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Is it possible to eat nutritious, budget-friendly meals during quarantine?

(March is National Nutrition Month and to commemorate the occasion, Hillcrest Medical Center and Oklahoma Heart Institute dietitian Andrea Shotton will share her expertise on the topic of nutrition in a pandemic through a series of weekly blogs. In the first edition, Shotton discusses if it is possible to eat nutritious meals that are also budget friendly.)

Going into quarantine has become all too common during the pandemic.

From this isolation, food insecurity and mental health issues have risen; all of which may alter appetite and change food preferences. It has become common knowledge now if you are overweight or have diabetes, you place yourself at higher risk for a symptomatic COVID-19 response. With pandemic-related unemployment, we are seeing an increase in food insecurity that has been associated with a poor diet and health.

Poor diet and health are also associated with an increased risk of being overweight, having diabetes, heart disease and/or cancer. These risks place a higher importance of focusing on budget-friendly meals that are nutritious during a time of quarantine rather, than choosing cheap foods that feed unhealthy habits.

In this case, the term budget-friendly is defined as an average of $1.50 per meal per person, also what an individual would receive from SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. Also consider no hot food purchases nor prepared foods are allowed through SNAP benefits. (snaped.fns.usda.gov/nutrition-education/recipes). Additional avenues like food pantries and the food boxes that have been given away throughout the pandemic full of local farmer’s fresh produce and dairy to help close additional food gaps throughout the month. 

Some have used online grocery shopping with curbside pickup or delivery to aid during quarantine.  Delivery may be a better choice for individuals with limited transportation. Supermarkets have been incentivized to build their stores in areas of food deserts to aid those with limited transportation and food insecurity. However, one can bypass the need to shop at corner or dollar stores with the pandemic and increase in grocery store delivery. Delivery choices provide the below versatile, budget-friendly nutritious choices that work even with limited kitchen tools and storage availability.

Quarantine has kept many individuals home, leaving more time to cook meals from scratch; while others still at home may have less time because of multiple roles/jobs, having unpredictable work hours, childcare responsibilities, etc.

No matter your circumstance, here are some meal-saving tips:

1. Plan meals. Meal prepping and grocery shopping/planning during down time increases the likelihood to remain organized and on budget.

2. Take inventory. Know what you already have prior to shopping, then create a grocery list based on desired recipes and foods already on hand. Plan for at least one or two nights a week of meatless meals that are still high in healthy protein foods but remain good for the wallet.

3. Eat seasonally. Fruits and veggies that are in season tend to cost less.

4. Consider growing herbs/spices. Herbs are easy to grow and do not take up much space.

5. Buy in bulk. This helps with foods that have long shelf lives such rice, pasta, cereal, flour, dried fruit, nuts, beans and lentils, to name a few.  However, although you may find deals at membership warehouses, their prices are not always the lowest. Also, if the package is too much food, consider splitting it with a friend.