COVID Can-do Healthy Habits

Linda York portrait
Linda York is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at UConn Health. (Photo by Tina Encarnacion)

As a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator working from home providing nutritional and diabetes education, I have heard how some of my patients are gaining weight, eating more out of boredom or stress and exercising less during isolation. However, some of my patients are taking a can-do approach by walking more, eating better, trying more recipes and losing weight. In short, they are becoming healthier. This is a good thing because by improving our health, we can prevent many chronic diseases such as prediabetes, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, hyperlipidemia and orthopedic injuries. Also, adopting healthy habits can reduce your risk of viral infections of any kind. So let’s take a look at some of these COVID can-do healthy habits.

Healthy Habit # 1: Physical exercise

Since the stay-at-home order was put in place, walking has exploded in popularity and everybody is outside. Let’s keep it up, and aim for whatever you can do. Depending on your level of fitness, it may start with a 10 minute walk a day with an increase by 5 minutes a week trying to get to a goal of 45 minutes each day. This will help you lose some weight and reduce stress. Being mindful of the beauty of nature that abounds surely helps. Hiking has increased, too. The “All Trails” app is a great tool for easy, moderate-to- hard trails (just get there early). If walking is difficult, perhaps chair exercises or stationary bike outside or in front of your favorite window is an option. For inside exercise, YouTube has many choices. Leslie Sazzone’s “Walking Off the Weight” video on YouTube or on DVD is a favorite of my patients.

Healthy Habit # 2: Manage Stress

This is easier said than done with so many people laid off from work. However, there are free online yoga classes. I have taken several which can range from gentle to Vinyassa – which is more advanced. If you’re new to yoga, try gentle yoga with meditation. You can find meditation on YouTube as well. Practicing meditation and breathing are helpful tools. Isolation can increase stress. Reach out to someone by telephone, email or an outdoor visit. During the COVID pandemic, there has been an increase in alcohol intake so be mindful of your drinking. One 5-ounce glass of wine has 120 calories, which adds up calorie-wise.

Healthy Habit # 3: Healthy Diet

As usual, a plant-based, Mediterranean, low-fat, portion-controlled diet using the plate method is recommended. Go to For every meal, try to make half of your plate fruits and vegetables, a quarter of your plate as lean protein and a quarter should be complex carbohydrates that are high in fiber and less topical fats and sugars. Now may be the time to try and eat more vegetarian meals. Why? Vegetarian meals provide more fiber which help promote healthy gut bacteria, provide less cholesterol and/or saturated fat, and are rich in antioxidant/fiber rich fruits and vegetables. By adding more fiber, we drop the amount of calories we consume because high-fiber foods fill us up more. Also, vegetarian ingredients are easy to find and stock up on during COVID time when going to the supermarket less and meat availability is less. Purchase staples such as beans, legumes, peas, nonfat plain yogurt, eggs, bread, frozen, fresh, canned fruits or veggies, canned plum tomatoes, pasta, potatoes, nonfat milk, onions, carrots, cauliflower, chicken, tofu, salmon, shrimp and oatmeal are all great to have to make the recipes below.

Since many of us have more time to cook, try something new such as baking whole wheat bread like batter (no-knead bread) or traditional bread. It’s fun, and really all you need is time and some yeast (sometimes hard to come these days.)

Healthy Habit # 4:  A Good Night’s Sleep

Practice good sleep hygiene by going to bed at the same time each night, drinking less wine or alcohol before bed and putting cell phones and devices in another room. Room blackening shades may be helpful.

Here are some recipes (some from patients), that I have been making with the staples above. I hope you enjoy them:

Aromatic Carrot Soup

Ingredients: Combine 2 tablespoons butter and olive oil with 2 medium chopped onions, ¼ teaspoon ginger, 1/8 teaspoon mace, 10 medium peeled and sliced carrots, 8 cups chicken or vegetable broth, 1 tablespoon grated orange zest, 1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice with salt and pepper to taste.

Process: Melt butter and oil in large sauce pan over low heat. Add onions and cook stirring until wilted, sprinkle ginger, and mace then stir for 1 minute. Add carrots, broth and orange zest. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer partially covered 20 minutes and cool. Then puree in food processor or Magic Bullet, stir in orange juice, salt and pepper. Serves 8.

Cauliflower Fried Rice Bowl

Ingredients: 3 cups raw grated cauliflower, ½ cup frozen peas, ½ cup thinly sliced carrots, 3 or 4 garlic cloves, ½ cup diced onion, ½ tablespoons. olive oil, 2 eggs scrambled and 3  tablespoons soy sauce.

Process: In large pan, sauté garlic and onions in olive oil on medium heat until onions become soft and transparent, Next add in peas, carrots and cook until carrots soften and peas are heated through for 3 to 4 minutes. Next stir in scrambled eggs, cauliflower and soy sauce cooking for 5 to 7 more minutes. Now add in your favorite protein and vegetable like broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, chicken, tofu, and salmon.

Fruit Crisp

Made with apples, berries, cinnamon, oatmeal, ½ cup margarine, and brown sugar. Put fruit on bottom and add mixture to top and bake at 350 for a half hour.

Green Veggie Shake

Blend in magic bullet 1 carrot, 1 cup spinach, 1 apple, and 1 cup broccoli with 1 teaspoon ginger with 1 cup nonfat yogurt or 1% milk (a great way to get all your fruits and veggies for one day). If cold out, heat it up as a soup, if hot out drink it as a shake.

Lentil Curry

Ingredients: 3 tab butter, 4 garlic cloves, 1 ½ tablespoons ginger, 1 chopped onion, 2 tablespoons curry powder, ½ teaspoon turmeric powder, ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 ¼ teaspoons salt, ½ teaspoons pepper, 1 cup dried lentils, 14 ounces of milk, 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, 3 cups water.

Process: Sauté onion, with butter, garlic and ginger. Cook stirring until onion is gold. Cook off spices of curry powder and turmeric for 1 ½ minutes, add all rest of ingredients and stir. Bring to a simmer then place lid on and adjust heat to low for a gentle simmer for 30 minutes, then remove lid and simmer for another 10 minutes. (Lentils should be soft, sauce thick and creamy.) Serve with rice and nonfat Greek yogurt. Top with chopped cilantro.