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A Local-Food-Loving Dietitian’s Guide To Comfort Eating During A Global Pandemic

A dear friend shared this Small Bites Adventure Club website with me a couple weeks ago-right when the cornavirus was making it's presence know, here in the United States. At first I thought this was just good info to have . . . now I refer to it almost daily when creating menus for my family. So, please use this resource as a reference when ordering out or cooking in- we'll all come out of self isolation healthier!

Be Safe & Stay At Home.

Chef Jenn

Written by Christi Hansen, RDN

So many of the nutrients we need to stay physically and mentally well are found in the super foods sold at farmers markets and through Community Supported Agriculture Groups “CSAs” right now. Here are a few ways to combine these foods with what's in our pantries and freezers. While calories alone can keep us alive, vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, proteins and quality fats maximize our ability to repair damaged tissue, minimize mood swings exacerbated by stress and depression, and maintain immunity. And, herbs, spices and fresh produce taste sooooo good.

As international and national supply chains continue to change, this is also a great time to support our local economies with our food choices if we can.  Supplying safe, nutritious food is always a top priority for local growers who interact directly with their customers and are personally accountable for the quality of what they produce. Over the last few years, local growers have been attending trainings and creating food-safety plans to further modernize their practices. They are as ready as ever. And even standing 6 feet away at a local market, farm stand, or CSA pickup, you can still ask your local food producer about their food safety and growing practices to be sure what you are eating is posing minimal risk to you and your household. Farmers markets and growers are closely following CDC recommendations and will be making their precautions publicly available. Many are also making options such as pre-ordering and personal shoppers available to minimize gatherings of large crowds while ensuring access to food.

Back to eating: consider focusing on whole grains-the kind with fiber-and getting the majority of your sweet tooth satisfied with fruits. Brown rice, whole wheat pasta, stone-ground grits and the root vegetables that are available right now (such as sweet potatoes, turnips, beets, radishes, and carrots) provide a lot of vitamins and minerals and actually reduce blood sugar spikes. Even if you’re not diabetic, minimizing blood sugar peaks and valleys is known to reduce the effects of anxiety. A slow-moving digestive system is also well-known for its negative effect on mood. Minimizing sugar highs/lows and constipation is a good thing any day of the week, but particularly now with so much extra uncertainty in the air (and on surfaces). And root vegetables can last weeks in the crisper.  To get the most bang out of your carb buck, try making puréed soups, roasting or mashing up root vegetables, and cutting up carrots or those sweet little white turnips as dipping sticks for bean dips or to eat with cheese instead of crackers or pita chips. Try dipping raw vegetables through a mix of your favorite locally-produced hot sauce or herbs and Greek yogurt instead of just drilling cans of French onion dip with Ruffles. From what I’ve seen, the bean shelves are pretty empty right now, so use what you bought to make your own hummus or bean tacos with some quick radish pickles as a garnish. Or, if you’re getting sick of the giant pot of beans you made from the entire 1 pound bag, drain the juice, add some chopped vegetables and herbs, and pour a vinaigrette on top for a salad. Speaking of salads, spinach and cruciferous greens are widely available right now and also make great salads and slaws in addition to stir-fries and long braises. PLUS, they often last longer in the fridge than lettuce. If you’re making a salad out of kale, collards, cabbages or mustards, remember to finely chop the leaves, sprinkle with a bit of salt, top with an acidic dressing then massage the whole thing with your very clean hands or tongs before eating. A big bowl of raw greens can definitely help break up the potential monotony of pasta. So can some crisp slaw as a side dish for chili made from canned tomatoes and beans. Or, make the salad a full meal by adding some protein. If you're eating out of the pantry, add some toasted nuts, chia or flax seeds, or canned fish. Or beans!

