As all of us continue to adjust to a new normal amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, it’s essential to practice good self-care and prioritize our health. Margaret Martin, RD, MS, LDN, CDE, a registered dietitian at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), highlights the importance of staying well-nourished through nutrition. “Your body’s ability to fight infection and disease depends on your immune system. Although there are no special foods or dietary supplements that can prevent COVID-19, healthy living strategies can help support your immune system now and all year long,” she says.
Margaret answers below some frequently asked questions from patients and caregivers on how to eat healthy during this time.
LLS is here for you. We encourage blood cancer patients, survivors, caregivers and families to contact our Information Specialists for free, one-on-one support at 800-955-4572 or by email or chat here.
Q. Can I catch the virus from food?
COVID-19 is not a foodborne illness. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports, “Currently, there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. Like other viruses, it is possible that the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on surfaces or objects. For that reason, it is critical to follow the four key steps of food safety — clean, separate, cook, and chill.”
Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling food per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. Food safety rules also apply to take-out and delivery foods, which should be eaten within two hours of cooking, and leftovers must be stored safely and reheated to a safe temperature. For more information on food safety for blood cancer patients, view LLS’s Food and Nutrition Facts.
Q. How can I make meal times feel less lonely?
Sharing a meal virtually with loved ones and friends is a great way to boost spirits and stay in touch. Schedule video chats over meal times. Consider hosting a virtual potluck where everyone shares their favorite dishes or recipes.
Q. What should I do about grocery shopping?
If you are a cancer patient or caregiver, ask someone to go grocery shopping for you. Many grocery stores offer online ordering, so you can ask a friend or neighbor to pick up for you and leave at an agreed upon location (e.g., front porch). You can also try ordering your groceries or meal kits online for delivery to your house. Choose “no-contact” delivery options and order earlier than usual as there might be wait times. Be sure to wash your hands and clean your counter and any other surfaces you’ve touched after putting away groceries.
Q: How can I eat healthy during this time?
You might need to make adjustments or get creative to eat healthy at home while self-isolating. Try these tips:
- Explore new recipes. Search recipes by the ingredients you have already using websites such as Fridge to Table and SuperCook (also available as a mobile app).
- Make the most of leftovers. Store leftovers following USDA guidelines to help keep foods safe, fresh and flavorful for longer.
- Use canned and frozen fruits and vegetables. Canned and frozen produce can be just as nutritious as fresh foods because they are picked and preserved at peak freshness. Look for low-sodium options. For canned fruits, choose those canned in water or 100 percent fruit juice, not syrup. Remember to clean the lids of canned foods before opening.
- Incorporate shelf-stable pantry staples into your meals including beans, legumes, peas, and whole grains such as rice, quinoa, or pasta.
- Opt for minimally processed foods with a short list of ingredients to supplement fresh foods. Consider buying frozen foods and meals for variety and to save time and energy on food prep.
- Add variety to your protein choices with eggs, nut butters, beans, seeds and dairy products, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, tofu and packaged fish, including tuna and salmon.
- Use dry or evaporated milk if fresh milk is not available readily.
Q. Where can I find assistance to help cover the cost of food and other expenses?
LLS is amplifying our efforts to provide free information and support during this time. As part of these efforts, we have established the LLS COVID-19 Patient Financial Aid Program with our partners to help blood cancer patients who are experiencing financial hardship due to the pandemic. Eligible blood cancer patients will receive an individual one-time $250 stipend per patient to assist with non-medical expenses, such as food, housing, utilities and other needs. Patients do not need to have a COVID-19 diagnosis and there are no income criteria to qualify. This is just one of our robust financial assistance programs to help blood cancer patients in need.
In addition, many organizations and government agencies are changing eligibility guidelines for food assistance programs in response to COVID-19. Resources include:
USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) works with state agencies to facilitate the below programs, among others. Read the FNS Response to COVID-19 here.
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): provides nutrition benefits to supplement the food budget of families in need
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): provides nutrition resources for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk
- Meals for Kids: the USDA is working with states to continue providing meals to students who rely on free or reduced-price meals at school. Families can use the USDA Meals for Kids Site Finder to learn more.
The USDA National Hunger Hotline can be reached at 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479) or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (1-877-842-6273) (for Spanish).
Meals on Wheels provides nutritious meals delivered to seniors at no or reduced cost. Use the Meals on Wheels locator to find your local program.
2-1-1. Check local resources, such meal delivery and other assistance programs, by dialing 2-1-1.
LLS provides PearlPoint Nutrition Services® to patients and caregivers of all cancer types, offering free nutrition education and consultations.