Eating healthy on a budget during COVID-19 isolation

An assortment of fresh vegetables.
Photo: Sharon Pittaway

COVID-19 has changed many things about our daily lives, but one thing it hasn’t changed is healthy food advice. It has just modified it.

WSU nutrition expert Jen Moss said if people take only one healthy step in lockdown it would be to eat more fruits and vegetables, but she advises getting them from a can or the freezer as well as using fresh produce.

“Both canned and frozen fruits and vegetables tend to be picked at their peak of freshness, so you can count on them as being pretty nutritionally well preserved any time that you have them,” said Moss. “It can be a great option when we are all trying not to go to the grocery store too often.”

A WSU Extension specialist, Moss is a SNAP-Ed manager for Region 3 of the state, which includes five counties from Snohomish to the Canadian border. As part of WSU’s land-grant mission, the university is an implementing agency for SNAP-ED, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education, the federal program that provides nutrition education to people who are eligible to receive SNAP benefits (formally known as food stamps). Moss regularly works to help increase access to healthy foods for people experiencing hunger and improve the health and nutrition environment in food banks and school lunch programs. She is also a registered dietitian.

Moss recently showed WSU President Kirk Schulz how to make a Shamrock Smoothie: an easy, affordable recipe to make during lockdown, using what else: fruits and veggies.

Here are a few more tips for eating healthy on a budget:

Plan ahead: Know what you have in your pantry first. Then, plan your meals so that you can make healthier food and utilize some of the same ingredients more than once a week. You can make tomato sauce, use it in a casserole one day and on pizza the next. This helps maximize ingredients as well as refrigerator and cupboard space.

Read the label: Look to avoid any large amounts of added sugar, salt or fat in foods. Also keep an eye out for the portion size as the nutritional information is usually calculated by serving.

Think simple: Complex recipes often require multiple ingredients or those you might only use once. Simple recipes take advantage of items you may already have on the shelf and that can be used for more than one meal.

Buy in bulk: Shopping for larger amounts can save money and help with your meal planning. Make sure to calculate the unit price of the item rather than just looking at the total.

Eat whole foods: Pre-prepared and processed food often have added sugar and salt. If you find yourself with more time in lockdown, try making your own soup or sauces from scratch.

Mindful eating: It is easy to rush through meals at your desk when you work at home or mindlessly snack as you watch TV. Moss advises intentional eating, such as keeping regular meals, sitting down to eat together with your family or roommates and simply slowing down while you eat.

Move: As you sit in front of screens more, plan short breaks. Do five minutes of exercise or just stretch.

“When we move our heads across the plane of our body, it tends to wake us up and helps us feel more energized and alert,” Moss said.

She also advised getting outside as much as possible while observing social distancing guidelines.

For more advice on staying healthy during lockdown, including low-cost recipes, planning and budgeting, visit Washington SNAP’s Live Well website.


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