75 Simple Food Tips for Safety and Health When Hunkering Down
These 75 food tips for living through a pandemic will help you eat better and healthier and ease your anxieties about safety and health.
Never before has my heart raced or could I hear myself sigh while placing a Target or Costco order. Now it’s a common occurrence. Am I going to get those Clorox wipes? (Nope, by the time I entered my credit card, the Clorox wipes were yanked from my cart.) With a pandemic and social distancing, everyday activities are so stressful, and my emotions feel out of control. Anxiety over snagging dwindling supplies of groceries and cleaning items, fear for people’s health, sadness for the pain of so many people, loneliness for my daughters only 3 hours away but so very far, bored from being cooped up, and both guilty and fortunate because my life is really pretty darn easy.
I have a lot of privilege if my greatest inconveniences are not being able to get Clorox wipes and my usual array of fruits and veggies.
Others also tell me that mixed emotions battle for space in their heads and hearts. I have only nutrition and food strategies for you, however. Here’s hoping these 75 food tips for living through a pandemic relieve some of your anxiety and negative emotions and give you new hope.
75 Simple Food Tips for Hunkering Down
- Wash your hands – always. You’ve heard it plenty, but it’s the best advice out there. Soap and water are good prevention against the coronavirus and so much more. Here’s the word on the how’s and why’s of hand washing. Cleanliness is number 1 among food strategies.
Food Tips for Deliveries and Pickup
- Arrange for outside dropoff. You’re not rude if you don’t open the door. Avoiding contact with delivery folks is better for you and for them.
- Social distance even if you have alcohol in your order. Your delivery person will need a photo of your ID, but you can maintain distance by holding your ID up to a window.
- Inquire about restaurant curbside pickup. Again, keeping you outside adds distance between your germs and the germs of others.
- Order an extra vegetable. Vegetables and salads are my staples, and I hate running out of fresh produce. When you order takeout, add a little more for tomorrow. You’ll have one delivery fee and less contact with restaurant folks and delivery drivers. Good all around.
- Answer your shopper’s texts instantly. The longer shoppers are in the stores, the greater their risk for catching the coronavirus. Be considerate and help them get out quickly.
- Be gracious and forgiving if an item is out of stock or your order is late. Remember, we’re all in this together. A little kindness makes a difficult day a lot better.
- Tip electronically. Or leave a tip outside in an envelope, and don’t lick the envelope.
- Tip generously. Tip as much as you can afford. Shoppers and delivery people put their health at risk and often for inconsistent or little pay and no benefits like health insurance.
- Rate your driver highly and leave a positive review. If you’re unable to leave a large tip, this is a thoughtful alternative. And you’ll smile at yourself for adding some positivity to the world.
- Leave a thank you note. One more idea to spread a little cheer. Tape a note to your door for your delivery person.
- Eat from your own dishes. To limit the chance of transferring viruses or bacteria from your takeout containers to you, wash your hands after touching the containers. Place the food on your dishes, throw away or recycle the packaging, and wash your hands again. Don’t forget to clean the surface that held your takeout bags. Then enjoy your meal.
Tips for Grocery Shopping During COVID-19
- Shop as infrequently as possible. One of the best ways to flatten the curve is to stay out of stores and away from people. Keep a running list of the groceries and supplies you need, so you can search for everything on one shopping trip. I’m the cook (and food lover) who skips with happiness about picking up fresh ingredients every few days. The simple change to buying groceries every 10 – 14 days is so hard on me. Crazy what you learn about yourself during a pandemic. But it’s one of the food strategies I plan to continue.
- Wear a mask (or other face covering) in the store to keep your germs to yourself and other people’s germs a bit farther away.
- Sanitize your cart. Many stores sanitize carts between each use or provide wipes for you to sanitize. Bring your own, just in case.
- Social distance from other shoppers and store employees. It goes without saying.
- Keep your phone in your pocket. Our phones are our lifelines, but they also harbor germs, so keep your grocery list on old-fashioned paper that never needs to touch your ear, mouth or face.
- Don’t touch your face. This is a hard one for lots of us. If you’re tempted to adjust your face covering at least once on each aisle, a little double stick tape to hold your mask in place may be all you need. It worked for me.
- Shop quickly. The store isn’t the place to ponder what to cook this week. Plan ahead, but be flexible because a lot of things are out of stock. For example, if you can’t get the fresh fish you dreamed of for supper tonight, have a backup plan like frozen fish fillets or frozen shrimp. In all my years of teaching and writing about nutrition and health, flexibility and backup plans have always been top food strategies.
