COVID-19 has forced families to make many impactful changes in their routines in a short period of time. One or more parents may have lost their jobs, which leads to limited funding for groceries. With the closure of schools, families are together all day, meaning more food is being consumed at home. With the stress of potentially balancing work and home schooling, not to mention the general tension of living through a pandemic, healthy eating can often take a backseat.
Meaghan Butler, registered dietitian for the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, shares some practical advice for maintaining healthy eating on a limited income during the pandemic. “First and foremost, be kind to yourselves,” she says. “This is a stressful time for us all, and we are not seeking perfection in eating habits.” Below she shares 9 tips for keeping your family healthy and safe during the coronavirus.
- Limit grocery store visits to once per week. To reduce the frequency of grocery store trips, it’s important to keep the pantry stocked with essentials, plan meals in advance, take inventory of what’s in your kitchen and consider the shelf-life of foods purchased.
- Keep a well-stocked pantry. When considering “essential” pantry items, know that these will vary from household to household, depending on what your family typically enjoys eating. While it can be tempting to pack our pantries full of foods, at this time, it is important that we only buy what we need to be respectful of other people’s needs. I recommend having these 16 items on hand as they are versatile, healthier options and commonly used in a variety of dishes:
- Beans (dried or canned)
- Brown rice
- Diced tomatoes
- Tomato paste
- Low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
- Brown sugar
- Low sodium soy sauce
- Spices: chili powder, ground ginger, garlic powder, dried basil, dried rosemary, ground cinnamon, ground cumin
- Olive oil (or cooking oil of choice)
- Vinegar (red wine or apple cider)
- Barbecue sauce
- Dried whole wheat pasta
- Tomato sauce
- Nuts and/or nut butter
- Whole wheat bread
- Rolled oats
- Plan meals in advance. Meal planning is intended to help us buy only what we need and prevent food waste. If done properly, it also helps us save money. Start by looking at the calendar and selecting how many meals to plan for, based on your schedule for the week. Next, choose your recipes by searching your favorite blogs or recipe books. If the kids are old enough, this can be a task for them to take control of or help with.
- Set realistic expectations. Don’t commit to planning overly complicated gourmet meals each day. It’s important to have some “easy” meals in your arsenal, such as pulled chicken, canned tuna or quesadillas.
- Cook larger batches. If you scale up the recipes, you can save yourself some time and dishes by enjoying leftovers the next day or freezing the leftovers for future use.
- Consider shelf life. Use the foods that are going to go bad first. To help keep track of shelf-life of foods and how to properly store foods, there’s an app for that! FoodKeeper was developed as a joint project by Cornell University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Here are 7 types of produce that will last longer.
- Include the whole family. Meal prepping and cooking shouldn’t fall to just one member of the household if more are capable of getting involved. Family members, and kids especially, are more likely to eat and enjoy meals if they’ve had a hand in selecting and/or preparing them.
- Make it a learning experience. Before shopping, make a list of ingredients and amounts needed to make your planned recipes, and compare that list to the quantities of those items you have on hand. This can be a great exercise for children to get involved in, as well. Taking inventory can help children practice counting, addition, subtraction and fractions. Children can also practice using the computer by making their own inventory graphs or charts, as age-appropriate.
- Minimize distractions while eating. Focusing on the act of eating helps us to get more in touch with our body’s natural hunger and fullness cues. Turn off the TV before eating and move digital devices away from the table. For families sitting down to a meal together, you may consider starting the meal with a prompt: “Name one thing you are grateful for” or “Name something you did for someone else today.” This act of gratitude can improve our health and reduce our baseline stress levels, which we know might need a little extra help right now.
Watch Meaghan on Coast Live as she gives more tips to viewers and shares a recipe for Black Bean and Zucchini Tacos.