By Aaron Wiener, Clinical Dietician, RD
Read more about Aaron
As most of the country is living under stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 outbreak, navigating the supermarket has become a more complicated errand. It’s now more important than ever that we walk through the grocery store efficiently and with intentional awareness to minimize risk and prioritize nutrition. This government-mandated time of cooking and eating more often at home is actually a great opportunity to make some positive dietary changes and improve your well-being.
Staying safe in the grocery store
The number one thing you can do to minimize risk is to keep your trips to the grocery store during this time to as few as possible. You might want to consider ordering your groceries online for deliveries or pick-up. When you do have to go to the grocery store, keep these things in mind:
- Wear a cloth face cover.
- Wipe down the cart or basket with sanitizer before and after use.
- Avoid close contact with shoppers and staff. Try to maintain at least 6 feet of distance between you and others at all times.
- Unless you require the assistance of a caregiver while grocery shopping, go by yourself and leave children and significant others at home to minimize exposure.
- Bag your own groceries.
- Wash your hands.
- Follow CDC guidelines, such as avoiding touching your face.
A great way to minimize trips to the grocery store and strategically pick healthy foods to get you through a couple of weeks is to plan ahead! First, think about what foods you will need to get by for one to two weeks, and then make a list. Here are a few tips for keeping an easy-to-use grocery list:
- Keep an ongoing list visible in your kitchen (I recommend keeping this list on the refrigerator).
- Indicate the quantities needed on the list.
- Make a weekly menu to determine what should be on your list.
- Break your list into categories like produce, meat, dairy, dry foods, condiments and spices, and household items.
- Be flexible! It’s very possible right now that the supermarket might be out of an item on your list. Do you have a replacement item in mind?
How to shop for perishable foods
Fresh foods are best to cook with; however, since these foods spoil, it’s important to plan ahead for purchasing fresh fruits, veggies, etc. when going on your grocery run. All of the fresh foods in grocery stores are usually around the perimeter (along the walls) of the grocery store. This includes fruits, veggies, breads, meat, poultry and dairy. The healthiest meals consist of vegetables and fruits. These foods are nutrient-dense, low-calorie and high-fiber. Spend time selecting produce of various colors, textures and natural flavors to balance your vitamin and mineral intake.
Here are some things to think about when buying fresh food:
- Fruits and veggies will typically last about 5-7 days.
- You can freeze fruits and veggies prior to spoiling.
- Sturdy fruits and veggies like apples, oranges, squash, carrots and sweet potatoes will last longer.
- Bread products will typically last about 7 days.
- Bread may be frozen prior to spoiling.
- Dairy will typically last for 5-7 days past printed date.
- Eggs will typically last for 3-5 weeks in the refrigerator.
- Chicken will typically last for 3-4 days in the refrigerator.
- Beef will typically last 1-2 days past the sell by date.
Of course, please use your best judgment; if in doubt, throw it out.
Prioritizing staple nutrition products
This is a good time to stock your pantry and look for healthy ingredients that have longer shelf lives. A few good options to consider are:
- Beans and legumes, both dried or canned, for a good source of fiber and protein.
- Whole grains: Rolled oats, steel cut oats and quinoa are nutrient-dense grain choices. Additionally, whole grain chickpea or lentil pastas are nutritious options.
- Frozen fruit has the same nutrient profile as fresh fruit. It can be great for smoothies or in oatmeal.
- Canned or frozen is a great way to buy vegetables. They can typically be steamed or sautéed from frozen. Just remember to watch out for added sodium in canned goods.
- Nuts, nut butters and seeds: nutrient-dense, stable and filling!
As always, limit the purchase of junk food! I know those chips, sodas, cookies and ice cream seem like a great and comforting idea during quarantine. However, I guarantee you will eat those items first and not feel great about the empty calories.
Be careful about frozen dinners, too. Most are loaded with sodium and calories, but there are also some good options that you can find in the frozen section. So, be a “dietective” and read the nutrition fact labels.
And lastly, stay active. The recommended amount of physical activity is at least 30 minutes most days. Run, walk, do yoga, play with your kids. Get creative!
Aaron Wiener was a devoted dietitian at Craig who passed away in April 2020. He always wanted to learn more to provide the best care for his patients and the community. He led by example and made impactful connections with his patients and the Craig staff. He constantly challenged himself (with work and with his hobbies) to be better and was an inspiration to the team. He regularly went out of his way to make his coworkers' days a bit brighter. Aaron was honest, kind, empathetic and clever, and he genuinely cared about everyone he came in contact with. His thirst for adventure and positive attitude were contagious. We miss you, Aaron; until we meet again.