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Tips for healthy eating and meal planning while in coronavirus stay-home

How to maintain encourage healthy eating habits for the whole family when our routines have changed and our schedules have left us home-bound.

As our routines have changed and our schedules have left us home-bound this year, many of us parents are finding ourselves and our kids snacking more, exercising less, and relying on easier, less nutritious meals for the day.

Keely Sobole, a Snohomish mom, and a registered dietician nutritionist, shares how to plan healthy meals in this time of crisis.

“While our daily routines have seemed to drastically change, it’s still important to be mindful of our eating patterns. Now that we’ve got increased access to our kitchen, pantry and refrigerator, it makes it a bit more challenging.  Sticking to a daily routine and schedule can support a healthy eating pattern and help you stay on track throughout the day,” she says.

The key to a healthy diet is having a variety of food (as best as we can) and to create meals that are balanced that include fruits, vegetables, proteins, carbs, dairy and whole grains. Keely recommends using the USDA MyPlate framework to plan meals and get a grasp on what foods count in each category.

Shopping may be a challenge with restrictions placed on the amount of food we can stock, delivery times, and closures of food pantries in the area. However, when filling our carts, Keely suggests, “traditionally shopping the perimeter of the grocery store will help with adding fresh and healthy food items, while limiting processed foods. Within our current conditions, consider options that will last longer at home.” For example, frozen fruits and vegetables are often flash frozen shortly after picking and offer similar nutritional value to fresh produce.

Keely lists the following as staple items to be sure to put in the cart if possible:

  • Fresh vegetables and salad greens: Opt for hearty dark leafy greens like spinach and kale. They store well and are a great addition to smoothies.
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables: They offer a variety of nutrients and can be used to bake, roast and sauté.
  • Dried or canned low-sodium beans can serve as protein in many dishes
  • Lean proteins like chicken, turkey, fish, and lean beef freeze well
  • Whole grains like pasta, rice, and breads (can be frozen to extend life)
  • Potatoes, onions and carrots: These store well and are extremely versatile
  • Nuts and seeds: a great protein-rich, healthy fat snack to have around that also stores well

What about all the snacks? Some use it as comfort and others might indulge out of boredom. How do we keep it healthy?

“Between-meal snacking and grazing is certainly a challenge at home when food is more readily available. Food logging is a quick way to track and keep yourself honest about what and when food is being consumed,” Keely says. “Asking, ‘Am I really hungry?’ before consuming a snack can help us be mindful of how and what we are eating. It may even identify our habits and help us to replace the snacks with something else that is healthier.”

Grazing can be an acceptable approach to snacking when done right. Providing healthy options for the family can help everyone make the right food choices. Leaving a tray of veggies out or pre-portioned popcorn, trail mix, nuts or whole-grain chips can help manage the volume of snacking.

Managing snacking doesn’t necessarily mean doing away with junk food, it just means strategically placing family favorites in places that aren’t easily seen. Place treats on shelves that are not at eye level (for you and your children) and keep to a routine and consistent schedule to help learn self-discipline. Keeping hydrated with water also helps to curb the urge to reach for snacks.

Cooking can get tedious and tiresome and that’s when we turn to takeout, fast food and delivery options. It gives us a break and allows us to help restaurants keep their doors open for full service, whenever we get to the other side of this pandemic.

Keely has three tips to keep things healthy (if the restaurant can) when ordering out:

  • Cut down on sodium by asking for the sauce on the side.
  • Think about the portions. Add a side salad and save part of the main meal for lunch the next day.
  • Ask for steamed or sautéed veggies to help round out a meal. If your takeout is heavy on carbs, opt to have a lean protein to balance your plate.

Cooking can become a chore and a series of one-note meals, however, adding in a variety of these nutritious components can help ensure that we stay healthy during this time of upheaval.

And above all, use this time to get your families involved in your home’s food choices, coming together for meals to talk about what you’re eating, where it comes from and the nutrition it provides.

“Have your children help with meal preparation, include them in generating the grocery list and most importantly talk to them about why nutrition and healthy eating is important,” says Keely “Having the family sit down together for a meal is a cherished time and this is a great opportunity to share and learn.”

Keely Sobole is a Registered Dietician Nutritionist and a Clinical Dietitian and Owner of Functional Nutrition LLC. She is also a new mom to 1-month-old Cody. She recommends the website 100 Simple Ways to Turn Pantry Staples into Complete Meals for recipes and loves the Black Bean and Sweet Potato Tacos from the site.

Jasmin Thankachen is a contributing writer and mom to 2 boys (ages 6 and 8).