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Table 2 Quotes voiced during focus groups for every theme and sub-theme

From: A qualitative exploration of the impact of COVID-19 on food decisions of economically disadvantaged families in Northern Ireland

Theme: Food planning

Sub-theme: Perceptions around food and health

Need to provide a nutritious diet for growth and health

It is very important to me to try and get as much fruit and vegetables into this family every day, especially at the minute, think if anything I might be over-worried … I don't know if it's because of lockdown, I’m more aware of the family’s immune system and keeping them strong and robust… (02 - Married mother of 3)

Every week I try get some like you know, different vitamins, the food have. Meat as well because meat has lots of protein in it, so they need like, children need them... (07 – Married mother of 2)

Basing food choice on child’s preference

I just see what the kids like and I'll keep doing the same thing…. As I say, for me it's just pure convenience and I know the kids will eat it. (06 – Single father of 4)

Sub-theme: Food assistance

Help from family and friends

I have like three, three-four friends (who are) very kind, because they know I’m on my own most of the time. … This is, I think we are quite lucky, we’re very lucky to get help from friends with food. (11 – Single mother of 3)

If we had anything spare, they (parents) just live around the corner from my house, we would give it round to them, or they would give it round to us. So we would help each other out too. (03 - Married mother of 3)

School meal assistance

I’d be lost without it. Ehm, I don't think it goes as far as the government maybe think it goes, but it’s definitely been very helpful. (02 - Married mother of 3)

Fifteen pound a week wouldn’t really buy fruit for my children, you know? … But it’s definitely a brilliant help and I appreciate it a lot. (10 – Married mother of 3)

Help from the community

I actually every week, the local youth club help the likes of… me and my kids go to the youth club, the girls do. And they bring down like a wee, it's like a breakfast box for them. … It’s only a few wee odds and ends, but it helps out like. …. Especially when you're on a tight budget. (09 – Single mother of 4)

Sub-theme: Food availability in lockdown

Concern over shortage of food

Like we couldn't get pasta and that’s, we would live on pasta, 'cause one of our dishes, we would have pasta, tuna and sweet corn as a dish every week. And we really couldn’t get pasta for ages. And we had family members looking out for pasta for us. (09 – Single mother of 4)

Engaging in panic buying

I sort of stocked up at the start as well, because I was panicking, you know. So I would have made sure… You know, like I bought extra of everything at the very beginning of this, because I was worried, you know… (12 – Married mother of 3)

Convincing the children of limited food availability

I would take them around shopping at our local Tesco’s and let them see that the shelves were bare, you know? That I wasn't just saying ‘oh I'm not making this, 'cause I don’t want to’… (01 - Single mother of 3)

Theme: Food planning

Critical of bulk buying

I think people who have absolutely nothing, because they can't get things, they only need certain things and they can’t get them…because other people are bulk-buying them. (01 - Single mother of 3)

Importance of a well-stocked food cupboard

I have a well-stocked cupboard I suppose. I think I quite like having food in there that I could fall back on. (08 – Single mother of 4)

Theme: Food purchasing

Sub-theme: Going for food shopping

Shopping less often

…having to go out more often to get the fresh vegetables and that means being about people that potentially have COVID-19. (02 - Married mother of 3)

Just everything is so organized, more organized now in my own house. … Plus like my food shop list is done before I would have never done a list and I would have shopped when... every fortnight, so just over 2 weeks. But now I'm doing it once a month just because I don’t want to go out as much as well. (03 - Married mother of 3)

Scheduling shopping journey to avoid queues

I tried to go first thing in the morning, when it’s not too busy. I kinda know now whenever not to go… (09 – Single mother of 4)

Unfortunate experiences in stores

I went to go a few times in the lockdown and the queue was right down the street and I just thought ‘no, I don’t wanna do it’. And the one time I did go in, there was people bending over you to get things, when you were really, really afraid! I never went back. (10 – Married mother of 3)

Store strategies to control the spread seen favourably

They have somebody standing at the door and they were saying ‘nobody else in’ and had all the restrictions in place, you know lines and things and indicators on the floor. So it was really well-prepped. I felt comfortable going in there. (10 – Married mother of 3)

