(03/26/20) BATON ROUGE, La. — As the coronavirus pandemic causes changing routines and people spend more time at home, it is now more important than ever to maintain or create a healthy home food environment, said LSU AgCenter nutrition specialist Elizabeth Gollub.
The home food environment refers to both availability and accessibility of foods and beverages in the home. It depends on making healthier food and beverage choices at the point of purchase, such as at a grocery store, and on organizing, storing and arranging foods in a refrigerator or pantry to optimize access to healthier choices, Gollub said.
“The logic here is that the easiest choice is the more likely choice, so make it easy to choose healthy foods. And this applies to adults and children,” she said.
To do this, Gollub suggests making healthy foods easy to reach by putting them at arm level at the front of a shelf and easy to eat by having them prepped and portioned.
Make healthy foods attractive, too. “We first taste with our eyes,” she said.
A healthy home food environment also involves creating and maintaining meal and snack routines or schedules as much as possible.
“You alone or you and your children might be spending a lot more time at home these days, but you should not be spending a lot more time snacking,” Gollub said.
This does not mean you should eat at a certain time even if you are not hungry. On the other hand, she also discourages “grazing throughout the day.”
Gollub encourages eating meals together with others in your household.
“This could be a very stressful time for many households, but try to make meals a social time — a time to talk and, for parents with children in the home, a time to model healthy eating behaviors,” she said.
Gollub encourages cueing or prompting healthy food choices by reducing exposure to excessive and unhealthy eating suggestions or opportunities.
A pitcher or container of water placed on your countertop is a good reminder, or cue, to drink water throughout the day. The chocolate cake you baked yesterday and placed on your countertop also is a cue to eat cake throughout the day, which could result in excessive eating.
“It is better to store that cake in a place that is less accessible,” she said.
Exposure to food and beverage advertisements, especially among children, is a way of cuing that frequently suggests and increases the desire for less healthy choices, Gollub said.
To encourage making healthy food choices, Gollub offers a few suggestions.
— Organize the refrigerator to keep healthy snacks and quick meal items up front and center, positioned where children, teens and adults can see them and reach them.
— Prepare — wash, cut, peel, etc. — a plate of colorful vegetables and a fruit bowl to eat as snacks or as part of a meal.
— Store yesterday’s leftovers in clear containers, portioned if needed, and readily available for today’s lunch.
— Keep low-fat or fat-free yogurt, especially Greek style, handy and visible.
— Keep water in the refrigerator for easy, refreshing hydration.
And keep everything replenished as needed.
“Keep those less-healthy snack and dessert items, such as cheesecakes, pecan pies or fudge sauce, toward the back of the refrigerator and on a higher shelf,” she said. “They still can be available, but it will take a little more effort. They should not be the default choice.”
Gollub says to apply the same concept to your pantry.
“Keep those pretzels, nuts, dried fruit, low-sugar cereals and whole-grain crackers at eye level or in easy reach,” she said. “Place the chips, candy, cookies, high-fat energy bars and soda on a higher shelf, creating a challenge to access.”
A few small changes in the organization of your refrigerator and pantry can create a healthy home food environment that helps everyone in the household develop and maintain better eating habits, Gollub said.
Keeping a pitcher of water on the kitchen counter can serve as a reminder to drink it throughout the day. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter
Place items such as fruits and vegetables within easy reach in the refrigerator to encourage family members to snack on them rather than less-healthful choices. Choose a shelf that is at eye level to ensure healthful snacks are visible. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter