At her first attempt to shop during lockdown, staff told Amanda Trice to leave her twin children in the car park. They are 4 years old.

She went to another supermarket in New Plymouth, where she was allowed to take them in.

"The looks I got were awful," she said.

"People told me I was risking their life, old women 'tsked' at me. It makes you feel like crap. And the kids pick up on it too.

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"You don't want to risk your kids but you don't want to leave them in the carpark."

The Covid-19 lockdown has been especially harsh on single parents.

They are generally on lower incomes and need to shop more often. But some supermarkets have banned children during alert 4.

That has left some parents in the difficult position of leaving their kids home alone, or shopping in dairies, which are more expensive.

Others are simply going without food, according to Salvation Army staff in a report on the impact of the lockdown on New Zealand's most vulnerable households, released today.

"I didn't eat for two days," said Lacey, from Napier, who has a 4-year-old, and 1-year old twins.

She tried to stock up before lockdown but the shelves were empty of all essentials. She bought enough for the kids, but went without herself to make sure they had enough until the next shop. A two-item limit on nappies meant she only had enough for half a week.

Lacey, who is on a single mother's benefit, said her twins had chronic lung conditions and a visit to the supermarket had always been tricky. Under lockdown, it was "a nightmare".

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After alert 4 came into place, she stayed up until midnight to get a Click-and-Collect slot so she could avoid going inside the supermarket with her kids. The Pak'n Save supermarket left nappies out of her order.

"They actually told me to leave my children in the car and go into the store to buy them. I was crying, and kicked up a bit of a fuss, standing outside the shop."

She is now getting help from her ex-husband's parents to get groceries delivered.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said single parents had contacted her with their own stories. She asked supermarkets to show some flexibility during the lockdown.

"For those who are just sole parents we do have to make sure that they're able to feed themselves," she said.

"If they don't have someone who's able to support them with grocery shopping then ultimately they are going to have to have that flexibility to ... undertake those essential services with their child."

A Countdown spokeswoman said the company was encouraging people not to bring children to supermarkets unless they have to. However, sole caregivers and single parents were allowed to.

Foodstuffs NZ head of corporate affairs Antoinette Laird said the company understood that physical distancing requirements made shopping challenging for some customers.

"We generally suggest shoppers 'buddy up' with a friend, family member or neighbour who can do the shop for you," she said.

TM Bishop, who has 17-month-old twins, said her experiences of supermarket shopping had been positive. Other customers at Mt Wellington Pak'n Save had let her jump the queue.

"The trickiest thing is solo parents aren't usually wealthy," she said.

"So when people are buying up bulk you're trying to just buy for the week or two. I had to start toilet training early because I couldn't find [her daughter's] nappy size anywhere."

The Salvation Army's report, published today, provided a snapshot of life on the margins during the lockdown.

Food banks said demand had jumped by a third. Calls to budgeting centres had doubled. Work and Income hardship grants, which were already at high levels, have also doubled.

The Salvation Army said the Government's response to hardship caused by Covid-19 had so far been "muted". Among its recommendations were increasing support for beneficiaries to match that of the wage subsidy. The subsidy was worth $585 a week - double the weekly amount given to a solo mother on a benefit.