Sub-theme: Home food deliveries

Shift towards home food deliveries

I mean, before lockdown, I would have been using my local shops more, but obviously, because of lockdown I was trying to get stuff delivered and not be going out to the shops as often. (12 – Married mother of 3)

Difficulty in finding delivery slots

What had happened at the start of lockdown was that home delivery wasn't available, because so many people were using it. So you would have maybe had to book a fortnight in advance (04 - Married mother of 2)

Incomplete food deliveries

I have done, I would say six or seven orders now between the major chains and not once out of those six or seven orders have I got everything that I have ordered…. So I was making something specific, but then you’d open up your shopping and you’d be like ‘oh where’s the… where’s the carrots that I ordered?’, ‘where’s the mince steak that I ordered?’. (01 - Single mother of 3)

Theme: Food purchasing

Sub-theme: Shopping from local small food stores

Avoiding local shops

I used to go the bakery twice a week. ... but the queues to get into the bakery is just ridiculous, I'm not wanting to go and stand for an hour just to buy 6 hot-cross buns … (03 - Married mother of 3)

Before lockdown I would have been using my local shops more, but obviously, because of lockdown I was trying to get stuff delivered and not be going out to the shops as often. (12 – Married mother of 3)

Feeling supported by local shops

I mean there was delivery services that you could've got, you know, during the time, like if I was sick or you couldn't go out. … I got that little fruit and veg shop to deliver to me. And then like a local shop could have sent me, I don't know, bread, milk and cigarettes, if I wanted. (10 – Married mother of 3)

Sub-theme: Prices of food retailers

Observing prices going up

At the start now, they’ve only started going back on, they took all the offers off, you know the likes of ‘three for two’s’ or ‘buy one, get one free’. They all went off, so they did. And all the offers went off and I noticed all the prices did go up a wee bit. (09 – Single mother of 4)

I've noticed a big change in prices at the minute.… I’ll do a shop monthly for my cupboards and I was like… and it usually cost me about 80 pounds for the whole month. And it’s gone up to for about 120, just everything has just been up 20, 30, 40 pence… I know it's not much in a way, but like it is much whenever you're not working… (03 - Married mother of 3)

Understanding for food retailers

I understand that firms have more outgoings at the minute than they have probably incomings, so they do have to put their prices up and balance it up a little bit. (01 - Single mother of 3)

Food prices going unnoticed

I didn’t actually see prices going up, but I’m not the best one to look at prices. (10 – Married mother of 3)

Sub-theme: Food offers

Always choosing foods on offer

If there's something on offer you would buy it and that would be another idea for something to eat, you know for a meal. Whereas if there are no offers, you sometimes go ‘oh god, what should I buy then?’. (08 – Single mother of 4)

It's 'cause I’m on my own with kids so I always would scrimp and save. If there’s something on offer, then I have to buy. I always budget when I'm shopping. (09 – Single mother of 4)

Importance of food offers increasing during lockdown

…I'm not at work anymore. We would go more to now look at like yellow labelled stuff. … Yeah, we would go to that section a lot more now than what we would have beforehand… (03 - Married mother of 3)

Basically in the Covid, I haven't got a job anymore, so I had to cut corners a little bit. So I'm looking more for like special offers and then just introducing them to the family. (10 – Married mother of 3)

Theme: Food preparation

Cooking more and healthier

I'm sort of glad that lockdowns been put on, if you know what I mean, because now that I'm cooking more than I've being a wee bit more healthier. Before lockdown I wasn't being healthy I was sort of relying on takeaways. (05 - Married mother of 1)

… probably cooking a bit more just because I can cook things… When I was working, I might have called into Sainsbury’s on the way home from work and picked up a pizza or something, picked up something that was already made… (08 – Single mother of 4)

More convenient meals due to limited time

[I’m] single dad with four kids, so I would normally… with cooking I would normally do sort of chicken curries or spaghetti Bolognese, but during COVID there’s been a lot more ready meals, just because sometimes I would chill out with the children. (06 – Single father of 4)

Children getting involved in the kitchen

They’re staying up late, so what I find in the morning, my kitchen looks like Beirut… They will be making themselves a ready-made cheeseburger or hamburger. (06 – Single father of 4)

