How to Eat Healthy During the COVID-19 Outbreak

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Canned foods -- Coronavirus: Healthy Eating During Hard Times

“COVID-19,” “coronavirus,” and “social distancing” have quickly become words that we read and hear on a daily basis now. And given the fact that the WHO (World Health Organization) has declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic, we’re all facing a massive change to life as we knew it only about a week or so ago.

If you’re self-quarantining, social distancing or working remotely, no doubt the issue of how and what you’ll be eating is at the forefront right now, especially if your “normal” is to eat out and/or get take-out. And there’s the additional challenge, perhaps, of making sure others in your household (spouses, partners, children, parents) are fed, as well. Here are some tips that can help you ensure that you and your family eat healthy and tasty meals and snacks.

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Stock up on shelf-stable foods

As you stock up on paper towels, toilet paper and hand sanitizer (if you’re lucky enough to find them), also be thinking about foods that will help you whip up easy, tasty meals, and that aren’t perishable. Melinda Maryniuk, RD, CDE, a dietitian and diabetes educator based in Jamaica Plain, MA, says, “A healthy eating plan begins with making sure you’ve got good options to choose from at home.” Not sure what good options might be? Here’s a list to get you going. These will keep for a long time in your cupboard, pantry or perhaps a shelf in your basement.

Grain foods

· Whole grains: brown rice, barley, quinoa, farro, millet, couscous, oatmeal, popcorn

· Whole-grain or bean-based pastas

· Whole-grain cereal

· Whole-grain bread, English muffins, crackers

· Whole-wheat or corn tortillas

Beans and legumes

· Dried and canned beans: white, black, kidney, garbanzo

· Lentils

· Split peas

Nuts and seeds

· Nuts: almonds, walnuts, peanuts

· Nut butters: peanut, almond, cashew

· Seeds: sesame, flax, chia, sunflower, pumpkin

· Seed butters: tahini, sunflower seed

Protein sources

· Cans or pouches of tuna, salmon, sardines, clams, chicken, ham

· Shelf-stable tofu

· Beef or fish jerky

Canned fruits and vegetables

· Choose a variety of no-salt added vegetables: green beans, asparagus, corn, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, beets, artichokes, mushrooms, roasted peppers

· Choose fruits packed in juice or water: pears, pineapple, mandarin oranges, fruit cocktail, applesauce

Condiments and sauces

· Salsa

· Hot sauce

· Spaghetti sauce (look for varieties with no more than 4 grams of sugar per serving)

· Tomato sauce

· Vinegars

· Reduced-sodium soy and teriyaki sauces

· Mustard and ketchup

· Herbs and spices

· Olives

· Cooking oil

· Salad dressing

Soups and broths/stocks

· Soups: Reduced-sodium vegetable, minestrone, chicken noodle, chicken and rice

· Broth: Reduced-sodium chicken, beef, vegetable broth or stock

Fridge staples

Many foods that you keep in your refrigerator are perishable, for sure, so these are foods that you’ll need to keep replenished at least on a weekly basis.

· Milk

· Plain or light-style yogurt

· Cheese and cottage cheese

· Eggs

· Butter or margarine

· Vegetables, including salad greens

· Fresh berries

· Hummus

Shelf-stable milks, including plant-based milks, are available and don’t require refrigeration. And if you’re tired of throwing out fruits and vegetables that have “gone bad” in your fridge, include some that don’t need refrigeration, such as tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, avocados, apples, pears and citrus fruits.

If you have more eggs and cheese in your fridge than you have room for, freeze them! Raw (uncooked) eggs will freeze well, but take them out of their shell first. Wrap hard and soft cheeses tightly in plastic wrap and then seal them in a zip-lock bag.

Freezer staples

Now is a good time to clean out your freezer to make room for frozen foods, prepared meals and leftovers. Since fresh produce may be in short supply during these times, keeping a supply of fruits and veggies in your freezer is a way to ensure that you keep up with your daily quota. Here’s what to stock up on:

· Frozen vegetables: Peas, edamame, corn, beans, peppers, cauliflower and cauliflower rice, broccoli, spinach, stir-fry veggies

· Frozen fruit: berries (any kind), mango, peaches, pineapple

· Frozen shrimp

· Frozen fish fillets

· Chicken

· Ground turkey breast

· Lean meats, including beef and pork

· Veggie burgers, sausage and crumbles

· Frozen microwavable meals

If you have a separate freezer in your home, Maryniuk advises, “Take advantage of sales and buy in bulk when you can. Then divide up the meat, fish or chicken into 4- to 6-ounce servings and freeze.”

Speaking of the freezer

Consider cooking meals in bulk. That may mean dragging out your slow cooker or instant pot to make soups, stews, pasta sauce and chili, or to cook a whole chicken or a pot roast, for example. Any leftovers can be portions into smaller containers and frozen for another meal.

Snacks and treats

If you snack between meals, stock up on your favorites. Ideas include:

· Lower-carb snack/granola bars

· Whole-grain crackers

· Almonds

· String cheese

· Rice cakes

· Popcorn

· Sugar-free pudding

· Sugar-free gelatin

· Frozen fruit juice bars

· Frozen yogurt bars

Blood glucose and coronavirus

If you take insulin or sulfonylureas (diabetes pills that can cause low blood glucose), be sure to have treatment for low blood glucose available at all times. In addition to using glucose tablets or glucose gel, these foods and beverages will work to treat a low, as well (each serving provides 15 grams of carbohydrate):

· 4 ounces (1/2 cup) fruit juice

· 4 ounces (1/2 cup) regular (non-diet) soda

· 8 ounces (1 cup) skim milk

· 2 tablespoons raisins

· 1 tablespoon sugar, honey or corn syrup

· 1/2 banana

You can also treat lows with jellybeans, gum drops, Skittles, marshmallows and other non-chocolate candy. Be sure to read the Nutrition Facts label for the serving size that provides 15 grams of carbohydrate.

Meal planning

While you’re at home, take some time and plan out a few meals for the week. Easy meals include stir-fry vegetables with chicken or tofu, black beans and rice, tacos, crustless quiche, and pizza made with a lower-carb crust.

Your grill can become your best friend: grill chicken breast, beef kabobs, veggie burgers and vegetables. Even seemingly simple meals, such as avocado toast or scrambled eggs can be wholesome and delicious — just round out the meal with some vegetables or salad, and maybe some fruit for dessert.

Sheet-pan meals are another option for getting a nutritious meal on the table quickly. And since everything is literally cooked on a sheet pan, there’s not a whole lot of clean up needed afterwards, which is an added perk. Check out some sheet-pan recipes here to get you started.

Finally, browse through the recipes on Diabetes Self-Management’s website. Here you’ll find ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner and even snacks.

Want to learn more about eating well with diabetes? Read “Improving Your Recipes: One Step at a Time,” “Top Tips for Healthier Eating” and “Cooking With Herbs and Spices.”

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES on social media

A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for  publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter,, and

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