced our share of struggles and tougher moments too, which makes those quality moments together, like mealtimes, all the more important.”

Kirsty Waite, whose daughter Heidi has Cerebral palsy, said: “The extra support that Family Fund has given to our family, such as providing an iPad to help my daughter Heidi, who has Cerebral Palsy, with her schoolwork, has been invaluable. It has freed-up time for my husband and me to focus on things that help us spend more quality time together, such as preparing family meals.”

The study also found 43 per cent of households with disabled or seriously ill children spend less than an hour of quality time together each day, compared to only 38 per cent of other families. During the typical week, 82 per cent of families without disabled children, polled via OnePoll, sit down for a meal together on three or more days, but this drops to 64 per cent for those raising seriously ill youngsters.

More than two in five (42 per cent) of those with disabled children said caring for their child impacts the quality time they all have together, as does venues and activities not being accessible or appropriate for them (37 per cent). A fifth also said their partner’s long working hours is to blame, while 45 per cent spend evenings and weekends keeping up with household chores.

But barriers to enjoying more time together for those households without disabled children include mums and dads working long hours (22 per cent) and kids playing computer games (27 per cent). One in five also blamed it on spending evenings and weekends catching up with chores.

For the average family, time together has increased during the pandemic (40 per cent), but 56 per cent of those with disabled children said it has decreased. A sixth of parents without disabled children also said a sense of belonging in their neighbourhood has grown during lockdown, but less than a tenth of mums and dads of seriously ill children agree. And parents raising disabled children are less likely to think of themselves as similar to others in their neighbourhoods – 30 per cent compared to 46 per cent.

Worryingly, 76 per cent of parents raising disabled children feel the pandemic has worsened the health and wellbeing of their child.

McCain has pledged £1m that will help Family Fund support 150,000 families with disabled or seriously ill children. Mark Hodge at McCain, said:  “The new ‘Mealtimes For All’ research has shown us that even against the backdrop of the pandemic where we’ve been spending more time together, for some families the crisis has had a disproportionately negative effect. Through our partnership with Family Fund, we want to highlight the great work they do in providing the resources for families to enjoy the small things in life, as well as highlight the little moments they treasure, that many of us take for granted.”

Cheryl Ward, Chief Executive of Family Fund, added: “This last year has been tough on everyone, but we know it has particularly put enormous financial and emotional pressure on families we work with – those who are living on low incomes raising a disabled or seriously ill child. This report highlights how even simply spending time together has been made more difficult by the pandemic as parents and carers have dealt with new challenges every day.”

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