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Tips for a healthy coronavirus-era diet, from the nutritionist who ate at McDonald’s for a month

Canned goods and non-perishable items. (Shirley Min/WHYY)

Canned goods and non-perishable items. (Shirley Min/WHYY)

Keeping a balanced diet can be harder now that everyone has to maintain social distancing, which can mean fewer trips to the grocery store, or maybe more takeout from your favorite local restaurants.

Fresh produce might be gone by the time you get to a supermarket, so you have to make do with shelf-stable food like cans or pasta or whatever is in your kitchen.

Nyree Dardarian is an assistant clinical professor of nutrition science at Drexel University and the director of the Center for Integrated Nutrition & Performance. She also once ate a McDonald’s-only diet for a month to prove that you can still be healthy even if you’re limited to only fast food.

“It wasn’t the healthiest, but I didn’t gain any weight and I didn’t lose any weight, so I maintained my overall health,” Dardarian said. “This is temporary, so a few days without fresh fruit and vegetables is not going to be ultimately harmful.”

Here are her tips for staying healthy during the pandemic, while avoiding harmful diet culture.

Focus on getting fruits and vegetables when you can, even if they’re frozen or canned

When she does go to a grocery store, Dardarian said, she looks for fresh fruits and vegetables to make a balanced meal along with rice and pasta and food she has at home.

For example, if you just have rice, she suggests adding canned beans, corn, tomatoes and maybe some avocados to make a grain bowl. If you’re concerned about too much sodium in canned vegetables, you can rinse them, she said.

Stick to a schedule that works for you. No one expects you to make breakfast at 7 a.m. every day.

“Keeping some sort of a schedule and adhering to that is very crucial in maintaining overall health, otherwise it’s random trips to the pantry to get snack after snack,” Dardarian said.

She has three children and makes breakfast for everyone, now at 10 a.m.

“I do miss just packing a lunch box. I used to complain about lunch boxes, now I would love to pack a lunch box and say, ‘See you at 4 after school.’”

Use your leftovers creatively; you should never waste food, especially not now

She said her family has gotten especially open to eating leftovers. For example, they had stale bread that they made into pizza.

Don’t feel bad about what you’re eating

“I’m not going to say anything is a no-go, you have to make do with what you have,” Dardarian said. “Food is psychology, and if you need to feel good at that moment, and food sometimes does fill that hole, it’s OK.”

A WHYY colleague tweeted that she splits a frozen pizza for breakfast at least three times a week. Dardarian said, “It’s the equivalent to me of having a few pieces of bread with some cheese and some tomato.”

Drink water

“I know there’s a lot of people right now who are making lots of jokes about drinking a lot of alcohol,” she said, “but alcohol dehydrates you.”

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