- Buy fresh. We’re asked to buy enough for a week or two or three if we have the means. But that doesn’t mean packaged foods are our only options. Pick up some fresh items for the next few days and choose longer-lasting fresh fruits and vegetables like apples, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, shishito peppers, and onions for the next days.
- Buy healthy convenience foods. Get over the idea that processed or convenience foods are bad. Turn a rotisserie chicken into a couple of an infinite number of dinners – tacos, sandwiches, casseroles, soup, you name it! Other healthy convenience foods are broth, canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, frozen fish fillets, frozen shrimp, canned fish and chicken, dried fruits, microwaveable grains, and on and on. I always thought the advice to stay out of the center aisles of the supermarket was a bad food strategy.
- Include a treat. No matter what our health goals, we can always healthfully slip in a small treat. For me, that means chocolate.
- Shop off-peak hours to avoid crowds.
- Stand away while the clerk rings up your groceries. Then move to pay after the clerk has stepped away.
- Sanitize self-checkout. Sanitize your hands both before and after using the touchscreen.
- Pay with plastic not paper. One more way to lessen the spread of germs.
- If you have to sign something, use your own pen. Carry your own pen, so you can keep your germs to yourself and avoid taking home the germs of others. It’s smart to use a ballpoint pen with a cap. You can remove the cap to push elevator buttons as well as to sign your name. Once you put the cap back on, any germs are contained.
- Be extra kind to supermarket employees. These frontline workers face all kinds of threats. Let’s lighten their mental load with smiling eyes and a cheery thank you.
- Offer to pick up something for neighbors. This limits the number of shoppers in the stores, and besides, it’s nice.
- Visit small grocery stores like Latin markets or Asian markets. They’re often less crowded and less over-shopped. And finding new foods is super fun!
- Wash your hands again. When you’re home from the market, wash your hands, put your groceries and way and wash your hands a second time.
- Don’t use bleach on your food – ever. In fact, you likely don’t need to do anything special with your groceries. From the FDA: “there is no evidence of food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. However, if you wish, you can wipe down product packaging and allow it to air dry, as an extra precaution.“
- Wash all fruits and vegetables with running water. Scrub firm produce like lemons, apples and melons with a brush, even if you don’t plan to eat the skins or peels.
- Freeze extras. To avoid waste and extra shopping trips, freeze whatever you can: berries, chicken, ground beef, bread (slice it first), bananas. All kinds of foods freeze well.
- Wash your reusable cloth bags. Tossing them in the washing machine is good hygiene and a smart precaution. And if the store employee is uncomfortable handling your reusable bags, please accept the store alternative.
- FIFO. When you put your groceries away, rotate the older food to the front and the newer items to the back. First In First Out helps you waste less food and is a budget-friendly food strategy too.
- Don’t overstuff your fridge. Not only does stuffing the refrigerator make it hard to find things, but it can also cause food to spoil faster because overfilling increases the temperature.
Simple Food Tips for Home
Many of these food strategies are good ideas whether there’s a pandemic or not. Consider that new habits – good or bad – may last once our world opens up again. Forming good habits now will pay later.
- Grow some of your own herbs and vegetables. If you have the ability and space, it’s fun and can keep you stocked with fewer trips to the supermarket.
- Pack lunch even if you eat at home. A few years ago when I was overwhelmed with writing projects, I repeatedly pushed lunch until late into the day. I was so hungry when I finally stopped that I hurriedly made and ate my food without enough thought or enjoyment. Now I pack my lunch even when I eat at home. I eat better, and my midday break leaves me refreshed and energized.
- Keep food and work in separate rooms. Social distance from your kitchen to minimize the temptation to nibble.
- Write the open date on packaged foods. By marking a jar of pasta sauce, for example, with the date you opened it, you’ll be prompted to use it up before it gets too old.
- Create a shelf or drawer in your refrigerator for leftovers. The widest drawer in my refrigerator houses all of my leftovers. I waste a lot less food with this simple food strategy.
Cooking Tips During the COVID 19 Pandemic
- Wash your hands throughout food preparation. It’s not enough to clean your hands when you start cooking. Keep them clean throughout.
- Practice food safety measures. Follow all the usual food safety practices with extra diligence. This is an especially terrible time to need healthcare services. Cook foods to the proper internal temperatures, separate meats from produce, marinate food in the fridge and follow these other FDA food safety guidelines.
