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Eat right during the COVID-19 fight

Now is not the time to develop bad habits.

The coronavirus epidemic is posing new challenges to eating well, from empty shelves to making fewer trips to the store. Here are some ideas to help you and your loved ones maintain good nutrition while sheltering in place.

Get Creative

Now is a great time to flex those creative cooking muscles you didn’t know you had. Coming up with meals using pantry staples can seem challenging at first, but it’s all about keeping things simple.

  • Combine grains and whatever vegetables you have – canned, frozen, fresh – to make soups, casseroles, grain bowls, and stir-frys.
  • Not sure what to do with all those canned beans? For a boost of fiber and nutrition, try adding them to pasta with tomato sauce and chili powder to make one-pot chili pasta or chili mac and cheese.
  • Beans can also be added to rice and salsa to make burrito bowls, made into quesadillas, vegetarian nachos, or veggie burgers.

Another way of being creative is coming up with substitutions for ingredients you don’t have on hand.

  • Rice seems to be a hot commodity these days! If you’re looking for a replacement, try using quinoa, couscous, farro, barley, or cauliflower rice. With Asian dishes, try using cooked ramen or lo mein noodles.
  • Dried herbs can stand in for fresh – just be sure to use a smaller amount than the recipe calls for as dried herbs are often stronger in flavor. And if your recipe calls for an herb or spice you don’t have, substitute one that you enjoy or leave it out altogether.
  • Acidic additions like lemon, lime, and vinegars are excellent ways to build flavor without adding salt and can often be swapped for each other without noticeably changing the overall dish.


Fresh produce is still widely available, but some people may be concerned about whether or not it’s safe to consume raw fruits and vegetables. According to the CDC, based on what we know so far, it seems unlikely that COVID-19 can be transmitted through food, but more investigation is needed. It’s always important to practice good food safety habits – wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before preparing or eating food, wash fresh produce before using, and store food at the correct temperature.

Many of us are trying to make fewer trips to the store and may be grappling with the limited shelf-life of fresh produce. How can you eat enough fruits and vegetables without making frequent trips to the store?

  • Frozen fruits and vegetables make excellent stand-ins for fresh and are still full of nutrition because they’re picked at the peak of ripeness and immediately flash frozen, sealing in nutrients. They last much longer than fresh so you can stock up without worrying about spoilage.
  • Try adding frozen fruit to oatmeal, cereal, smoothies, or baked goods.
  • Frozen vegetables are great in cooked dishes, such as stir-frys, soups, frittatas, pasta dishes, and more. Try roasting heartier vegetables like frozen broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, sweet potato, or butternut squash for an easy side dish.
  • Opt for plain frozen fruits and vegetables instead of versions with sauce or syrup to avoid excess salt and added sugar. If you buy canned vegetables, look for low sodium or no salt added.
  • Choose long-lasting fresh produce: potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage, onions, carrots, apples, oranges, and grapefruit. Be sure to store them correctly! Onions and potatoes should never be stored together, as an example.
  • Got wilted produce? Carrots and celery can be revived in water, or use your limp produce in soup or homemade stock instead of tossing it out.

Making the Most of Grocery Trips

Reducing the number of trips to the store is a priority for many of us. Here are some tips for making the most of each grocery run:

  • Have a plan – meal planning is a good way to ensure that you include all the ingredients you need to prepare the meals you’re planning to make, and it gives you an idea of how long your groceries will last.
  • Focus on nutrient-dense foods – like whole grains, beans, nuts, fruits, and vegetables — rather than processed foods and snacks (ie. boxed dinners, frozen meals, chips, cookies, etc.).
  • Buy enough for your family without hoarding – if your goal is to grocery shop every 10-14 days, it makes perfect sense that you might need to buy more of certain items compared to when you were shopping every 3-5 days, but be considerate of others, and only buy as much as you need.

Have a food-related question we didn’t answer? Join us for a live Q&A session with a registered dietitian on Thursday, April 23rd at 4 pm for a live Q&A session with a registered dietician on the University of Utah PEAK Facebook Page.