Choosing frozen fruits while you’re shopping will also help you if you’re stuck at home for 14 days straight and don’t want to watch everything spoil on the counter. Adding some fresh or frozen fruit to oatmeal or leftover brown rice with cinnamon and ginger will keep you more full and energized than pop tarts and most cereals. It’s also about to be strawberry season and soon the serviceberries will be coming in around town. If you’re at a market, buy some extra strawberries to freeze or dry on your own and check our Concrete Jungle for the interactive fruit maps to pick your own and/or donate.

Hey, this is a time where we’re all looking for comfort. From funny memes, to virtual movie nights, and yes, from comfort eating Hot Pockets dipped in ranch dressing or stress baking all of the flour, sugar, and chocolate chips out of your pantry. But I encourage you to remember that your physical body also needs nourishment and comfort right now so treat yourself to some fiber, phytochemicals, and water while you're also dealing with social isolation and lockdown however you can. No one wants to be the zombie.. For those interested in which specific nutrients directly effect immunity in a big way, enjoy the list below! Produce generally available right now or soon from your local growers is marked in BOLD. And if you can’t make it to a market or join a CSA, don’t sweat it! Getting as many fruits and vegetables as you can, wherever/however you can get them, is always a positive.

Vitamin A-Plays in important part in maintaining cell membrane integrity on skin, the outer and inner surfaces of organs, and blood vessels. Very important since these places form the barrier between potential pathogens and the blood stream.  Dark, leafy green such as kale, mustards, bok choy, cabbage, etc. Orange vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes. Animal productsdairy, organ meat, dark fish B vitamins-maximize energy metabolism and cellular regeneration-important steps in recovery from illness. Dark, leafy green such as kale, collards, mustards, bok choy, cabbage, etc.Added bonus of eating these as salads is maximizing the B vitamin content which tends to leach out into cooking water. This is also a fun time to try that probiotic-rich kraut recipes you’ve been meaning to get to… Learn how to make sauerkraut from fermentation expert Sandor Katz. How to Make Sauerkraut Animal proteins: eggs, beef, pork, chicken, dairy, mollusks Whole grainsstone ground gritsseeds and seed flours Vitamin C- strong antioxidant that repairs damaged tissue, increases immunity, and reduces inflammation (stress, I’m looking at you), supports collagen formation which helps heal wounds and maintain connective tissue integrity in gums, skin and joints. involved in hydroxylation of dopamine which can effect mood and depression. This is a great one to get locally since Vitamin C content tends to degrade during extended periods between harvest and consumption Spinach, strawberries, cabbage, kale, citrus, kiwis, peppers, potatoes

Vitamin D- immune modulator meaning it can amplify the response of the immune system on a cellular level. On the flip side, deficiencies may exacerbate autoimmune disorders. Mostly from the sun but the are some key food sources. Mushrooms

Animal products: Egg yolks, beef, pork, chicken, Fatty fish like sardines and wild-caught salmon, fortified dairy Fortified grains

Zinc- Powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent that also helps strengthen the body’s ability to fight infections 

Animal protein: beef, pork, chicken, dairy, eggs, seafood Nuts and seeds Whole grains Beans and lentils

Alliums-contain bioactive sulfur compounds that act as strong antioxidants that can repair cellular damage. Allicin-found in garlic, is associated strong anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties

Garlic, onions Start grating raw garlic into sauces and soups. Add finely chopped raw onion into salads, Keep using them as a base for your stir-fries, roast them 

Spice rack- Great standbys with proven effects on inflammation-plus they taste great Parsley, thyme, ginger, turmeric, cayenne  Finding Local Farms In Georgia, look to the Georgia Organics’ Good Food Guide and Georgia Grown Nationally, Local Harvest and National Young Farmers Coalition are good resources.


Chef Jennifer's

Cooking Tips:


Plan your menu around your grocer's weekly sales ad. Your ingredients will be in stock, in season, and on sale!


Shop, Cook & Eat Seasonally. In-season produce is fresh, inexpensive, and tasty!


Cook Once & Eat Twice. Cook a double batch of dishes like soups, beans and chili-for those days you don't feel like cooking!

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