Alabama Bright Light in the COVID-19 crisis: Advice from a nutritionist

Alabama Bright Light in the COVID-19 crisis: Advice from a nutritionist
The Alabama Cooperative Extension System, based at Auburn University, offers a wealth of information on nutrition and healthy eating, including tips for eating well during the COVID-19 crisis. (contributed)

The Alabama Bright Light series is taking a different approach during the COVID-19 crisis. We’re talking with experts who can offer advice on things we may not consider in these days of school and business closings and self-sequestering.

Auburn University Nutrition Specialist Katie Funderburk said good nutrition is crucial during the pandemic.

Auburn University nutritionist Katie Funderburk says many people now have more time to prepare their meals, making it easier to eat the kind of balanced diet that can boost immunity. (contributed)

“Plenty of foods will boost your immune system.” Funderburk said. “There’s no one food that will do that. Instead, a varied diet with balanced food groups is the best way to stay healthy, especially during such a crisis.”

As part of her job, Funderburk works with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

“We have an office in every county of the state, and during this challenging time we are working online and disseminating the information that way,” she said. “We are all working remotely to support social distancing and to ensure that we are prepared.”

Funderburk stresses that cooking for yourself is usually healthier than eating sourced food or picking up from a restaurant.

“A big reason a lot of people don’t cook is because they don’t have time. Right now, time is a resource we actually have a lot of,” Funderburk said. “A great use of this extra time would be to help your kids get involved in the kitchen. Research shows that if kids help prepare something, they’re more likely to eat it as well as develop a preference for those healthy foods.”

Auburn University nutritionist Katie Funderburk offers healthy eating tips during COVID-19 crisis from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System website,, has lots of nutrition and cooking information, such as:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables are a great option when available. While under quarantine, consider other ways to keep fruits and vegetables in your meal plan. Canned and frozen produce are great options and will last the entire time under quarantine. Choose canned fruits packed in juice instead of syrup. Keep a colorful plate in mind when planning foods for meals. Carrots, peppers, broccoli, spinach, asparagus and lots of other vegetables are available in canned and frozen varieties.
  • Picking foods across the color spectrum can be a good way to balance your diet and boost immunity during times of widespread illness. (contributed)

    When caring for a sick family member while quarantined, keep a steady supply of tummy-friendly foods. Remember to follow your physician’s dietary orders at all times. Foods that can be introduced as permitted include clear liquids and broth, ice pops and gelatin snack cups, electrolyte replacement drinks, dry toast, saltine crackers and pretzels, bananas, white rice and unsweetened applesauce.

  • During normal times, lunch is usually eaten at school or work, so be sure your shopping list includes enough food for all three meals each day. If snacks are needed, consider flavored water, fruits, vegetables, low-fat cheese sticks, nuts or lightly salted and buttered microwave popcorn. Avoid processed snacks with added fats, sugar and salt.
  • Plan meals that are vitamin-rich, especially in vitamin D, often referred to as the sunshine vitamin. Being indoors for extended periods may result in low vitamin D levels. Add to your grocery list foods that are good sources of vitamin D, such as spinach, fortified cereals, milk, orange juice and canned salmon, tuna and mackerel.
  • Cooking with family members is a great time to share family recipes, teach children cooking skills and break up the monotony of being in the house for a long time. Make your own pizza, bake fresh breads or have a cookie-decorating contest.
  • If your pharmacy is in the store where you shop for groceries, be sure to add medication to your shopping list. Make sure you have enough medicine to last during the quarantine.
  • Contact Andrea Morris at ACES at 256-372-8082 for more food shopping tips. Also visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for emergency preparedness and response.

When people heed professional advice about eating well and dealing with emergencies like COVID-19, Funderburk feels she has done her job.

“Hearing stories from the community about how the work that we’ve done has helped children eat more fruits and vegetables, and how we’ve helped families afford healthy food on a budget, it makes it all worthwhile,” she said.

Alabama Bright Lights captures the stories, through words, pictures and video, of some of our state’s brightest lights who are working to make Alabama an even better place to live, work and play. Award-winning journalist Karim Shamsi-Basha tells their inspiring stories. Email him comments, as well as suggestions on people to profile, at [email protected].

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