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Eating well during challenging times

Mary Beth TeSelle
Special to The Union
Healthy high fibre dietary food concept with whole wheat pasta, legumes, nuts, seeds, cereals, grains and wheat sheaths. High in omega 3, antioxidants, vitamins. On marble background top view.
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As communities like ours across the country continue to follow “shelter in place” orders to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, we are facing a variety of challenges.

Among them – how to maintain our health and wellness while socially distancing ourselves.

Many people are finding it difficult to eat a healthy and well-balanced diet when access to restaurants and stores is limited and some grocery shelves are empty. Combine that with stress eating, and it’s a recipe for a nutritional disaster.

However, taking the time to plan for healthier meals and snacks is worth it. Experts agree that maintaining good nutrition is not only good for your overall health, it can also help keep your immune system strong.

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One of the challenges people are encountering at local grocery stores has been limited access to lean protein sources like chicken breasts. Local dietitian Danielle Yantis, owner of Sierra Medical Nutrition Therapy, says if fresh meat is scarce, there are other nutrient-rich options available.

“Canned tuna and salmon, nut butters as well as nuts and seeds, beans, lentils and tofu are all great sources of heart healthy protein,” Yantis says. “Each of those options offers seven to eight grams of protein per one ounce serving. We do not have to get all of our protein from animal sources.”

Yantis say some grains and pastas can also provide protein, including quinoa, teff, kamut, millet, and whole grain or bean pasta (chickpea or lentil).

If you’re having trouble keeping fresh fruits stocked at home, consider purchasing frozen fruits too.

“Frozen fruit mixes are great for adding into smoothies, hot cereal or on top of plain yogurt,” explains Yantis. “Berries are high in anti-oxidants, which is helpful for reducing inflammation.”

Yantis says canned fruits are also good options, but look for those packed in natural juice rather than heavy or lite syrup.

The freezer section is also a great place to find more vegetable choices.

“Frozen vegetables can offer the same nutritional value as fresh,” Yantis says. “They are flash frozen at the peak of ripeness. Be aware though that texture can be different from fresh and overcooking them will diminish the vitamin content.”

Yantis suggests adding mixed vegetables to canned soups, casseroles and frozen entrées to increase the nutrition.

She recommends using frozen spinach, broccoli and bell peppers in marinara sauces and soups, too.

“Frozen riced cauliflower is easy to blend into any dish because its flavor is mild,” Yantis suggests. “Avoid frozen vegetables that come in a sauce, as the sodium and saturated fat content will be too high.”

Aside from a lack of availability for some foods, another concern families are facing is the need to reduce trips out of the house. While you don’t want to participate in “panic buying,” it may be wise to replenish your pantry a bit more than usual on your next grocery trip, with the goal of reducing the frequency of your shopping.

Yantis recommends keeping ample supply of the following items on hand to help with quick, easy meals that don’t require fresh ingredients:

Old -fashioned rolled or steel cut oats, canned tomatoes and beans, whole grain pasta, barley or quinoa, brown or wild rice, low sodium broth, nut butters, whole grain cereal, canned tuna and salmon, whole grain flour, olive or avocado oil, whole grain crackers, unsalted nuts, marinara sauce, broth based light soups, low sugar cereal or protein bars and protein powder.

For those who find themselves falling victim to unhealthy snacking while stuck at home, Yantis recommends turning instead to high protein options.

“Protein and fats are good choices if you are trying to maintain or lose weight or have glucose impairment,” Yantis explains. “Carbohydrates create insulin spikes, which makes us gain weight. Nuts and seeds are a great choice as long as your portion is less than a quarter cup.”

Other good snack options include almond butter on celery sticks; part skim mozzarella sticks wrapped in natural deli meat; hard-boiled eggs or deviled eggs; all-natural beef jerky; hummus and raw veggie sticks; or cottage cheese and 1/2 cup of fruit are great choices.

If food has become a source of comfort during this stressful time, Yantis recommends finding other activities to occupy your mind and body.

“Simple breathing exercises, progressive relaxation, meditation, yoga, movement of any kind such as going for a walk – all are great for combating cravings or stress eating,” she explains. “Try creating a list of meaningful activities that bring you joy and then turn to that when you feel like eating from boredom. Your list might include art, music, gardening, reading, calling a friend, playing with an animal or organizing closets.”

Whether it is your nutrition intake, your sleep habits, or your exercise routine – be sure you are making your health and well-being a priority during this stressful time. It will help you stay healthy and strong now and in the future!


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