In this current environment, we’ve all had to make some big adjustments to the way we eat. We’ve had to deal with occasional food shortages and fewer trips to the grocery store. Those who didn’t know how to cook (or didn’t want to) suddenly had to learn how. And, before restaurants started re-opening, we were forced to nourish ourselves – often making do with whatever we had available.
As difficult as this has been, there may be a bright side. Some of the adjustments we’ve had to make in the way we shop, cook and eat could actually be promoting better health – and they’re habits we should seriously consider adopting for the long-term.
Here are five nutrition trends where nutritionists are taking note:
- A new appreciation for canned and shelf-stable foods. Canned foods have gotten an undeserved bad reputation. True, some canned foods might be high in sodium or sugar, but low sodium and low sugar varieties are widely available. And the bottom line is that there are certain canned foods that are just really handy to keep around – and they can help boost your nutrition, too. Canned beans are a terrific source of plant-based protein and fiber that can be added to salads or slow-cooked foods like soups or chili, and canned tomato products have all kinds of uses beyond pasta sauce. And aside from being convenient, there’s a nutritional plus to canned tomatoes – the heating and processing releases certain vitamins and phytonutrients from the cell walls of the tomato, making them more readily available for your body to take up.
- A new appreciation for frozen foods. As with canned foods, those who have always relied on a steady supply of fresh foods may be learning to appreciate the convenience of frozen foods. We’re finding that having a stash of veggie burgers means we can put together quick healthy meals even when we haven’t given dinner a second thought. And many people don’t realize that, in some cases, frozen foods can be nutritionally superior to fresh. Frozen fruits and veggies tend to be picked at their peak, then processed quickly – which preserves nutrients. Compared with foods that have been picked too soon, transported over long distances, then exposed to air, oxygen, light and water in the grocery store – all of which can destroy some fragile nutrients – and you can make a pretty solid case for choosing frozen items.
- More family meals, and more family time in general. There’s a lot to be said for family meals. Studies have shown over and over that home-cooked meals tend to be nutritionally superior to most restaurant fare, and there is even evidence that children who eat more meals at home perform better in school. When you prepare your own meals, you have a lot of control over what you eat, which probably explains why many home-cooked foods tend to have fewer calories, less fat and less sodium. Home cooked meals usually have more fruits and veggies on the plate, too. And, many people are just now getting into the habit of sitting down for meals on a regular basis rather than eating on the run. Sharing a meal with others provides a much-needed pause from the 24/7 news cycle and creates an opportunity to reset. It’s definitely a habit worth keeping.
- A new awareness of food waste. This is a big one – since it’s been estimated that U.S. consumers waste an estimated 21% of the available food supply every year1. Not all of this is due to food we throw away, but food per year. As we take fewer trips to the grocery store and learn to cook with what we have, we have an opportunity to teach ourselves to waste less food. We’ve learned to appreciate a meal of leftovers or the magic of ‘leftover makeovers’. Rather than tossing the last bit of an onion or the end of a carrot, we’re stashing it in a freezer bag to add to a homemade soup or stew. We peel too-ripe bananas and freeze them because they’re delicious in our morning smoothies, and we’ve learned that we can freshen limp lettuce with a dunk in cold water and a few hours in the ‘fridge in an airtight plastic bag. We now know that many foods are perfectly safe to eat well past their ‘use by’ dates (foods may lose quality, but most are still safe) so we’re not tossing items needlessly, fearing they’ve expired. Not only is all of this better for our wallets, it’s better for the planet, too.
- Less meat, more plant protein. During the first few weeks of shelter-in-place, finding fresh meat, fish and poultry was often a challenge. As a result, consumers had to look for protein elsewhere – turning to plant-based sources such as beans, lentils and tofu. Recipes featuring these vegetarian staples popped up everywhere, and people found these foods delicious, versatile and affordable. Plant-based options had already been trending lately, fueled in part by environmental concerns, but a shortage of animal protein nudged many hard-core meat eaters to ride the wave. But these foods have a lot going for them nutritionally, too. Plant proteins can provide all the essential amino acids the body needs – and they’re wrapped in an impressive package of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber, with no cholesterol and very little fat. Meatless Mondays have been around for a while – can Tofu Tuesdays be far behind?
by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND