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Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet FS1317

Healthy Eating in the Time of COVID-19

  • Carol Byrd-Bredbenner, Extension Specialist in Nutrition
  • Kaitlyn Eck, Department of Nutritional Sciences
  • Jaclyn Maurer Abbot, Department of Nutritional Sciences

There is little doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting every aspect of our lives—from virtual classrooms, to telecommuting, to early restaurant closing times, to outright quarantines. Observing public health measures and reducing exposure to the virus are required to slow the spread of this disease. No one knows how long these virus safety measures will need to stay in place, but it presents an opportunity to protect and improve your health while practicing social distancing. Here are some steps you can take:

Minimize Trips to the Supermarket and Eat Healthy

Before you go…

Plan Ahead

Visualize breakfast, lunch, and dinner for at least five days. What will you serve? What do you need? Consider the foods your family likes, your food preparation interests and skills, and the time and energy you will have for preparing meals. Working from home may not mean there is more time to cook—especially if you are now responsible for teaching your kids and doing the work your employer expects.

Have Children at Home?

Include children in meal planning, preparation, and cleanup while teaching them writing, math, reading, and science.

Think Nutrition

The healthiest meals emphasize whole grains, vegetables, and fruits—serve them in the greatest amounts. Meat portions should be smaller—this will save money and help keep dietary saturated fat in check.

Make a Shopping List—and Use It!

You’ll be less likely to forget items or buy on impulse.

Stock up on Nutrition-Packed Foods That Will Stay Fresh for a Week or Longer

Go Easy on the Frozen Dinners

Most frozen dinners are high in sodium, fat, and calories.

Limit Purchases of Tempting Foods

Among others, chips, sodas, cookies, and ice cream are high in empty calories and run up your grocery bill.

Keep Costs Down

Consider low cost alternatives. Instead of buying ready-made hummus, puree a drained can of chickpeas to make your own. Try a meatless meal, like chili with beans instead of beef. If fresh fruits and veggies are too costly—remember, canned and frozen fruits and vegetables provide the same nutrients as fresh. Best bets are plain frozen veggies and fruits. Go for low sodium canned veggies and fruits canned in juice or water—if these are in short supply, buy regular canned fruits and veggies—drain and rinse before use.

Think about Friends and Neighbors, Especially Older Adults or Those with Health Conditions

Could you save them a trip to the grocery store?

Try Online Shopping

Online shopping will save you time and let you keep your social distance. Be sure to plan ahead, many stores need a day or two from order to delivery or pickup.

While at the Supermarket…

Use a Disinfecting Wipe

Wipe your hands and grocery cart handle, then put the wipe in the trash.

Prepared for the Unexpected

Supermarkets are running low on many items. Be sure to take your own bags. Be ready with a back-up plan if an ingredient you need is unavailable.

Keep the Less Fortunate in Mind

Contribute to local pantries and soup kitchens now. Then, when it is all over—donate extra food you stocked up on that is still fresh and safe to eat.

Use Contactless Payment or Credit Cards

If you use the payment keypad, tap the buttons and screen with your knuckle—then use hand sanitizer after completing your payment.

Eat out Safely with Restaurant Curfews

If you want to have takeout meals, take the food home right away, and eat it while it is hot. Store leftovers safely—wrap tightly and refrigerate any dishes with meat, fish, poultry, or dairy products—be sure to reheat these leftovers thoroughly before eating.

Make Eating Together at Home a Positive Experience

Whether it is homemade or takeout, eating more meals at home is a new routine for many families. Keep the stress down by making mealtime fun.

Get the Family Involved

Kids can help set the table, pour the water, make the salad, or grate the cheese. Make mealtimes a family affair.

Try Some New Recipes

If you have never made homemade pizza, roasted a whole chicken, or cooked meatballs from scratch—now is a good time to try! There are lots of great recipes on the internet. Look for those that call for only a few ingredients, and use common kitchen tools.

Reconnect with the Family

Eat together at the table or spread a blanket on the floor and have an indoor picnic. Be sure to separate mealtime and TV time—watching while eating makes it too easy to pay attention to TV and not your food, so you are likely to overeat. Wonder what to talk about at mealtime? Chat about things you will do this summer, tell jokes—just keep the conversation upbeat and fun.

Think Positive!

Having a positive mindset is vital to getting through this pandemic in a physically and mentally healthy state.

Practice Positive Stress Management Strategies

Walk the dog, call a friend, soak in the tub, or cuddle your kids. Skip the alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.

Stick with Your Routine as Much as You Can

Go to bed and get up in the morning on your usual schedule. Eat meals at regular times. Find ways to exercise away from the gym—do yoga in the living room, trim the hedge, have a scavenger hunt in the backyard with your kids, or just toss a ball or play tag as a family.

Manage Boredom

Stay busy and engaged—resist hanging around the fridge or mindlessly watching TV. Enjoy your hobbies, read, cook, make videos with your kids, start a scrapbook, help your kids with their virtual schoolwork, and stay in touch with family, friends, and colleagues.

When You Do Go Out

Wash your hands before you leave home and as soon as you return.

Have a Dry Cough? Feeling Feverish? Hard Time Breathing?

Don’t hesitate to reach out to your health care provider for further instructions.

We are all facing this together. Let’s make the most of it to come out stronger and wiser and ready to enjoy all the wonderful times to come!

March 2020