By Marc C. O’Meara, RD, LD, CDE
Department of Nutrition
As the pandemic continues, many of us are balancing our work with additional responsibilities at home, such as helping children manage remote learning or new school schedules, caring for parents and other priorities.
During busy and stressful times, it’s especially important to do everything we can to stay healthy and maintain our immune systems. One way to do this is by eating nutrient-dense foods every day since they fuel the immune system to fight against diseases caused by viruses. Here are five ways to help you consistently make the right choices to benefit your wellness.
- Take time to plan. Set aside time each week to decide what to cook or prepare for meals in the week ahead. This can be done with other members of your household or on your own. Be sure that your plan includes easily prepared meals with significant amounts of nutrients.
- Make a list. Shopping from a grocery list helps you minimize the grocery bill, save time at the store and ensure you have all the necessary ingredients for your meals. Having the ingredients on hand when you are ready to cook is essential when you are short on time during the week.
- Choose fruits and vegetables that are rich in color or strong in aroma. The plant foods with the darkest colors all the way through contain the most nutrients. Examples of foods with high-nutrient density include spinach, blueberries, carrots and broccoli. Interestingly, foods without much color can be high in nutrients if they possess a strong aroma, such as cauliflower, onions and garlic. Plant foods are good sources of not only nutrients, but also fiber. This can help maintain your intestinal tract’s balanced biome of bacteria, which plays a role in maintaining a strong immune system.
- Eat your vegetables. Including vegetables in lunch and dinner can help to ensure a high nutrient intake daily. Aim for vegetables to fill a third to half of your plate. Most fresh vegetables can be quickly prepared by stir frying, roasting or grilling in about 10 to 12 minutes. For a faster alternative, steam or microwave frozen vegetables, which can be just as high in nutrients as fresh vegetables.
- Incorporate fruit, beans, nuts and seeds. Fresh fruits provide immune-boosting nutrients when eaten as part of meals or snacks. Satisfy cravings for sweets by adding colorful fruits to breakfasts or salads or substituting them for empty calories like desserts or candy. Stock up on beans, which are nutrient-dense in protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals and have a long shelf life. Nuts, seeds and nut butters are also filled with important nutrients. Add them to meals or try them as part of a healthy snack with fresh fruit.
Good nutrition is critical for a healthy immune system, but make sure to also incorporate regular exercise (walking counts!), stress-management techniques and enough sleep to benefit your long-term health.