- Clean & disinfect high touch areas daily. In your kitchen, high touch areas include countertops, doorknobs, the refrigerator handle, light switches, as well as many other spots. First clean with soap and water or whatever product is recommended for your surface. Then use a household disinfectant. You’ll find details and recommended disinfectants on the CDC website.
- Experiment in the kitchen. Avoid food waste and find new deliciousness. Inbetween sulking for not having the specific ingredients I wanted, I’ve created some delicious new combinations. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have sautéed asparagus with radishes and mint if those weren’t the last of the fresh foods in my refrigerator. Mighty delicious, I must say!
- Start a healthy recipe collection for quarantine and beyond. Or add to the one you already have. You might cook a lot more than pre-quarantine days, so it’s smart to keep the best of the best. Whether it’s in a notebook, a paper folder, or on your computer, collect the recipes you love, so you can keep making and loving them.
- Zap the germs. Your sponge is a breeding ground and safe harbor to lots of tiny things that want to make you ill. Scientists at the USDA Agriculture Research Service found that zapping your wet sponge in the microwave for one minute or running it through a hot dishwashing and drying cycle kills more than 99% of bacteria, yeast and mold present. When these studies were done, no one was looking for the novel coronavirus. Regardless, this is good daily practice.
- Replace your cloth towels. Damp kitchen towels are a happy place for germs to grow and thrive. Dry your hand on paper, and swap out cloth towels frequently.
- Get kids in the kitchen. Use kitchen time as a school lesson or simply teach your kids to cook. It’s fun, and cooking is an essential skill, especially during a pandemic.
Food Tips for Your Sanity & Social Life
By taking care of ourselves, we take care of others. During these stay-at-home orders, I’ve noticed how much better I feel when I intentionally act to tend to my emotional and social needs and find new opportunities to break up the monotony. If you’re quarantining alone or not, virtual socializing is rejuvenating.
- Soothe with a cup of tea or something other than booze. No explanation needed.
- Delegate some tasks. Even if you don’t have another person to prepare food, can someone else can help plan meals, write the grocery list, wash dishes, set the table, hunt for easy recipes for a quarantine kitchen? Be creative and ask for help.
- Picnic. It brightens my mood to have a change of view. If you live where the weather is nice, take your meal outside. If bad weather or an uninviting outdoors keeps you inside, enjoy your food in another room – on the floor or not – to break up the same ole some ole.
- Dine according to themes. If you have a houseful, eating together so often may present challenges. Keep family meals interesting with Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, or ask everyone to dress up to eat dinner on the fancy stuff and by candlelight. It doesn’t matter what theme you pick, just mix it up some.
- Don’t feel obligated to cook a full meal every day. If it hasn’t been your habit to prepare a full dinner every night, don’t force yourself now. Since we haven’t been going to restaurants, I’ve made my life a bit easier with frozen pizza, microwavable whole grains and a gift of hot, fragrant tea and quiet time before I start cooking.
- Make food simple. This is a reminder to myself. Yes, a meal can be as simple as soup and sandwich or canned beans, jarred salsa and shredded cheese wrapped into a flour tortilla and microwaved.
- Strike up a positive conversation. Emotions might be all over the place, but we can be intentional to enjoy family time at mealtime. I’ve been getting a lot out of simply asking (and telling) what went well today and why it went well.
- Cook by FaceTime or Zoom. I miss my daughters, so I’ve made cooking dates with both of them. In our own kitchens, separated by more than 100 miles, we prepared favorite recipes together. Totally nourishes the mind, spirit and belly!
- Eat by FaceTime or Zoom. I’ve done this too, and it’s awesome!
- Schedule a virtual coffee break with co-workers or fellow yogis or whomever you miss sipping coffee with.
- Eat with neighbors while social distancing. I’ve seen others do this. When the weather is nice, drag some chairs and a table to your driveway or backyard to eat and chat with your neighbors in their yard. Or sit on your apartment balcony or near a window to share mealtime with neighbors.
- Turn cooking into a mindfulness experiment. A few years ago, I was preparing a recipe that instructed the cook to “zoom in with your soul.” After choking on my own laughter, I understood what the author meant. I’ve been soul zooming while cooking since. I love it. I listen to the sound and feel the rhythm of my knife slicing through vegetables. I think of all the hands that went into growing and bringing this food to me, and I think of how I’m nourishing myself and nurturing my family with this meal. Go ahead and laugh, but then try it.
