Erin Morse, chief clinical dietitian for UCLA Health in California, acknowledged that mealtimes have been and will continue to be — for the foreseeable future — somewhat of a challenge for families navigating pandemic-era work and school.
Because families are currently cooking and eating at home more often, Morse provided five planning tips to manage at-home nutrition:
1. Choose one day a week — she suggested Sunday — to determine upcoming food needs.
2. Involve family members in planning a weekly menu. “Every person in the household gets to pick a meal; this way children feel empowered and even get involved in the meal process.”
3. Plan one or several theme nights, such meatless Monday, taco Tuesday and new food Friday.
4. “Aim to include a balanced diet that is based around brightly colored vegetables, fresh fruit, lean proteins, whole grains and healthy fats (such as omega 3-fatty acids). You can even aim to add probiotic-rich sources of food. These are foundations of an anti-inflammatory diet.”
5. Clean all produce when purchased; cut and store in produce bags or in glass jars (so items are easily seen).
Besides planning, weekly meals and snack times can be made easier by using certain kitchen gadgets. Cook items such as soups and chilis in a slow cooker, achieve crispy vegetables in an air fryer, and plan to make whole-protein-plus-veggies meals on a sheet pan.
So that eating does not become an unstructured free-for-all, Morse recommended at-home families create a food schedule.
“Find the common denominator for meeting all the different food needs in your family … for example, three meals and one or two structured snacks a day,” she said.
Morse also advised keeping pantries or a refrigerator stocked with nutritious staples including:
• All types of nuts, for recipes and to mix with a few chocolate chips, for example, as an easy snack.
• Seeds, such as flax or chia, to use in recipes and to mix into foods like yogurt.
• Rice and cans of beans, for creating rice bowls.
• Eggs, for a variety of recipes, including versatile frittatas.