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COVID-19: Maximizing Your Healthy Grocery Choices

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Americans are strongly encouraged to support health with good nutrition. This can pose a challenge for those faced with meeting the dietary needs of individual family members and food budgets, along with having to navigate grocery stores struggling to keep shelves stocked.

Knowing which items make healthier choices and utilizing online resources can greatly assist households in obtaining nutritious foods in these unprecedented times.      

Select Produce with the Longest Shelf Life

Some items last longer on the shelf, while others fare better in the refrigerator. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), along with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), provides FoodKeeper Storage guidelines as well as the free FoodKeeper app for download. Refer to these guidelines and use the app to help keep track of how long your produce will last and to learn best practices for storage. (Surprisingly, some produce such as cherry tomatoes, dates, potatoes and jicama lasts longer in the pantry than the refrigerator). 

  • Top lasting vegetables: cherry tomato (10 days), jicama (4 months), onions, carrots, potato, garlic, winter squash (1 month)

  • Top lasting fruits: apples (3 weeks), shredded coconut (3 weeks), citrus (10 days), raisins and other dried fruit (6 months)

Choose Healthier Boxed/Canned Items

  • Proteins: canned or dried beans, bean soups, lentils, peas, tuna, chicken, sardines, canned/packaged salmon

  • Vegetables: any canned vegetable (low sodium preferred), any canned tomato product, spaghetti sauce

  • Fruit: canned fruit in own juice, low sugar apple sauce cans/packets

  • Grains: cornbread, cornmeal, whole grain flours, quinoa, oats, wild rice, whole grain, low sugar cereals

  • Nuts/seeds: any (low sodium preferred)

Items to Avoid or Minimize

  • Tempting high sugar or fat snack foods such as chips, candy, cookies, muffins or donuts

  • Fruit roll up or fruit snacks (high sugar)

  • Sweetened beverages: soda, sweet tea, fruit punch, lemonade or sugary drinks

  • Sugary cereals

  • Processed meats (bologna, sausage, bacon) and shelf-stable canned meats such as canned ham products or meat sticks

Seek out Substitutes

If you are having challenges at the grocery store finding the foods you usually eat, here are some replacement options for the short term:

  • Chicken breast: Look to the frozen chicken aisle for a solution. If no poultry is available, consider fresh or frozen fish or seafood as a lean alternative. Canned/pouched chicken, tuna or salmon also may suffice.

  • Eggs: Look for egg substitutes made with egg whites. If needed only for a recipe, there are a variety of egg substitutes, such as mixing 1 Tbsp ground flax seed and 2 ½ tablespoons of water to substitute for an egg in the recipe.

  • Lean ground beef, chicken or turkey: Check out the frozen section for soy crumbles. Or substitute beans in the recipe in place of beef. If only fattier ground meat is available, you can cook it and drain the grease, then rinse the meat with hot water in a colander to reduce fat content. 

  • Bread: The bread aisle may be empty, but there may be an easy substitute. Look for items such as tortillas, bagels (check refrigeration, freezer and shelves), English muffin or corn bread mix. 

  • Milk: Choose from powdered, low-fat evaporated, shelf stable, soy, oat, rice, almond, cashew or coconut milk

Ensuring that you get the proper dietary nutrients is a vital step toward supporting a healthy immune system. In addition to the federal agencies’ guidelines at, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also provides canned and frozen food tips, with a focus on meeting nutritional needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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