Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all been made aware of the importance of limiting our trips to the grocery store as much as possible. But how can we maintain good eating habits while following these guidelines?
In collaboration of Mylène Duplessis Brochu, nutritionist at Fondation Olo, here is some advice to help us choose the right foods to promote healthy eating habits and simplify our lives in these times of uncertainty.
Frozen fruits and vegetables: practical and delicious
Buying frozen fruits and vegetables is a great way to have fresh produce on hand at all times. Also, did you know that frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious as those in the fresh produce section? In fact, since they are generally picked when they are ripe and frozen within 24 hours, they retain their maximum nutritional value.
In some cases, it may be more cost-effective and tastier to opt for frozen foods, especially out-of-season field berries. Since they are mostly pre-cut and prepared, you can incorporate them into a recipe in no time!
Some fruits and vegetables to keep in your freezer
- Field berries for smoothies and muffins
- Vegetables for stir-fries or for side dishe
- Mixed pre-cut vegetables (special mention to mixes for spaghetti sauce and soups, which can cut preparation time in half)
Canned food: read the labels carefully
Canned foods are very practical and can even be stored for up to two years after purchase. However, they sometimes get bad press because they can contain significant amounts of added sugar and salt. It’s important to read the labels carefully when shopping for groceries, and to choose the options without salt and with no added sugar, when possible. Also, before cooking, rinse canned food in order to remove the excess salt and sugar. When purchasing them, do not choose damaged, bulging or rusty cans.
Some canned foods to have in your pantry
- Cut fruits (stored in water or fruit juice
- Tomatoes (diced, mashed, in sauce, paste, etc.)
- Legumes (chickpeas, lentils, red and black beans, etc.)
- Vegetables (olives, mixed vegetables, mushrooms, etc.)
- Fish (tuna, salmon, small fish such as mackerel and sardines, etc.)
Ultra-processed foods, more enemies than allies!
First of all, what do we mean by ultra-processed foods? All prepared foods that contain a long list of ingredients (many of which are not found in our pantries) and often an excessive amount of salt, sugar and saturated fat. ;
The list of ultra-processed foods includes:
- Sauces (BBQ, poutine, spaghetti, etc.)
- Soups (did you know that a can of pea soup contains up to 60% of your daily sodium intake?) ;
- Pastries, cakes, sweets and other desserts
- Deli meats and breaded meats
- Ready-to-eat meals (frozen meals, pasta or seasoned rice packets, instant noodles, etc.) ;
Even if these ultra-processed foods are very practical for quick meals from time to time, home made meals, are always better. They will be much more nutritious, and you will be able to better control your daily sodium and sugar intake. Pre-made meals often cost much more per serving than their homemade counterparts.
Of course, if you like the taste of some of these foods, don’t stop buying them completely! As with any good thing, moderation is key.
Prepare your own frozen meals, which you can divide into convenient portions and take out on busy days as needed. Make sure, however, that the recipes you prepared freeze well, because not all dishes will be as delicious when thawed!
Remember to never thaw your food at room temperature, as this can cause harmful bacteria to proliferate. Get more tips for freezing and defrosting meals.
Stock up on root vegetables
Root vegetables have several benefits: they can be preserved for a very long time, they are full of good vitamins and minerals, and they are often produced locally as well as being available all year round. By filling your basket with root vegetables, you will have easy access to fresh produce every day of the week!
To preserve them, make sure to store them in a dry, cool place (most don’t like humidity!), and away from light.
Some root vegetables to have in your fridge or pantry:
- Sweet potatoes
Discover dry legumes
Practical and cost-effective, legumes are an excellent source of fiber and protein. It is also a good way to replace meat in several recipes. In their dry form, they are much more cost-effective, and they can be stored for a very long time after opening the packaging, provided they are stored in a cool, dry place, away from light. However, they require more preparation, because they must be soaked several hours before cooking (sometimes even overnight!).
Some legumes to have in your pantry:
- Red, green or brown lentils (which do not need to be soaked)
- Red, black or white beans
- Split peas
How to keep food fresh longer
As we are encouraged to limit our trips to the grocery store, food preservation plays a key role today, however it is also something to maintain long term. To keep your food fresh and reduce food waste, make sure to:
- Leave fruits and vegetables at room temperature until they’ve reached the desired amount of ripeness, then put them in the fridge.
- Store fruits and vegetables that go in the fridge in airtight plastic containers. You will be surprised how much longer they will last and how much fresher they will be!
- Keep leafy vegetables and fresh herbs on their stems. You can also wrap them in a damp cloth to help maintain their freshness longer.
- Note the date of the meals you have prepared or the food you have purchased (for example, by writing the date on the containers).
- Put your dry legumes and your cereal products (rice, flour, etc.) in closed containers, which will protect them from humidity and insects.
Guide to meal planning
Of course, planning your meals is probably the best way to maximize your trips to the grocery store by making sure you have all the necessary ingredients to prepare your meals for the week. It will also help make your life easier, avoid food waste, better control your budget and maintain a balanced eating routine.
However, given the limited availability of certain foods, it is also important to be flexible, and to plan for substitutes in case you cannot find the ingredients you are looking for! This way, you will not be caught off guard, and you will still make sure to have a meal that meets all your needs.
Québec Blue Cross is proud to support the projects of Fondation Olo, whose mission is to give families an equal chance of bringing healthy babies into the world and to introduce them to healthy eating habits early on.
See how you too can make a difference in pregnant women’s lives during this difficult and uncertain time by making a donation to the Fondation Olo COVID-19 emergency fund.
Scientific review: Mylène Duplessis Brochu, nutritionist, Dt.P., M.Sc.