By Carol Harrison, RD

Plexiglass, masks, hand sanitizer… COVID-19 has changed how Canadians shop, cook, and eat. And, while panic buying has subsided, other challenges have persisted. Here are three ways to help your clients and participants eat healthier in pandemic times, including hot topics and helpful advice you can share.

Provide “basic” nutrition advice.

Hot topics: immune health, stress eating

Since the pandemic began, there’s been a lot of buzz about immune health. No, your clients can’t “boost” their immune system as in “kick it into overdrive,” but they can strengthen and support it. How? They can do this by eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, managing stress, and staying active – basic advice, yes, but many people struggle with the basics. That’s where you can help. Remind them that no single supplement, food or herb has quality evidence behind it to support claims of supercharging the immune system.

A close-second hot topic is stress eating. Many people eat to self-soothe, but this shouldn’t be our only way of dealing with stress. Encourage people to build stress busters (such as attending your class!) into their daily routine. Remind them to eat regularly and choose wholesome foods at each meal, including protein and fibre-rich choices for lasting energy. Limiting distractions while eating also helps to avoid mindlessly overeating. And, let people know that if they really want a cookie, they shouldn’t deprive themselves. Eat it and enjoy it – just don’t eat the whole batch!

Calm their fears about food.

Hot topics: organics, farming

The pandemic has heightened food safety concerns and underlined the link between nutrition and health. It’s important to remind people that organic and conventionally grown foods (veggies, fruits, etc.) are equally safe and nutritious, especially now that many Canadians are facing financial stress. In fact, if farmers didn’t have access to pesticides, veggies and fruits would cost about 50% more. We should focus on eating more produce, period. Veggies and fruits support a healthy immune system and Canadians do not eat enough.

This Pesticide Residue Calculator is a helpful way to illustrate the risk posed by pesticides. For example, a child could eat 340 servings of conventionally grown apples in one day without any negative effects from pesticide residue, even if the apples were to have the highest amount of residue the USDA has recorded for this fruit.

Another hot topic under this theme is farming. People increasingly want transparency in food production. For trusted advice on Canadian farming practices, check out Canadian Food Focus. Its “On the Farm” section answers common questions about agriculture, such as, “How do farmers plant their crops?” or “How are beef cattle raised?”

Share shopping and cooking advice.

Hot topics: buying Canadian food, cooking fatigue

The pandemic is a health crisis, but thanks to Canada’s farmers it did not become a food crisis. The sight of empty supermarket shelves reminded many of us how important it is to support our farmers so they can keep supplying us with healthy, affordable, high-quality food.

An easy way to support farmers is to buy what’s in season. After all, local is fresh, and fresh tastes best. For packaged foods, remind people to look for “Product of Canada” on the labels – that means at least 98% of the ingredients are home-grown.

Another hot topic is cooking fatigue. Some people are overwhelmed by cooking seven days a week, while others are bored of eating the same meals over and over. Give your class participants fresh ideas for wholesome meals, made with quality Canadian ingredients. Share smart strategies like “cook once, eat twice”; make-ahead meals; no-cook meals; five-ingredient recipes; and even breakfast-for-dinner ideas. For more tips and recipes, visit Canadian Food Focus.

About Carol Harrison

Carol Harrison is a registered dietitian who loves her daily workouts! She has a food nutrition communications company in Toronto. Follow Carol on Twitter and Instagram.