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Immunity-Boosting Meals for Sheltering in Place

Good food can be a real comfort when you’re sheltering in place for days. But we all need to resist the temptation to boredom-binge on sweets, or fatty, salty snacks. In this podcast, you will get advice on how to shop, cook, and eat to help your household stay healthy during the pandemic.

Pamela Riggs is the outpatient nutrition coordinator and registered dietician nutritionist at MarinHealth. Here, she shares tips for planning and preparing wholesome meals for the whole family. Listen and find out what specific foods and nutrients to focus on for a  healthy immune system.
Immunity-Boosting Meals for Sheltering in Place
Featured Speaker:
Pamela Riggs, MS, RDN, CSOWM
Committed to improving the quality of life for others, Pamela shares her nutrition expertise and knowledge with empathy and compassion. She is a Registered Dietitian and in 2013 joined MarinHealthSM as a nutrition practitioner. She brings over 25 years of professional experience in the field of nutrition, fitness and health promotion. 

Learn more about Pamela Riggs, MS, RDN, CSOWM
Immunity-Boosting Meals for Sheltering in Place

Bill Klaproth (Host):  So we’re all cooking at home now. So how can you create nutritious meals while sheltering in place? Let’s find out with Pamela Riggs, outpatient nutrition coordinator and registered dietician nutritionist at MarinHealth.

This is the Healing podcast from MarinHealth. Pamela, thank you so much for your time. So we’re all kind of stuck inside now. We’re all cooking at home more. How should we start this? Should we start by preparing a meal plan? What should we do?

Pamela Riggs, MS, RDN, CSOWM (Guest):   That’s an excellent way to get started here. Yeah, we’ve all been sheltering-in-place for several weeks now. I think it is a good idea to think ahead about what we want to fuel ourselves with. How can we inventory what we have in our pantries and our refrigerator? People are trying to minimize the number of trips to the grocery store. So it really does help to just take some time to think about what it is my family enjoys eating, what do we have on hand. There are some recipes for those who like to cook. What do I want to do this week? Then make that shopping list, get it organized. Plan to buy enough for at least a week of meal plans. Think about ways that you might be able to batch cook. So like when you're cooking, you're really making multiple servings of something to make it easier for several days, doubling recipes, and thinking about what you might be able to freeze for leftovers.

Host:   Great idea. So when we’re putting that all together—Of course we've heard to fight COVID-19 it’s good to have a strong immune system. What foods should we be paying attention to or what foods should we be buying that will help us boost our immune system?

Pamela:   Exactly. We know that good nutrition is essential to a strong immune system, and it can really protect us against seasonal illness in situations like this. There’s not a lot of research on COVID-19 in itself, but we know that what we eat can support a healthy immune systems and many nutrients that we get from the foods that we eat play a strong role there. So just to name a few, we want to get lean healthy protein in. All of the immune cells that you have are made from protein. So it’s important to eat a variety of protein from lean meat, poultry, eggs, plant protein in particular from beans and peas, soy, nuts, and seeds. So protein’s important. Vitamins like vitamin A, C, and E are all involved in immune support. Vitamin A is really critical for protecting against infection, keeping our skin and tissues of the mouth and stomach and the intestines and specifically our respiratory system healthy. We get vitamin A in a variety of fruits and vegetables. The dark orange in your sweet potatoes and carrots, the dark green in broccoli and spinach. You can also find vitamin A in bell peppers and eggs and things that might be fortified with vitamin A like milk and some cereals.

Again, vitamin C. That’s probably the nutrient most people think about when they think about supporting their immune system. It’s important because there actually has been studies showing that vitamin C can help reduce the frequency and severity of colds and other flus, viruses and things. So I think the go-tos are always organs and tangerines, but there’s some really other good sources of vitamin C like red bell peppers, papaya, strawberry, tomatoes. So getting, again, a variety of good fruits and vegetables. You can get a lot of good A and C in there. There's also, again, vitamin E which is found in sunflower seeds and almonds and peanut butter. So those are really great vitamins in particular. There's a few other nutrients like zinc and selenium.

Host:   That’s really good. Get a variety of protein and then pay attention to vitamins A, C, and E for immune support. So then what about beverages? I'm sure we want to stay from sugary pop and soda and things like that. What should we do to stay hydrated properly?

Pamela:   Hydration is important. Actually I've heard some things about if you think that maybe you’ve been exposed to the virus that properly hydrating and washing down the system with some good liquids is really important. Also too if you do get sick and you have a fever, you want to make sure that your fluid needs are met. So we don’t want to go to soda and lots of fruit juice and things that have a lot of sugar in them. Sugar actually creates some inflammation in our body. We know in diseases like this that an overactive immune response in an inflammatory way is actually contributing to why some people are getting really sick from this virus. Water, you can't go wrong with that. Even flavored waters, you know the La Croix, the Hint waters where they have some really nice added flavor and there's not added sugar in there. Green tea is a really wonderful beverage to have in your diet right now. It has some really good anti-inflammatory, antioxidants to keep us well. Those would kind of be the go-tos I think.

Host:   Those are great suggestions. I might go make myself a little tea right after this. Thank you for the suggestion Pamela. I like that.

Pamela:   Sounds good.

