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Staying Well-Nourished While Social Distancing

By Margaret Martin, RD, MS, LDN, CDCES April 13, 2020Nutrition Education Services Center Blog
For more information related to coronavirus (COVID-19), visit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS)’s Coronavirus Resources page.

As all of us continue to adjust to a new normal amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, it’s essential to practice good self-care and prioritize our health. Margaret Martin, RD, MS, LDN, CDE, a registered dietitian at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), highlights the importance of staying well-nourished through nutrition. “Your body’s ability to fight infection and disease depends on your immune system. Although there are no special foods or dietary supplements that can prevent COVID-19, healthy living strategies can help support your immune system now and all year long,” she says.

Margaret answers below some frequently asked questions from patients and caregivers on how to eat healthy during this time.

Q. Can I catch the virus from food?

COVID-19 is not a foodborne illness. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports, “Currently, there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. Like other viruses, it is possible that the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on surfaces or objects. For that reason, it is critical to follow the four key steps of food safety — clean, separate, cook, and chill.”

Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling food per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. Food safety rules also apply to take-out and delivery foods, which should be eaten within two hours of cooking, and leftovers must be stored safely and reheated to a safe temperature. For more information on food safety for cancer patients, view Food Safety During Cancer Treatment.

Q. How can I make meal times feel less lonely?

Sharing a meal virtually with loved ones and friends is a great way to boost spirits and stay in touch. Schedule video chats over meal times. Consider hosting a virtual potluck where everyone shares their favorite dishes or recipes.

Q. What should I do about grocery shopping?

If you are a cancer patient or caregiver, ask someone to go grocery shopping for you. Many grocery stores offer online ordering, so you can ask a friend or neighbor to pick up for you and leave at an agreed upon location (e.g., front porch). You can also try ordering your groceries or meal kits online for delivery to your house. Choose “no-contact” delivery options and order earlier than usual as there might be wait times. Be sure to wash your hands and clean your counter and any other surfaces you’ve touched after putting away groceries.

Q: How can I eat healthy during this time?

You might need to make adjustments or get creative to eat healthy at home while self-isolating. Try these tips:

  • Explore new recipes. Search recipes by the ingredients you have already using websites such as Fridge to Table and SuperCook (also available as a mobile app).
  • Make the most of leftovers. Store leftovers following USDA guidelines to help keep foods safe, fresh and flavorful for longer.
  • Use canned and frozen fruits and vegetables. Canned and frozen produce can be just as nutritious as fresh foods because they are picked and preserved at peak freshness. Look for low-sodium options. For canned fruits, choose those canned in water or 100 percent fruit juice, not syrup. Remember to clean the lids of canned foods before opening.
  • Incorporate shelf-stable pantry staples into your meals including beans, legumes, peas, and whole grains such as rice, quinoa, or pasta.
  • Opt for minimally processed foods with a short list of ingredients to supplement fresh foods. Consider buying frozen foods and meals for variety and to save time and energy on food prep.
  • Add variety to your protein choices with eggs, nut butters, beans, seeds and dairy products, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, tofu and packaged fish, including tuna and salmon.
  • Use dry or evaporated milk if fresh milk is not available readily.

Q. Where can I find assistance to help cover the cost of food and other expenses?  

Many organizations and government agencies are changing eligibility guidelines for food assistance programs in response to COVID-19. Resources include:

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) works with state agencies to facilitate the below programs, among others. Read the FNS Response to COVID-19 here.

The USDA National Hunger Hotline can be reached at 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479) or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (1-877-842-6273) (for Spanish).

Meals on Wheels provides nutritious meals delivered to seniors at no or reduced cost. Use the Meals on Wheels locator to find your local program.

2-1-1. Check local resources, such as meal delivery and other assistance programs, by dialing 2-1-1.


Margaret Martin, RD, MS, LDN, CDCES

Author Margaret Martin, RD, MS, LDN, CDCES

Nutrition Educator Margaret Martin is a Licensed Dietitian and Nutritionist in the State of Tennessee as well as a Certified Diabetes Educator. Margaret graduated from the University of Alabama with a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics and received her Master’s Degree in Nutrition Science & Public Health from the University of Tennessee. With more than 10 years of experience in Clinical Nutrition, Margaret has also worked in the insurance industry with WellPoint Inc. and Blue Cross Blue Shield providing telephonic nutrition consultations, service assistance, and web-based nutrition education. In her free time Margaret volunteers with the American Lung Association’s annual “Lung Force Walk" in Middle Tennessee. She belongs to the Oncology Nutrition & Diabetes Care and Education Dietetic Practice Groups of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

More posts by Margaret Martin, RD, MS, LDN, CDCES

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