The Complete Guide to Healthy Eating at Home: From Choosing the Right Food to Storing and Cooking

The Complete Guide to Healthy Eating at Home: From Choosing the Right Food to Storing and Cooking

Now more than ever, our health should be a top priority. This means making choices to nurture our bodies even more so than we did before coronavirus pandemic impacted our lives. Making poor choices can result in being overfed and yet undernourished.

It’s only natural we are all feeling a bit more stressed, but stress can prompt us to make nutrition choices that are not the healthiest or to be tempted by high-calorie comfort foods – which often contain too much fat, salt, and sugar. These may fill our bellies, but we may be lacking many important nutrients that support overall health, including our immune system.

To keep a healthy, balanced diet and a strong immune system start by taking note of the essential nutrients you should pay more attention to.

Nutrients We Need More Of

When you’re at the grocery store, preparing meals, or if you’re considering supplementation, make sure you are consuming the following nutrients:

Fiber

Best known for helping with regularity, high-fiber foods are filling and relatively low in calories. Certain fibers can also encourage the growth of “good” bacteria in your digestive tract, which support immunity because they serve as an initial line of defense by crowding out potentially harmful bacteria that might enter the digestive tract.

Magnesium

While it’s not a mineral we typically think about, magnesium contributes to hundreds of bodily functions. Magnesium supports the health of your immune and nervous systems, supports muscle function, and assists your cells in producing energy.

Vitamin D

Most people associate calcium with healthy bones, but your bones need Vitamin D too, since it helps your body absorb calcium from your diet.  Vitamin D is also needed for proper muscle function and supports the activity of the immune system.

Potassium

This mineral supports the function of nerves and muscles and helps regulate blood pressure. Potassium also supports chemical reactions in the body that generate energy from food.

Iron

One of iron’s key functions is to support the transport of oxygen to cells and tissues. If you do not have enough iron, your body cannot make hemoglobin, and you may get anemia.

Where Can You Get Those Nutrients From?

While we shelter in place and practice social distancing, many of us may feel wary of the one errand we’ve generally taken for granted ­– the grocery run. But if you plan ahead and know exactly what you’re getting, your trip to the grocery store will be shorter and more effective.

The great news is that most of these nutrients can be found in foods that are easy to buy in bulk and maintain a long shelf life until your next essential grocery run. These are some foods to stock up on that contain the nutrients mentioned above and can help you create healthy meals for days:

Avoid Food Waste: Tips for Storing and Preparing Food

Since we are shopping less often, we need to take care of the foods we are buying and try to reduce food waste as much as possible. Here are some useful tips to avoid food waste while keeping the nutrition in your food:

Tips for Storing Food

Tips for Cooking Food

How to Create Healthy Meals from Foods You Have at Home

Now that you have your pantry and freezer well stocked and food is properly and safely stored, here are some ideas on how to create healthy meals:

Start with protein.

You can go with animal protein – cheese, eggs, canned tuna, salmon or chicken – or plant protein ­–beans, peas and lentils, tofu or tempeh.

Add healthy carbs.

There are plenty of good-for-you sources of carbohydrates – and they provide an abundance of vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients. Try adding canned or frozen vegetables, fruits and grains such as brown rice, quinoa, whole grain pasta, whole grain breads or corn tortillas.

Turn leftovers into makeovers.

Plan to make the foods you cook do double duty. If you’re grilling chicken, make extra and add it to tomorrow’s pasta.  If you’re cooking some fish, make enough to fold into some corn tortillas with salsa for fish tacos tomorrow night.

Make one-dish meals.

Find some one-dish meals that you like – soups, stews, casseroles – that include your protein and veggies all in one dish.  That way, you can still have a balanced meal of “an entrée and two sides” without having to make three separate items for yourself.

Repurpose foods that are reaching expiration.

There are many ways to get the most out of your perishable food items, even when they start to look a little sad. When your tomatoes get too mushy to cut up for salads, consider making them into homemade tomato sauce.

Are your bananas getting brown and squishy? Give them more life by unpeeling them and keep them in the freezer as a healthy smoothie ingredient! Soups, stews, salads are great dishes that can incorporate many different ingredients with shorter shelf lives.

What About Leftovers?

When it comes to leftovers, an easy way to remember food storage guidelines is simple:  two hours, two inches, four days – the numbers make up the “2-2-4 rule”.

Two hours is how long foods can safely stay at room temperature after you’ve taken then out of the oven or off the grill – or, in the case of cold foods, how long they can safely stay out of the refrigerator or cooler. Once the time limit is reached, the food should be refrigerated or frozen.

The two-inch rule means that you should store leftover foods in shallow containers – no more than two inches thick – so they can cool evenly and quickly.  If containers are too deep, it takes too long for the food in the middle to cool down.

The last rule says that you should use your refrigerated leftovers within four days – otherwise, you should toss them out.

Use this time of uncertainty and social distancing to your advantage, to take care of yourself and your body. Plan out your grocery list and stock your freezer, refrigerator and cupboards with healthy staples. Focus on the important nutrients you may need to increase in your diet and choose foods accordingly. It’s a great time to start getting creative in the kitchen ­– you may even be surprised at what tasty meals you can put together with what’s already in your pantry!

Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND –Sr.Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Susan BowermanM.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Susan Bowerman earned a B.S. in biology with distinction from the University of Colorado, and received her M.S. in food science and nutrition from Colorado State University. She is a registered dietitian, holds two board certifications from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a certified specialist in sports dietetics, and a certified specialist in obesity and weight management, and is a Fellow of the Academy.