Getting Through a Pandemic: One Plate at a Time

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The COVID-19 pandemic has increased stress, anxiety, and uncertainty. More people are working from home while balancing the needs of family members, facing a lack of childcare, or changes in access to food. This is impacting how and where we eat, what we eat, and how we plan for meals.

Although we know nutrition is important, practicing healthy nutrition behaviors is just another thing in the long list of duties to stay on top of during this crazy time. We’ve gathered suggestions from a variety of nutrition-focused resources and organizations to help you find what works best for your lifestyle and family, even if you are a family of one.

How and where to eat

If you are working from home, you may have found it difficult to step away from your workspace to have a proper meal. You may find yourself grazing throughout the day and skipping breakfast to log onto your computer. If you have children, you may find it difficult to get everyone fed on time.

Here are 3 recommendations to help you bring some normalcy back into your eating routine:

1. Begin by making a schedule for yourself of what your day will look like. Schedule in meal and snack times—consider adding to your calendar. Most people aim for three meals and 1-2 snacks per day.

 2. Plan to take your meal and snack breaks away from your desk. This will allow you to focus on your meal without distractions and can contribute to a greater level of satisfaction. If you feel that you cannot leave your desk to eat, spend the first two minutes of your meal focused on your food. i.e. What does your food look like, what does it smell like?

 3. Make time for family meals. One benefit of the COVID-19 pandemic is that families can spend more time together. Check out this article all about how to cook with kids during COVID-19.

What to eat

Although there are no known cures for COVID-19, adequate nutrition is important for a healthy immune system. Strive for fruits and veggies (whether fresh, frozen, or canned), whole grains, lean meats, nuts and seeds, and low-fat dairy products.

Access to these foods may be difficult depending on what your grocery store offers and what your food budget looks like, so do your best to purchase these foods when available. If you are experiencing food insecurity, obtaining food and eating adequate calories should be your first priority. You can find more resources for food insecurity here and here.

How to plan for meals

Access to grocery stores and food during the COVID-19 pandemic may be limited. Food supply chains have greatly been impacted and a record number of Americans are experiencing food insecurity. People are going for longer stretches without going to the grocery stores and are using new shopping modalities. The following suggestions are a starting point to reduce the stress of meal planning.

1. Plan meal ideas for two weeks. If you are new to this, start small and plan to cook 2-3 larger meals per week. You can choose meals that are easy to prepare, such as a crockpot meal or a casserole. If you have a larger family, consider doubling the recipe and eating leftovers throughout the week. This will save you both time and money.

2. Make a wish list prior to going to the grocery store. Look through your kitchen while making the list to ensure you do not buy food that you already have to save money and resources. Not everything may be available at your store so consider substitutions.

3. Choose a preferred shopping method. If you are concerned about shopping in-store, consider curbside pick-up or delivery, depending on the store. If you do shop in-store, be sure to follow store rules, such as waiting in lines to enter, wearing a mask, and washing hands frequently (use hand sanitizer when hand washing is not available).

 4. Buy a mixture of fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables. Consume any fresh produce during the first week and use frozen and canned produce during the second week to prevent food from going bad. Frozen fruits and veggies contain a similar nutritional quality to fresh fruits and vegetables. When buying canned fruit, aim for purchasing fruit that has “no sugar added” on the label or is “in 100% fruit juice”. For canned vegetables, look for “no salt added” or “low salt” or “reduced sodium” options.


Practicing healthy nutrition behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic may feel overwhelming, but it is important for your health and well-being, fueling for long workdays, and connecting with family members over meals. We encourage you to try these tips and stick with those that work best for your lifestyle!

Jessa Engelken is a second-year graduate student in the Nutritional Sciences Program and Graduate Coordinated Program in Dietetics at University of Washington. This school year, Jessa will begin her role as a dietetic intern and will graduate with an MPH in Nutritional Sciences.

Jessa follows a weight neutral approach to nutrition and has strong interests in the areas of feeding dynamics, maternal and pediatric nutrition, and nutrition education. She enjoys hiking, reading, and baking chocolate chip cookies during her free time.

1. Start Simple with MyPlate: Food Planning During the Coronavirus Pandemic. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Published March 2020.
2. Academy Offers Meal Planning, Grocery Shopping Tips During COVID-19 Pandemic. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Published May 7, 2020.
3. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Shopping for Food During the COVID-19 Pandemic. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Published March 5, 2020.
4. Food and nutrition tips during self-quarantine. World Health Organization.