Host:   So we’re all stressed out. In times of stress, we kind of crave comfort. So for a lot of people that’s where is that chocolate cake? Where are those chocolate chip cookies? Give me the chocolate. How do we avoid stress eating during this crazy time?

Pamela:   There's been a shortage of flour and yeast. People are having a hard time. So that just tells you a lot of people are baking. I'm guilty of that. I've made lots of things out of the leftover bananas that I've had, and I've made some cookies and a few cakes. So I'm guilty of that too. So I guess my words of advise would be there that comfort eating—especially high sugar, refined and processed carbohydrates, or unhealthy fats from butter and things like that that are in a lot of baked goods—those foods actually don’t help support a healthy immune system. They actually increase more inflammatory response. They bounce our sugar levels up and then we crash back down. If someone is having difficulty coping right now it just contributes to that emotional roller coaster that I think we all feel. So as much as its enjoyable to bake and to do those kinds of activities, just try to keep in mind of looking for other ways to manage our stress, meditation. Take an extra nap. Getting out and walking safely in your neighborhood with a mask, whatever it needs to be. Exercising, that’s a fabulous way to decrease our stress. So really getting out there or getting onto YouTube and finding some Zumba class you can do, whatever it is to move more. So we've got to move more, we’ve got to sleep. We’ve got manage our stress in other ways.

Host:   Really good suggestions, all of that. Stay away from sugars. It sounds like sugar kind of kills the immune system. So you don’t want to do that right now.

Pamela:   Yeah. I will put a little plug in for a little bit of dark chocolate. If you do need to have something sweet, at least it’s got some antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties to it. So just don’t want to eat a whole chocolate bar, but if you need a little square.

Host:   Okay good. Some saving grace there. Thank you. So for people listening going Pamela, that sounds great, but I'm not used to eating like that. Can you give us an example of a breakfast, lunch, dinner? If we’re coming over to your house, what are making for us breakfast, lunch, and dinner to help us eat more nutritiously?

Pamela:   Alright. A couple things that kind of come to mind that are easy and that they can incorporate some of the wonderful fruits and vegetables that they just talked about. Making a smoothie, putting some strawberries in there. Some strawberries and kiwi, those are great sources of vitamin C. You can make another smoothie with some spinach or pineapple and fresh ginger using maybe some milk or some yogurt or some protein powder as kind of your protein base. So smoothies are great. You can do a lot with even frozen vegetables and fruits. So you don’t have to use fresh berries. You can get some frozen berries or some frozen spinach and throw it in a smoothie. Another good breakfast easy, maybe some oatmeal. Steel cut oatmeal, rolled oats with some chopped apples and walnuts with some healthy fat from those walnuts. Every day I usually have a Greek yogurt with some fresh berries and some homemade granola, or you could get some store bought granola. So those are some breakfast ideas that are easy to do.

Host:   I love it. Okay. So how about lunch?

Pamela:   Lunch. You know sandwiches are okay if you go with whole grain bread, whole wheat bread, or half of a whole wheat pita stuffed with a grilled chicken breast that you can either buy prepared at the store or marinate in a little bit of Italian dressing and then just put it in the oven, make a nice chicken breast. Tuna fish is always a good go-to. You get your protein and your healthy fats. There’s a fun way you could prepare your tuna. You could do like half tuna and half garbanzo beans or chickpeas and blend those together. Just get some plant protein in there. Another thing that I do, it’s a comfort food but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Instead of using a sugary jelly, how about some sliced strawberries combined with your peanut butter on a whole wheat piece of bread? Kinds would really love something like that too. Or you can do a salad, right. If you’ve got leftovers, make a big green salad with some tuna or some leftover chicken or hardboiled egg. Get the plant protein in there from garbanzo beans or throw on some kidney beans. Another salad idea that I love is spinach with strawberries and maybe a few walnuts and some sunflower seeds. You're getting vitamin A. You're getting vitamin C. You're getting healthy fats. You're getting all of those healthy nutrients.

Then dinner, been doing a lot of beans and rice because that’s easy. You can make up a big bunch of brown rice, put in some canned black beans or some pinto beans. Cut up some other items to throw on there like those red bell peppers and chopped onions and some cilantro, a little bit of avocado. The other thing, I think, you can do salads at dinner as well. Roasted vegetables with grilled fish or baked chicken. This is where batch cooking comes into play with your roasted vegetables. So if you get sweet potatoes and carrots or Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. You can put some wonderful olive oil, maybe a little bit of turmeric which is a spice that is really great ant inflammatory and immune supporting in our spices as well. Black pepper and roast them in the oven. Make a big pan and that could last you a couple of days. So those are some of the ideas.

Host:   That’s fantastic.

Pamela:   Then for dessert you can have your dark chocolate and a few raspberries. How about that?

Host:   You’ve even topped it off with dessert. It’s good eating at the Riggs household.

Pamela:   Yeah. I don’t go wrong here.

Host:   That’s right. Well, this has really been informative. You’ve helped us create a roadmap for nutritious eating while we all shelter in place to help flatten the curve against COVID-19. Pamela, thank you so much.

Pamela:   You're welcome. I appreciated the opportunity.

Host:   That’s Pamela Riggs. For more information, please visit If you found this podcast helpful, please share it on your social channels and check out the full podcast library for topics of interest to you. This is the healing podcast brought to you by MarinHealth. I'm Bill Klaproth. Thanks for listening.