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Monday, April 20, 2020

Smart Food Choices

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Healthy eating habits during quarantine

With COVID-19 stay-at-home orders in place, many of us have found ourselves with a completely new routine, which includes our eating styles. Stress, limited food access, and extra time at home can make it incredibly difficult to stick to a healthy eating routine. Though it’s easy to get caught up in the stress of the pandemic, these unusual times also present a great opportunity to practice self-care by adopting small, healthy habit changes.

Snacking can be a culprit for many of us at home, as we may find ourselves closer to a kitchen full of food all day. To avoid mindless snacking, try to create an eating schedule that includes a snack during times of the day you’re likely to be hungrier. For example, if you tend to be hungry around mid-afternoon, plan a healthy snack each day for this time. Snack on nutrient-rich foods like fruits and vegetables. Most Americans don’t get enough fruits and vegetables every day, so snacking is a great way to fill this nutritional gap. Whole grains and low-fat protein and dairy can be good choices, too. To encourage healthy snacking at home, try to keep healthier snacks in places that are easy to reach. “The easiest choice is the more likely choice, so make it easy to reach for healthy snacks. Over time, these healthy choices will become your routine choice, and even your preferred choices,” said LSU AgCenter nutrition specialist Elizabeth Gollub. This could mean putting snacks at eye-level in the fridge or pre-portioned and stocked in the pantry where they’re easy to grab. Sometimes it’s tough not to snack when we’re bored or stressed, so try to think of helpful distractions from snacking. This could be calling a family member or friend, taking a walk, tidying up the house, finding an exercise class online, writing a letter to a loved one, or anything else that you enjoy doing.

Extra time at home presents a great opportunity to cook homemade meals. Cook a healthy recipe you’ve always wanted to try and aim to avoid prepackaged meals. When preparing meals at home, be sure to include a source of lean protein and a source of fiber, as both will keep you fuller for longer. Lean protein sources include lean meats, poultry, fish (not fried), beans, peas, seeds, nuts and eggs. Good sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, peas and seeds. Most grocery stores have remained well-stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables, which makes for a great opportunity to utilize what is available. Now’s also a great time to “shop” your pantry, fridge and freezer to create meals with items you already have on hand. Brainstorm ways to use foods already available in your home to make tasty, healthy meals.

Proper hydration is key for optimal health. When you’re at home, it may be easier to forget to stay hydrated. It’s important to drink water throughout the day, even when you don’t feel thirsty. “Just because you are not thirsty, doesn’t mean you are well hydrated,” said Gollub. Try drinking water in place of sweetened beverages to avoid excess calories. If the taste of water is not appealing to you, add fresh fruits or herbs to infuse your water for a simple, refreshing way to add some flavor. Drinking enough water can also help curb your appetite. Sometimes our bodies will tell us they are hungry when we’re actually dehydrated. Aim to keep water on hand throughout the day, sipping occasionally and refilling often.

Sticking to a plan can be one of the most difficult parts of healthy eating, especially with stress and boredom at bay. Be sure to make a plan that is realistic for your lifestyle and start small. A completely new diet plan isn’t realistic for most people, so pare your plans down to smaller, more achievable goals. For example, if the idea of cooking a healthy meal every night doesn’t seem like a reasonable goal, start with cooking a healthy meal one night a week. Once this has become routine for you, set a new goal, like cooking two healthy meals a week. Small, modest changes aren’t nearly as appealing as a total lifestyle makeover, but they are more likely to last.

Healthy eating is so important, as proper nutrition and physical activity can help prevent many chronic diseases. Our current situation can seem very overwhelming, but healthy eating doesn’t have to. Starting small and taking an individualized approach can help us stay healthy through these trying times.

Abigail McAlister is an asssistant extension agent (general nutrition) for the LSU AgCenter. Her main focus is adult nutrition education and promotion in Caddo and Bossier parishes. She can be reached at amcalister@agcenter.lsu.edu. *This article was written with the help of Dr. Elizabeth Gollub, LSU AgCenter nutrition specialist.


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