- Keep date night. Draw on your creativity to have some fun. Since we couldn’t go to our favorite restaurant (or any restaurant) to celebrate our anniversary, my husband and I set up a little wine tasting event for ourselves. It was better and more special than simply eating out. Even if you have kids at home, try to keep date night. That might mean having your private time after the kids go to bed or sending them to another room to have their special dinner party while you have yours.
- Remember the food pantry. We are all struggling because of COVID-19. If you struggle to get food for yourself or your family, call on your local food pantry. And if you can afford it, consider a donation to keep others fed.
Food Tips for the Health of It During Self-Quarantine
Without putting effort into their health habits, many people will fall into bad routines during self-quarantine. And these new bad habits and food strategies could continue for years. Be intentional and take care of yourself. Eating well – along with other good lifestyle habits like getting exercise while social distancing -energizes you and helps you better manage stress.
- Structure your eating. If you work from home, have less work or juggle homeschooling, housework and a career, it’s not surprising if your meals run into one another or simply don’t happen. I’ve seen lots of clients over the years, eat well Monday through Friday, but find their healthy diets fall apart on the weekends. And that’s because they lack structure on Saturdays and Sundays. Quarantine routines can also be unstructured. Look for ways in your day to create enough structure to tend properly to your meals and health.
- Snack out of a dish. Apparently, snacking is on the rise. And I suppose that’s no surprise with more people at home more hours of the day. Don’t let yourself mindlessly demolish a bag of chips or a row of cookies. Instead measure out the proper portion, sit down and eat from a dish.
- Pre-portion snacks and treats. This strategy is a lifesaver (okay, a calorie-saver) for so many people. Divide crackers, cookies, chips and other tempting foods into healthful portions in individual baggies or containers. Store the pre-portioned treats in the original packaging.
- Create your own snack list. To squelch unhealthy snacking, write a list of five or so snacks that you enjoy and can keep on hand. This list frees you from the mental energy of weighing options each time you want a snack. Simply look at your personalized snack menu to choose your food.
- Indulge appropriately. Comfort food is okay. In fact, comfort food is great. But figure out how to include it and enjoy it without hurting your health. Check out these 5 comfort food hacks.
- Keep healthy food in sight. Put the food that you want to eat more of in view. Store fresh veggies and hummus in the front of your refrigerator and fresh fruit in a bowl on your kitchen counter.
- Keep indulgent food out of sight. This is the corollary to the above. Store tempting foods where you’re not likely to see them daily or multiple times each day. My chocolate-covered almonds are in the hard-to-reach cabinet above the refrigerator.
- Turn leftovers into a nourish bowl. Easy-peasy, no food waste and super healthful. Simply combine whatever you have in the way of grains, protein foods like meat and beans, cooked and raw veggies, even nuts and fruit. I like to mix hold and cold foods and cooked and raw foods. Take a peek at the first photo in this post for a recent nourish bowl.
- Pick small dishes. If, like a lot of folks, you worry about putting on weight while your usual routines are on hold, putting your food on smaller dishes to eat smaller portions can help.
- Savor. Savoring your food has multiple benefits. Not only can it help you slow down to eat less and feel more satisfied, but it also provides you the opportunity to experience more happiness. I know this is true for me. I enjoy nearly every meal, and I focus on the taste, aroma, and texture in ways that bring me joy.
- Set a goal. A few times each week, review your food choices and ask yourself if you’ve enjoyed your meals, have you nurtured yourself and your family, is there something fun to do in the kitchen or at the breakfast table or anywhere. Then set a goal to do one new thing to better your physical or mental health. For some guidance, check out the easy way to rock your health goals.
Cheers to staying healthy and 6 feet away! And eventually snagging some Clorox wipes.
Please share some of your food tips during COVID 19.
Get a printable version of these food safety tips
Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, CHWC, FAND, is a Nutrition, Culinary & Diabetes Expert, Wellcoach®-certified health and wellness coach, Freelance Writer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's also the author of four books, including a best-seller. She's a nationally-recognized media expert in high demand for print and online interviews, as well as corporate and one-on-one nutritional counseling. Jill's philosophy is that nutrition science should be understandable, realistic and oh so delicious.
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Like most of my patients and clients, I lead a busy life. You probably do too. Fortunately, you don’t need weeks, days or even hours to start living better and healthier. This blog offers timesaving strategies and bite-sized nutrition and health information. Come by often for tips and inspiration to healthy living – no matter how busy you are. I am a registered dietitian nutritionist offering credible, practical nutrition advice to keep busy people healthy. Yes indeed, we can be both busy and healthy.