Stay safe, shop smart and eat healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic

This content is sponsored by MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

The novel coronavirus has millions of Americans staying at home as much as possible, and, in turn, preparing many meals in their kitchens. During these uncertain times, it’s important to eat healthy and create well-balanced meals for you and your families.

Eating healthy begins at the grocery store, said Ellie Kelsey, a registered dietitian and certified nutrition support clinician at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. She recommends that shoppers have a plan before they head out to the grocery so they can buy what they need without overstocking or overspending. Also, shoppers shouldn’t panic and buy things they don’t actually need.

“Current recommendations are to stock enough food for 14 days of quarantine. Many shoppers are buying far more than they need for a two-week stint. As a result, neighbors may be in the heartbreaking situation of not having food or supplies for their families,” Kelsey said. “And when you return from the store, don’t forget to disinfect any reusable grocery bags.”

If you have to shelter in place, there are a few items Kelsey recommends having on hand to help prepare healthy meals. Lean proteins such as skinless, boneless chicken or lean, ground turkey/beef and whole grains such as whole wheat pastas, brown rice and quinoa are staples. She also recommends choosing frozen fruits and vegetables, as they have less sodium than canned varieties.

“Frozen fruits and veggies also have a similar nutrient profile to fresh fruits and veggies, so they are ideal alternatives during periods of social distancing,” Kelsey said, adding that dried fruits have a similar nutrient content to fresh fruits, but with the water removed so you’ll feel less full from eating them and get more sugar per serving.

Raw eggs are great to have handy – especially since they can last for weeks in the fridge. Those with heart conditions should not exceed three egg yolks per week and should instead opt for egg whites.

Try to stock the pantry with other dry goods such as beans, unsalted snacks and no-sugar-added nut butters, Kelsey recommended. And make sure the fridge has lean dairy such as Greek yogurt.

“Look for dairy fortified with vitamin D (most Greek yogurt is not). Vitamin D supports your immune system and bone health. It’s hard to meet all your vitamin D needs when you’re indoors without much access to sunlight, our primary source of vitamin D,” she said.

And don’t ignore your cravings during this time. Comfort food can be important, but balance is still crucial.

“Get a few treats you enjoy and eat them in small portions to avoid overeating them—or eating them all in one sitting,” Kelsey said.

Structured meal time can be beneficial for families whether they are quarantined or not, Kelsey said, so it’s wise to still prioritize sitting down to eat together.

While eating a balanced diet can help you get important vitamins and nutrients, it’s important to know that no amount of fruits, vegetables or vitamins can prevent you from getting COVID-19, Kelsey noted.

“The humbling thing about COVID-19 is that it can affect anyone, regardless of health or socioeconomic status,” she said. “Cooking well-balanced meals doesn’t mean you won’t get sick. But eating a wide and colorful variety of fruits and vegetables will make sure that you get the nutrients your immune system needs to function at its best during this pandemic.”

Read more from Kelsey in a blog post on MedStar Washington Hospital Center’s website.

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