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Tips for Healthy Eating During COVID-19

Maintaining a healthy diet is always important, but even more so during COVID-19.  We asked Special Tree’s Registered Dietitian Sarah Roan-Nguyen for her advice about how to stay well-nourished while at home.

Q:  If you had to self-quarantine for 14 days, what would you do to keep yourself and family well-nourished?

  • Create your own structure: I’m trying to stick to my normal meal and snack times, to maintain my own routine within this time of feeling such uncertainty/chaos. Also, my husband and I eat dinner together each night, to spend quality (screenless!) time together, which was our routine “pre-COVID”. I find it really helps to bring back some normalcy to our daily living.
    Tip: avoid going longer than 4-5 hours between meals or snack, to prevent from feeling overly hungry/hangry! I munch on raw veggies, a handful of almonds, or whole wheat crackers if I need some fuel during the workday.
  • Get organized: I created a list of all the food I already have in the fridge, pantry, and freezer. I found this a great opportunity to clean out my cupboards & freezer! Using the foods on this list, I jotted down ideas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner- to come up with a flexible “game plan” for the upcoming week or 2. Keep it simple and basic, don’t stress over coming up with the “perfect meal” right now. Do what works for you and your family.
  • Stay Flexible: With the stores starting to rebuild their usual inventory- still be open to making some swaps or substitutions in your flexible meal plan. This might actually be a positive outcome, where you and your family find a new favorite vegetable, grain, or type of protein! Frozen and canned foods, such as frozen vegetables, canned beans and tomatoes- are versatile- and provide the body with essential nutrients!
  • Make Your Meals Colorful: while this situation has certainly pushed us to be a bit more creative in the kitchen, try to include plenty of fruits and vegetables into your meals and snacks. The nutrients we get from these foods are so beneficial for our health, especially in keeping our immune system strong!  Found a new veggie or fruit you’re not sure what do with? Not often do I suggest to “google it” when it comes to nutrition, however there are so many great recipes out there! Also YouTube videos on how to chop/prepare unfamiliar produce as well. Cooking can be an activity in itself at home, include the kids or your spouse.

Q:  What foods do you recommend to boost your immune system?
Nutrition is an important part of keeping your immune system strong, while not one specific food or supplement can prevent illness, including foods containing these nutrients in your overall eating pattern can be especially beneficial during this time--

  • Vitamin A: sweet potatoes, carrots, red bell peppers, and spinach
  • Vitamin C: citrus fruits, bell peppers, strawberries, and tomatoes.
  • Vitamin E: almonds, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, fortified cereals.
  • Zinc: lean meat, poultry, fish, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds.
  • Protein: choose a variety- including fish, lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans, nuts, and lentils.

Staying hydrated is also very important- keep a reusable water bottle handy, to take sips throughout the day.

Q: What are some ways to help deal with stress eating and craving while at home?

With so much change to our daily life right now, we are all feeling stress and everyone responds and copes differently. It’s important to allow yourself to eat and fuel your body, including your favorite “treat” foods as well. It can often backfire when we over-restrict ourselves, especially when we are dealing with so many other changes right now.

Some simple tips to avoid eating out of boredom would be to keep all food/snacks stored out of sight, that way you’re less likely to mindlessly grab a handful here and there throughout the day. Keep the less nutritious foods- stored in the back of the pantry while the healthier options up front, that way when you are looking for a snack, you’re more likely to choose foods that provide the body with nutrition.

Another helpful tip is to look to other activities that bring you joy and help to alleviate stress —such as adult coloring books, playing cards, taking a walk through your neighborhood. There are so many awesome (& free!) resources out there, such as YouTube- for yoga, stretching, Zumba, the list goes on- to get your body moving, that you can do right in your living room. Do something with the intention to just have fun!

Tip- when I have a hankering for a crunch- I’ve been snacking on popcorn (lightly oiled, topped with some parmesan cheese), or baby carrots with hummus.

it’s important to remember that this is such an unusual time right now, there is no “perfect” way to handle this. One meal or snack will not “make or break it”, it’s important to be kind to ourselves, especially right now!

Q:  Any other tips for maintaining a healthy diet during COVID-19?

Fuel up! Try to stick to your normal routine for meals and snack times, and avoid going longer than 4-5 hours without eating as this can lead us to feeling overly hungry or even “hangry!”. Focus on choosing foods that provide your body with nutrients- such as variety of fruits, vegetables, protein, and whole grains—which are all especially important in keeping the immune system strong!

Be Flexible- while trying to limit our trips the grocery store- start by making a list of what you already have on hand in your freezer, pantry, and fridge. Then, based on what you have, start jotting down breakfast, lunch, and dinner ideas for the upcoming week or 2. As stores are starting to build up their usual inventory, still be open to substitutions- such as trying a different vegetable, grain, or type of protein- you never know, you may end up with a new favorite meal! The bottom line- just keep it simple and basic right now, and do what works for you and your family.

Have Fun in the Kitchen! While many of us are looking for more activities to do a home, cooking can be one of them! Especially if you have kids at home, this could be a great opportunity to spend quality time making memories together. While you’re in the mood to cook, this time can also be productive- save yourself time later by making a double recipe and freeze half, that way you have a meal ready to go later on.