A Dietitian Answers All of Your Pandemic Wellness Questions

As a dietitian, I wear many hats. It’s one part wellness advocate, one part food safety expert, as well as a meal planning assistant, realistic therapist, and food lover. During the pandemic, I’ve seen so many people struggle with the wide range of uncertainty related not only to general wellness, but also feeding themselves and their families while not going crazy.

While everyone is in a drastically different situation right now, I want to remind you that being kind to yourself (you’re trying, you can’t do it all- so do what you need to do to reign in your stress, keep positive, work through emotions and stay healthy). You’re allowed to feel the feels and you’re also allowed to use this time to start a new project. People cope in different ways and no way is necessarily better than the other.

With that said, I’ve seen a few repeating themes pop up that you may want answered too. Remember, for the latest recommendations on COVID related information, visit resources like the CDC website and the WHO. Let’s dive in.

“I still want to make sustainable choices in my grocery shopping, but how do I make sure my reusable bags and groceries are clean and sanitized?”

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As someone who believes making sustainable choices is extremely important, I hear where you’re coming from. I always have my reusable bags with me. While many people need to be reminded to wash their reusable bags in normal circumstances, I must highlight the importance of washing your reusable bags EVERY TIME now.

You’ll want to wash your bag in the highest temperature allowed for the item with soap. If your bag has a wipeable surface (the ones I use do), use a sanitizing solution to wipe the inside. Remember also to disinfect the surfaces the bag comes in contact with once inside your home and WASH YOUR HANDS after.

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It’s also okay to not feel comfortable using a reusable bag now too. That’s part of caring for your mental health. If your region is experiencing a spike in cases, know it’s okay to use a store bag right now and dispose of it responsibly. In fact, some localities have temporarily banned the use of reusable bags altogether.

When it comes to groceries themselves, follow all standard food safety protocols, even more truly than you maybe did previously. Wash the exteriors of melons or loose fruits or veggies that may have been handled in the store before cutting into it. This is something you should be doing anyway! Continue to follow all food safety temperature and storage protocols.

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And for your sustainability conscience, remember that you’re likely making different choices in your day to day that help offset disposable choices you may be forced to make right now. If you’re working from home, that’s zero driving in comparison to normal.

“I’m overwhelmed with making sure everyone is fed healthy meals and snacks, especially with working from home and limited outings. Lately, I’ve been lenient, allowing lots of more ‘junk foods’. How can I get my family involved but make sure options are nutritious?

If you have a family with you at home right now, daily tasks are more exhausting than ever. Everyone is eating at home but on top of that you’re trying to work/virtual school/keep everyone entertained/etc!!! That’s mentally exhausting. Some nights, you’re going to have pizza. Maybe twice in a row. And you know what? It’s fine. Always think about this in terms of the bigger picture. There will be days or weeks when maybe there are choices happening that you wouldn’t prefer. It’s not going to be “perfect”.

Kids, and adults, are more invested in projects and more willing to try things when they help problem solve (and you might be surprised what they come up with!). Never be afraid to ask your family for help. This doesn’t need to be a ‘sit down family meeting things are changing discussion’ in fact, that might make everyone feel like things have been ‘wrong or bad’. When eating dinner or maybe going on a family walk, ask everyone what kinds of meals they’d look forward to eating and brainstorm together. If you’re only getting shout out suggestions that sound like a standard kid’s restaurant menu (you know the ones that don’t give kids any credit and only make beige foods) have an ‘either-or’ conversation to add veggies to the mix. “Would you eat that with green beans or would you eat that with zucchini?”

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Repeats aren’t bad, so once you find a family favorite, consider making it a project with the kids (or your spouse) to make a family cookbook during this time. Creating a family “menu” reduces decision fatigue.

Still, lacking inspiration? Sometimes the solution is as simple as buying a new sauce or dressing for veggies or proteins. You don’t have to make everything from scratch! While making dressings or sauces at home reduces levels of sodium and sugar as well as cost, sometimes convenience reigns supreme.

“I’m cooking a lot at home still and my family still likes basic meat entrees instead of plant-based dinners. When I cook meat, how do I make sure my dish is healthier?”

While it’s a healthier choice to use meat as more of a ‘topping’ or ‘side’ to a base of vegetables, you can’t force people into eating the way you want. (No one wants a quarantine fight over ribs).

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If you’re cooking a cut of meat that’s a bit higher in fat, use the drippings or liquid from the cooking process and separate the fat to make a sauce or dressing. Take the sauce and drizzle it over sheet pan roasted veggies and make that a large side! If you’ve got a family of carnivores, taking the umami flavoring from cooking the meat (and removing the fat) will help add vitamins and minerals and fiber to the mix.

Most people won’t opt in on plain veggies, so think of ways to take the flavors they love and work them into veggies.