And [child’s name], the 12-year-old, I've noticed she would come in as well and take an interest and cut things and will help... in the kitchen with the cutting and things and even stirring the chicken and making the curry up and things like that. (09 – Single mother of 4)

Theme: Eating and feeding behaviours

Sub-theme: Family mealtimes and food habits

Lack of meal structure

When you're in work, you’re kind of ‘right, people are going for their lunch’, you’re going, you’re going to sit down and have some lunch. You’re bringing something in for lunch, whereas now I have my breakfast… and then, I might be having my tea earlier. (08 – Single mother of 4)

It’s (dinner) all over the place. Generally, it’s between 9 and 10, whereas before they probably would have been between 6 and 7. (06 – Single father of 4)

Emotional snacking

I think, for more as the weeks go by, we’re more fed up and… It's not a nice kept-up-in-the-house feeling. More and more everyone in the house will go on “is there any chocolate?”. (02 - Married mother of 3)

They’re probably eating more rubbish, trying to eat more rubbish. But I think that’s out of pure boredom… if they were at school, they wouldn’t be eating… (09 – Single mother of 4)

Reduced fruit and vegetables due to infrequent shopping trips

I kind of suffered in the lockdown, because I would normally go, you know, within three days, two to three days and get fruit and vegetables, cause my kids would eat a lot of fruit. And I didn’t go, because I only wanted to go once a week, I was afraid of going out. (10 – Married mother of 3)

More family meals

Before (lockdown) we had no time to do that (family meals), because we just… my husband finish work late, I finished as well very late, sometimes so was different. (07 – Married mother of 2)

Sub-theme: Parents’ feeding behaviours

Giving into children’s food requests

My 15-year-old stepdaughter…she's doing a lot of home schoolwork for GCSE’s. … she asked me to get Coke to keep just for her and to be honest that's the only reason I bought it. I feel sorry for her at the minute, because she is stuck in the house and it’s something just like a wee comfort thing to cheer her up… (02 - Married mother of 3)

Following a lenient parenting style

I will give them £5 each a day and I say ‘right, as long as you’re two meters from everyone else, enjoy life’ … ‘your mental health is more important at the minute and so is mine’. (06 – Single father of 4)

Dealing with children’s food refusals

…my wee ones are so young they’re like playing “I don't want eat that, I don't like that” like they would have only eaten sausages or chicken goujons … but now they’re just told to eat what's in front of them, otherwise they don't get anything until the next meal. (03 - Married mother of 3)

I'm trying to get my son used to different textures of food… [Child's name] is funny with different textures and different feelings. He's got a touch of autism and he's got sensory issues…. so I try, I made a new dinner to see if he would eat it. (05 - Married mother of 1)

Making sure children eat enough

Cause I can cook food and if they don’t eat it, I will try to feed, feed them myself. I know I’m not supposed to feed them, but I just would like them to get something to eat, so that’s why… But now because I say ‘oh they’re at home now’ so we have more time so I just cook and try to offer food. (11 – Single mother of 3)

Theme: Eating food prepared outside the house

Take-away as a reward

So it's been intense with the amount of (school)work that's been thrown at them and the amount of stuff that they have been expected to do without really knowing it. So Friday is our day to just let off a little bit of steam, so we would get a takeaway of some description. (01 - Single mother of 3)

Ordering affordable take-aways

I would look at Deliveroo, Just Eat and Uber Eats and I would look to see if there was a deal. And I would use all those services, when I found certain deals…. I'm generally ordering the same things once I knew the children were eating them. (06 – Single father of 4)

Reducing take-aways saved money

The takeaways are quite dear like if you go seven days a week with them. But now that I’m cooking, it's not really, so we have sort of saved quite a bit of money. (05 - Married mother of 1)

Sceptical about safety of food prepared outside the house

At the minute, I’m not sure, because it’s other people prepping food. I'd rather, it's safer just doing our own. … (I’m) not even sure about using all of them (takeaways) again. I don't know who's touching our food now and all this virus thing and… I’m trying to keep my kids safe. (09 – Single mother of 4)