Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), State governments, and school districts took unprecedented steps to mitigate the pandemic's impact on students' nutrition. To examine the effect of emergency responses on 6-year-old children's nutritional outcomes, this study analyzed longitudinal data from a national study of children's feeding practices, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children-Infant and Toddler Feeding Practices Study-2 (WIC ITFPS-2). Findings include no differences in food insecurity prevalence; however, there were shifts in sources of food, with children in the post-COVID-emergency-declaration (post-ED) group consuming more dietary energy from stores and community food programs and less from restaurants and schools than children in the pre-COVID-emergency-declaration (pre-ED) group (p < 0.01 for all comparisons). Examination of within-person mean differences in 2015 Healthy Eating Index scores and nutrient intakes between ages 5 and 6 years revealed few statistically significant differences between the two groups: children in the post-ED group consumed slightly fewer vegetables (p = 0.02) and less sodium (p = 0.01) than their pre-ED peers. Findings suggest emergency efforts to maintain children's nutrition were largely successful in the early months of the pandemic. Research is needed to understand the mechanisms by which emergency efforts contributed to these findings.
Keywords: COVID emergency food response; food security; longitudinal study; low-income children’s nutrition; school meals; sources of food.