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Meal planning for a long stay at home

Tech professor shares diet tips during virus outbreak
Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Louisiana Tech University is now in its third week of online-only instruction in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, with no definite return date.

As mitigation efforts continue to alter the daily lives of students, faculty and the surrounding community, a trio of Tech health experts are offering tips on how to adapt to the changes and incorporate good habits for physical, mental and dietary health, even while social distancing.

The second of these is Catherine Fontenot, an assistant professor in nutrition and dietetics and director of Tech’s food pantry. In a time rife with unknowns, Fontenot recommends cutting down on dietary and financial uncertainty through proper meal planning.

“We recognize that uncertainty causes a heightened sense of stress and anxiety,” she said. “One way to reduce stress is meal planning, because it is one of the best ways to take care of ourselves so that we can be our best for others. Moreover, it helps lessen the fear of the unknown, which causes stress.”

While many individuals and families are facing financial instability due to virus-related business closures, Fontenot said planning weekly meals and snacks helps manage financial resources.

Start by taking inventory of current food supplies, paying particular attention to leftovers and foods that may be expiring soon. When reviewing the pantry and cold storage supply list, think about how the items can be assembled to create a meal.

“We recommend people get creative with repurposing food items,” Fontenot said. “For example, leftover chili can become tomorrow’s loaded baked potatoes. Tonight’s pot roast can become BBQ beef sandwiches later in the week. And leftover vegetables can become a hearty soup.”

While grocery stores remain open, governments and health authorities recommend buying only what you need so as not to overly contribute to supply shortages.

The daughter of a farmer, Fontenot said she grew up understanding the time, effort and resources that go into making food supplies.

“Wasting should not be a part of anyone’s way of life, especially during crisis times,” she said. “People should take advantage of the internet and search for opportunities to repurpose foods. That in and of itself will minimize a tremendous amount of stress, as it extends dollars and prevents you from making unnecessary trips to the grocery store.”

In addition to cutting down on spending and grocery store visits, strategically planning meals and snacks will reduce the temptation to eat unhealthy foods while stuck at home, Fontenot said. This is the reason she suggests stocking the pantry with staple foods such as beans and rice.

“Beans and rice can be cooked in large volumes, and they freeze really well,” she said. “In addition, they taste pretty good even after they have been reheated.

“They are also very economical and quite healthy — great sources of B vitamins, fiber, complex carbohydrates and low in fat.”

Other key staple foods to keep in your pantry when eating well include assorted vegetables, assorted fruit packed in natural juices, low-fat shelf-stable milk, canned tuna and chicken, granola bars, cereal, nut butters, jelly, syrup, pancake or waffle mix, pasta, popcorn, crackers and 100% juice.