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The Pandemic Has Changed The Way We Eat

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Take a second to think back to your eating habits this time last year. Did you eat breakfast in your car or on the bus, commuting to work? For lunch, did you walk to the local deli for a sandwich? Did you go out to dinner with friends on the weekend? It's so painful remembering these things. Well, now, almost a year into the pandemic, our nutrition probably looks pretty different than it used to. Sapna Batheja has ideas on how to grapple with our changing diet. She's a dietitian and a professor at George Mason University's Department of Food and Nutrition Studies. And she joins me now.

Welcome to the program.

SAPNA BATHEJA: Hi, Lulu. Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What are some of the concerns you're hearing about eating habits during this pandemic?

BATHEJA: Well, certainly, this pandemic has impacted and changed lives of Americans. A lot of folks are engaging in fasting, restricted eating, skipping meals and overeating. In fact, a lot of individuals are reporting that their diets have worsened during this pandemic.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A lot of us are stress eating, snacking. You know, we're sitting in front of our computers. We're maybe more sedentary than we're used to being. If we've gained weight during this time - asking for a friend - what are some of the action steps we can take to try and curb our habits?

BATHEJA: Oh, well, there's a lot of things that we can do, a lot of different strategies that we have. One of the first things that you can do is just being aware of it. So once you have that awareness, the second step is really being mindful of it. Just like you said, snacking - so snacking is a huge issue, especially when you're at home, when you're sitting in front of the computer screen or even in front of the TV.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's not even stress. Sometimes it's boredom.

BATHEJA: Yes, exactly. It helps us stay attentive. If you are going to snack, I would recommend that you plan for it, keeping healthier snacks on hand. If you don't have it at home, then you're not going to be able to eat it when you're at home. And likewise, planning for your meals, too - so if you know that you're going to have a good, healthy, balanced dinner, then hopefully that will help you throughout the rest of the day.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is also a time of economic hardship. And a lot of people are struggling to make ends meet. It is a time of food insecurity as well. How can you still try to prioritize the nutritional value of the meals that you are getting? - because some people are very much having to juggle the kind of things that they put on the table.

BATHEJA: That's a very good question. And just planning for it actually does help you - save you money as well. So if you keep a grocery list and you know that you only go to the grocery store once a week, that grocery list is going to help you save money on gas by saving on extra trips to the grocery store. And it's also going to help keep you accountable so you're less likely to make those impulse purchases, right? So you want to make sure that you keep a grocery list and stick to only the food that you are going to need for that week or the next two weeks or whatever it is.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And I suppose we should be paying extra special attention to how we're feeding our bodies right now because, of course, we are in a global pandemic.

BATHEJA: Yes, absolutely. So one of the things that we need to keep in mind is that, by the time that you get sick, it's almost too late to really strengthen your body and your immune system. The time is now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Sapna Batheja of the George Mason University Department of Food and Nutrition Studies.

Thank you very much.

BATHEJA: Thank you, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.