In more than a year and a half of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world prepared their meals at home. There has been less eating out at fast-food and regular restaurants. This is good for every family’s health because people can make home cooking more nutritious.
The 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) released by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Healthy Eating Plate of the Harvard University T. H. Chan School of Public Health provide recommendations on the nutritional makeup of meals.
They are similar in stating that half of the plate must consist of vegetables and fruits at every meal. Both recommend whole fruits, with Harvard stating that people must limit fruit juice to one small glass daily. This is because whole fruit provides dietary fiber, while fruit juice has concentrated natural sugars.
A fourth of the plate must consist of grains. The DGA states that at least half of these must be whole grains. On the other hand, Harvard insists on consuming only whole grains because these do not cause spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels.
The remaining fourth of the plate is for protein. Harvard specifies that red meat must be consumed in limited amounts only, while people must avoid all processed meats like sausages and bacon. Instead, Harvard recommends poultry, fish, and plant-based protein like beans, peas, lentils, seeds, and nuts. Healthy oils can be added in moderation, but partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats must be avoided.
Both the DGA and Harvard advise limiting sugar intake, from low to no added sugars. This includes sugary drinks like sodas, fruit juice concentrates, and coffee drinks. The DGA states that added sugar must make up 10 percent of the total calorie intake per day. It adds that sodium intake must be limited to 2,300 milligrams a day for older teens and adults and even less for younger people.
Harvard recommends limiting the intake of milk and other dairy products to a maximum of two servings a day. The DGA recommends shifting to fat-free or low-fat milk or other dairy substitutes like soy milk and nut milk.
Shopping for Food
These are helpful guidelines in preparing family meals. Draw up a week-long meal plan before shopping to know what you need to buy and how much.
Make sure your greens, whether for salads or other dishes, are always fresh. Not only are these tastier, but newly harvested greens also have a higher nutritional content. With the current popularity of home delivery, search online for a nearby hydroponic vertical farm that can harvest your order and deliver it on the same day. These farms also provide customers with seedlings and vertical planters so you can grow your own greens at home.
You can also grow herbs in pots on your windowsill, balcony, or even your fire escape. You can then snip off only what you need for every meal. If you buy your fresh herbs, though, and find that you have more than you need, you can chop and freeze them with olive oil in portions enough for a dish.
You can buy staple nonperishable food like brown rice, whole oats, and dried beans in bulk. For vegetables, it is best to buy what you can cook within the week. Also, buy only enough fruit that you can consume within the week.
Suppose your family is used to an unhealthy diet. In that case, you can slowly transition to transform favorite dishes into healthier versions. For instance, you can make meatloaf, burger patties, and meatballs from lean ground turkey mixed with a large proportion of finely chopped vegetables instead of ground beef. You can also turn them fully vegetarian versions, made from mashed beans combined with oats and chopped vegetables.
You can serve turkey meatballs with whole wheat pasta. To add different flavors and textures, add roasted bell peppers, onions, and eggplant. Make tomato sauce from pureed fresh tomatoes flavored with herbs and spices. So you can make pasta, casserole, or any tomato-based dishes anytime, make this in large batches and freeze them in portions for convenience.
Turkey burger patties are good in whole wheat bread sandwiches with lettuce and tomato. If your family likes guacamole, you can use this instead of mayonnaise. You can also make tuna burger patties for sandwiches.
Alternate chicken nuggets with fish nuggets baked, not fried. Always have a salad with meals using a variety of vegetables. Add different chopped fruits and nuts to liven up the salad. Make the dressing from scratch because bottled dressings are often high in sodium and even sugar.
For chicken paella and burritos, use brown rice with ground turkey and guacamole. Another Mexican-inspired dish is chili con carne using ground turkey or ground chicken with beans. Serve this with whole wheat tortillas. Stir-fry brown rice with chopped carrots, green peas, and shrimps for a healthy take on shrimp fried rice. A dash of sesame oil will bring out the flavors more.
Between meals, offer the family various types of fruits to much on. As much as possible, try not to keep unhealthy snacks and drinks in the house.
Adjusting to a new diet and a new lifestyle might be a difficult road to walk. But with no end to the COVD-19 pandemic in sight, now is the time to stay healthy. Fortunately, with many resources online and many enterprises providing more nutritious options, you can take this next big step.