What a Dietitian Eats in a Day: Easy, Immune-Boosting Food for Life in Quarantine

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immune-boostingGuest blog by Lee Crosby, RD, LD. Lee is a staff dietitian at Barnard Medical Center.

As COVID-19 spreads, we need to eat healthy now, more than ever. Yet now – more than ever! – I want to dive face-first into a bag of potato chips… and I’m guessing I’m not alone. Yet I know that produce, not Pringles, is the way to keep my body in top virus-fighting condition. Luckily, while TP is sold out, immune-boosting fruits and vegetables are usually in stock!

So, I’m excited to share a day of tasty food for this challenging time. Everything is quick and easy to prepare, because even now, time is tight as parents juggle work with childcare, and health care and other essential workers put in extra hours. Plus, no matter what your schedule, it’s nice to have a day where the most advanced cooking skill required is boiling water.

Breakfast: Cinnamon-blueberry oatmeal and easy breakfast salad

Cinnamon-blueberry oatmeal may be your new favorite breakfast. Cinnamon adds depth of flavor, cooked-in raisins provide natural sweetness and frozen blueberries get melty and delicious when poured over the piping hot oatmeal. It’s pure yum that’s ready in 3 minutes.

Blueberry oatmeal how-to: Combine a half-cup of old-fashioned (rolled) oats, a half cup of water, a half cup of vanilla almond milk, a handful of raisins, and lots of cinnamon in a bowl with tall sides. Microwave two and a half minutes, then top with frozen blueberries. Or make a larger batch on the stovetop.

I also have a breakfast salad nearly every morning. Stay with me here: A plate of tender greens, peppery arugula, tart apples, and sweet grapes drizzled with a sweet balsamic vinegar is a refreshing way to start the day.

What’s great about this breakfast:

• Oats are high in soluble fiber to help lower cholesterol. Since heart disease and COVID-19 are not friends, it’s important to keep our arteries clear and our tickers in top shape.

• Salad greens are loaded with potassium and magnesium to help lower blood pressure – and high blood pressure can lead to more severe COVID-19 infection.

• Eating blueberries may help your body make more virus-fighting “natural killer cells”!

Lunch: Hummus and veggie sandwich with chopped tomatoes and oranges

This lunch is “minimal assembly required” – my favorite kind of meal! Just slather a slice of 100% whole-grain bread with hummus (pick a no-added-oil variety) and add a thick slice of tomato and arugula for a spicy kick, then a second piece of bread on top. I had the rest of the tomato chopped up on the side with a juicy orange for dessert.

What’s great about this lunch:

• Whole-grain bread is packed with fiber. In the two slices of bread in my sandwich, I scored 10 grams of fiber, plus 10 grams of plant-powered protein. Considering that the average American only gets 15 grams of fiber daily, you’ll be way ahead of the game.

• Tomatoes and oranges are both are rich in vitamin C, which could help keep your immune system healthy.

Stress-busting snack: Almond milk hot cocoa, berries, and nuts

Chocolate isn’t just delicious – it contains flavanols, which can help keep blood vessels healthy. But how you get your fix makes a big difference. Chocolate bars – even vegan ones – are high in artery-clogging saturated fat. (It’s what makes the bar solid at room temperature.) So, I crush that chocolate craving with hot cocoa! My “cheat” is to sweeten it with Truvia (which contains stevia and erythritol), but you could use a little maple syrup or sugar.

I also had a few almonds roasted in their shells, a Brazil nut for a hit of selenium, and a serving of Bada Bean-brand fava bean snacks.

What’s great about this snack:

• 100% cocoa powder is rich in heart-healthy flavanols and fiber.

Dinner: Spaghetti and garlicky broccoli with lemon

Fun fact: Pasta is your friend! It’s high in plant-based protein and has a low glycemic index. That’s a fancy way of saying that pasta dissolves slowly, so blood sugar rises and falls gently after eating it.

The problem with pasta is often what people put on it – oil and cheese. Both are sky-high in calories with zero fiber. On the other hand, a simple marinara sauce is great, either alone or with cooked lentils or a low-fat, plant-based crumble mixed in. I used the latter, as they were out of lentils at the store.

I paired my spaghetti with garlicky broccoli with lemon. Lemon juice mellows lightly sautéed garlic, while lemon zest adds a sunny twist to this flavorful broccoli. Just don’t overcook it like I did. (Whoops!) Instead, steam it until it’s bright green and just tender.

Garlic-lemon broccoli how-to: Steam 1 bunch of broccoli florets on the stovetop or in the microwave. Finely chop three cloves of garlic and sauté in a small pan until the garlic is fragrant, but not brown. Use cooking spray or a little water to prevent sticking. Scrape garlic into a small bowl and mix in 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 2 teaspoons lemon zest. Pour the garlic mixture over the steamed broccoli, toss to coat, and finish with salt and pepper to taste.

Note: I had seconds of everything – I was hungry!

What’s great about dinner:

• See ya later, viral invaders! While we don’t have science on garlic and coronaviruses specifically, we do know that garlic contains a substance called allicin that can help fight the common cold. And broccoli, along with other cabbage-family vegetables like kale and collard greens, may promote immune health in the gut.

Dessert: Frozen grapes

The high natural sugar content of grapes means they don’t freeze super-hard like other fruits. Just let them sit a minute or two after taking them out of the freezer and you have all-natural, scrumptious little sorbet bombs! Freezing is also a great way to enjoy those grapes that got shoved to the back of the fruit drawer and are a little past their prime (but not moldy). I also had a Nature’s Bakery raspberry fig.

What’s healthy about dessert:

• Resveratrol, a substance found in red grapes and blueberries, may help block viruses from making copies of themselves. Sweet!

From breakfast salad to immune-boosting garlicky broccoli, I hope these meals have given you some ideas for upping your food game during this challenging time. If you’re an essential worker or health care provider on the front lines, thank you for your service!

Photo from here, with thanks.

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February 2023