For more than 100 days the DC area residents have been confined to the indoors due to COVID. Many people have had to get their food supply via delivery or venture quickly into the local grocery store. As the summer months roll in and DC moves into phase 2 of reopening, there is a sense of renewal in the air, but restrictions ae still in place. Even so, there are many choices for obtaining and eating fresh, healthy food.
East of the River spoke with Charmaine Jones, registered dietician and owner of Food Jonezi, a nutrition consulting firm in Southeast. Jones has continued to consult her clients through video chats. “I like the video appointments with my clients because then I can see what’s in their pantry and see the utensils, bowls, plates they use. Gives me a good idea about their portion control.” One pro tip from Jones as the world slowly moves towards opening up is to continue cooking meals at home. “If you have not noticed, preparing home cooked meals are a great way to build healthier relationships with your family, decrease your intake of high sodium meals/snacks from fast foods and restaurants, and save on your budget.”
Eating for Overall Good Health
Warding off the Coronavirus has many people thinking differently about their diets. The Center for Diseases Control advises that although there are no foods that treat or prevent COVID-19, your diet can enhance parts of the immune system. Foods that are rich in vitamins C and D, and zinc are noted as nutrients that are the most helpful for maintaining a healthy immune system.
But targeting your diet in addition to the many other tasks on your plate can be arduous. Instead Jones suggests that people focus on their guts–as in gut (stomach) health. “When you adopt a healthy diet, the immune friendly foods are already there. So go for foods that are good for gut health like leafy veggies and fruit. Those are foods that are high in probiotics and antioxidants.”
Most of all, try to keep going with the healthy habits you may have started during the pandemic. “Don’t fall back into your old routine of doing things,” says Jones. “If you see that you have lost weight by eating more home cooked meals, then keep that up. If you notice that you feel better and your health has improved because you have increased exercising, then keep that up.”
Where to Find the Goods?
The Nutrition and Physical Fitness Bureau of DC Health works to keep residents connected with community sources for food and other health needs. A spokesperson for the bureau says that ensuring that everyone has access to healthy food choices is a priority when it comes to maintaining good health. “The District recognizes the importance of and prioritizes investments in food access initiatives to support the food environments in Ward 7 and 8 communities. In response to the COVID-19 public health emergency in the District of Columbia, agencies, non-profit organizations, food retailer establishments, and farmers’ markets mobilized to address the need for food access.”
There are several federally supported programs that offer access to fresh food for District residents. Those programs include:
- DC Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). WIC is offering services over the phone and mailing benefits to pregnant women, mothers, infants, and children up to age five.
- The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has launched an online purchasing program for their customers.
- Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) is a new program that provides food benefits on an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card to District families with children who normally receive free or reduced-price school meals if not for school closures due to COVID-19.
- The Commodity Supplemental Food Program provides a monthly package of nutritious shelf-stable foods to eligible seniors. The Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program offers eligible seniors checks to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs as farmers’ markets.
- District of Columbia Public Schools and Public Charter Schools are providing free meals to families Monday thru Friday across the District.
In addition, there are nonprofit organizations and food retailer establishments that are also offering healthy options.
- Martha’s Table is providing free bags of produce at several of the school meals sites.
- DC Central Kitchen’s Healthy Corners program is continuing operations and discounting fresh, whole fruits and vegetables up to 50%. Many of their stores offer a “5 for 5” coupon program for SNAP/EBT customers. At these stores, customers receive a $5 coupon for free fruits and vegetables every time they spend $5+ using their SNAP/EBT card (*SNAP/EBT purchase must contain at least 1 fresh fruit or vegetable).
- Produce Plus Direct provides locally grown, fresh produce to DC residents with limited incomes. The program will start July 14, 2020 and run through September 30, 2020. Registration opens June 23, 2020, and residents can enroll in the program by calling (202) 888-4834.
The Nutrition and Physical Fitness Bureau says to consider the farmer’s markets for food options as well. Many farmers markets accept SNAP, WIC, and senior farmers’ market benefits and offer special incentives to these customers.
Ward 8 Farmers Market is ready for customers every Saturday with social distancing procedures in place. Located in the parking lot behind Martin Luther King Elementary School on 6th street, the market will offer fresh produce and other goods ripe for the picking. Also check out Community, Raised, Inspired & Sourced Produce aka C.R.I.S.P. Farmshare and Market. The farmer’s market is open every Saturday starting July 11th. The community-supported agriculture program is membership based and fees are income-based.
Charmaine Jones adds that farmer’s markets are an excellent, local source of produce that gives people shopping options that are compliant with health regulations. “Now, things are opening up, increase your vegetables and fruit intake by supporting and shopping at local farmer markets while keeping social distancing in mind. We are in this together, so support your local black farmers and small business restaurants, who offer fresh produce and healthier meal options.”
It’s never too late to start or maintain healthy eating habits. Utilize every resource you can. Have a healthy summer!
Candace Y.A. Montague is the health reporter for Capital Community News. Follow her @urbanbushwoman9 .