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Duchenne Program’s Blog

Making Mindful Food Choices in Uncertain Times

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Maintaining good nutrition can be a challenge. Period. Throw a global pandemic into the mix, and fueling one’s family with functional food choices can feel positively Herculean. “Food is a sense of security, especially at times like these,” explains pediatric dietician Jennifer Hall, a team member of The Duchenne Program at UMass Chan Medical School, Hall is dedicated to helping families “learn how nutrition can play a vital, therapeutic role in optimizing health.” As COVID-19 restrictions continue to severely alter the way we move through the world, Hall offers some guidance for thinking about the big picture— and putting nutrition into perspective—as well as myriad minute details to guide your gut in choosing all things gastronomic. Bon Appetit!

Planning and preparing “balanced” meals got you down? Rest assured.

Make a plan and stick to it. While this might feel overwhelming at first, a little planning goes a long way. Well-thought out meals “provide nutrition, satiety, satisfaction and—yes—comfort for you and your families,” says Hall. Also, kids are more likely to look forward to and enjoy the meal when they’ve been involved in the planning. Older kids will enjoy the freedom that comes with choosing what’s for dinner; younger kids can measure out or safely chop ingredients. “This necessary task is a great way to incorporate math and science skills as so many parents adjust to home-schooling,” Hall reminds families. Finally, try to embrace this situation as a chance to try out new recipes, reduce food waste, and get creative stretching the dollar. Make double batches of dishes like soups, stews and casseroles to ensure a ready supply of nutritious late-night snacks or next-day lunches without the added fuss of more prep.

CONSIDER: Slow-Cooker Chicken Tacos, Easy One-Pot Red Beans and Rice, or Vegetable and Stars Soup for easy, satisfying meals your whole family will love (plus leftovers to boot!) For recipe ideas, check out

Having another snack attack? There’s science behind that. 

Take a moment to consider if you are truly hungry or simply bored. It may feel like that bag of Cape Cod chips is calling your name, but is it really? “Many of our cravings are biologically driven to help decrease stress,” explains Hall who suggests using this extended period of time at home to fine-tune how we regulate our appetite (known as a Hunger Satiety Scale). Be aware of these common pitfalls that can lead to consuming empty calories and visiting the pantry more than necessary:

  • Falling out of a regular, routine snack schedule
  • Choosing unsatisfying foods (those lacking protein, fiber, flavor and fat)
  • Using food to assuage feelings of fear and anxiety

If you realize you are not physically hungry, create a go-to list of activities to take the place of eating. Great examples: Take a walk, read a book, call a friend. If the kitchen is in fact calling your name, get a jump start on making dinner and enlist as many hands as possible to tackle a big pot of soup or chili (see above). 

CONSIDER: Roasted Beet Hummus, Apple Cinnamon Baked Oatmeal, or Tropical Fruit Yogurt Smoothie for fun, filling snacks that will keep your family moving until the next meal (again, consider a double batch!) For recipe ideas, check out

Grocery shopping anxiety anyone? Breathe deeply and think outside the box.

Planning out and shopping for three square meals a day is hard enough to begin with, but now we have to reduce our trips to the market and maybe even adjust to restricted income. These are trying times. Do your best and don’t sweat the rest. Consider produce carefully and purchase a variety including quick-to-use (salad greens, berries and bell peppers) as well as hardy veggies that last longer (think cauliflower, carrots and cabbage). Have you ever bought dried legumes like beans, lentils and peas? They pack a powerful nutrient punch and stretch further than the canned variety. Just remember to factor in up to 24 hours soaking time! When buying canned goods, look for no added salt or sugar. Keep a few bags of frozen veggies and fruits in the freezer – they’re an affordable option once your perishable produce is gone. Finally, save money buying in bulk (from oatmeal and nuts to potatoes and apples). Large quantities of meat and poultry can be divided and frozen as well. For families experiencing food insecurity, please see attached link about adjustments in services such as WIC, SNAP, and the National School Breakfast and Lunch program.

NOTE: Jennifer Hall is a pediatric dietician at UMass Memorial Medical Center, as well as part of the team at The Duchenne Program at UMass Chan Medical School. She earned her undergraduate degree in Food and Nutrition from Framingham State University and completed her dietetic training at FSU under their Coordinated Program while pursuing her Bachelor of Science. Jennifer has specialized in pediatrics throughout her career while working in a variety of settings including at UMass, in private practice, industry, schools, and within the community.

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