National Nutrition Month—Staying Healthy During the Pandemic

By Samantha Ordonez, Registered Dietitian at Tripler Army Medical CenterMarch 1, 2021

Make this month a focus on making good food choices for you and your family. National Nutrition Month is about developing sensible eating habits to achieve a healthy lifestyle and reduce your risk of health problems.
Make this month a focus on making good food choices for you and your family. National Nutrition Month is about developing sensible eating habits to achieve a healthy lifestyle and reduce your risk of health problems. (Photo Credit: Rebecca Westfall) VIEW ORIGINAL

TRIPLER ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Honolulu – The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the wellbeing of many throughout the last year. With multiple stay-at-home orders and gym closures, people are becoming less active, more stressed, and more likely to stress- or boredom-eat what we have at home.

Personalize Your Plate is this year’s theme for National Nutrition Month®, an annual nutrition education and information campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The main idea is that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to nutrition and health, and we can create more healthful habits while respecting our unique bodies, goals, backgrounds, and tastes!

As we recognize March as National Nutrition Month, make time for healthier food choices and developing better eating habits to stay healthy. Choose one or two of these goals to focus on:

1)     Do what you can to get moving. Even five minutes of physical activity has real health benefits.

a.      The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends that adults should do at least 2 1/2 to 5 hours a week of moderate-intensity or 1 1/4 to 2 1/2 hours a week of high-intensity aerobic activity. Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities with all major muscle groups on two or more days a week.

b.      If there is good weather and not so many people outside, prioritize outdoor activities to get some sunlight and vitamin D. When exercising outdoors or at gyms, follow guidelines for social distancing. Wear a mask, wash hands, stay six feet apart, and wipe down equipment before and after each use.

c.      If outdoor activity is not feasible, try out indoor activities such as dancing, yoga, exercise videos online, and/or strength exercises using your body weight or household items such as canned foods or laundry detergent bottles. Engage in active family play time with any game that gets everyone up and moving. Or when watching TV, get up during commercials to do jumping jacks, push-ups, lunges, and/or squats.

d.      Common house chores can also help people meet moderate-intensity amounts of physical activity. Examples include washing a car or windows for 45 to 60 minutes, gardening for 30 to 45 minutes, raking leaves for 30 minutes, walking two miles in 30 minutes, or walking on stairs for 15 minutes.

e.      People should modify exercises if they have mobility or pain issues. For those with chronic health issues, they should contact their doctor and/or a physical therapist to find a safe exercise regimen.

2)     Eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables to help meet vitamin, mineral, and fiber needs.

a.      According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and HHS, more than 90% of women and 97% of men do not meet recommended intakes for dietary fiber. Fiber recommendations are based on levels observed to reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease. Increasing intakes of fruits, vegetables, and replacing refined grains with whole grains at least half of the time can improve dietary fiber intake. This is especially important between the ages of 19 to 59 years old, as the impact of poor diet quality becomes apparent with the onset and/or progression of diet-related chronic diseases.

b.      Be more mindful about eating. When craving sweets such as candies, pastries, and/or sugar-sweetened beverages, try to eat a fruit instead. This increases both fiber and fullness without as many calories.

c.      If making the healthier choice from white rice to brown rice or white pasta to whole-wheat pasta doesn’t sound tempting, try a “half and half” mix of white and brown rice or white and whole-wheat pasta. Quinoa, soba, and starchy vegetables such as taro and potatoes are also good high-fiber options.

d.      Add a variety of vegetables and whole fruits to meals and snacks. Fresh, cooked, frozen, or low-sodium canned in water fruits/vegetables are all good options.

e.      Although 100% fruit juice without added sugars can be part of a healthful diet, it is lower in dietary fiber than whole fruit. Therefore, fruit should mostly be consumed in whole forms, according to the USDA and HHS.

f.       Limit grocery shopping trips to help with social distancing by purchasing produce that doesn’t spoil as easily. These include fresh apples, cabbage, carrots, garlic, beets, onions, potatoes, ginger, lemons, and pomegranate. To help reduce moisture of certain fresh fruits and vegetables such as leafy greens or broccoli, place a paper towel between the leaves in the plastic bag or container and change the towel out when it is moist.

3)     Choose lean proteins and explore low-fat and low-sodium cooking methods

a.      According to the USDA and HHS, around 70-75% of adults exceed the recommended limit on saturated fat to provide at most 10% of daily caloric intake. High sources of saturated fats include high-fat meats, full-fat dairy products, butter, coconut oil, and palm kernel and palm oil.

b.     Choose lean meats such as chicken without skin, egg whites, and fish more often. If purchasing red meats, choose sirloin, tenderloin, pork loin, and lean ground beef (at least 97% lean) more often.

c.      To decrease saturated fat and increase fiber, try out a vegetarian meal one to two times a month. Vegetarian proteins include soy products (tofu, tempeh, soymilk, edamame, etc.), beans, peas, lentils, quinoa, and unsalted nuts and nut butters.

d.      During the Pandemic many people are cooking at home more often. Choose low-fat cooking methods more often. These methods include baking, grilling, steaming, broiling, roasting, or poaching. When choosing a high-fat cooking method (such as batter- or pan-fried, buttered, creamed, crispy or breaded), do so on special occasions and in small portion sizes. Try out new high-fiber, low-fat recipes and consider using an air fryer.

e.      Experiment with sodium-free flavorings like garlic, ginger, onions, curry powders, turmeric, fresh herbs, and citrus juices to keep the taste palate entertained without the salt

4)     Stay hydrated and choose calorie-free beverages to avoid added sugars

a.      In addition to drinking water, choosing low-fat or fat-free milk, fortified soy beverages, or unsweetened beverages such as 100% fruit or vegetable juice can help meet fluid needs to avoid dehydration while also meeting other food group recommendations, according to the USDA and HHS.

b.      Sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit drinks, and sweetened coffees and teas provide over 40% of daily intake of added sugars, according to the USDA and HHS. Replace these beverages with no added sugar beverages more often, such as water, 0-calorie sodas/sports drinks, and infused waters with sliced fruit, cucumbers, and/or herbs such as mint.

c.      While most people meet their fluid needs through the water and beverages they drink, fluids are also consumed by eating foods – especially those with high water content, such as many fruits and vegetables.

Meeting with a dietitian can help you meet your health and nutrition goals. Tripler Army Medical Center’s Outpatient Nutrition Clinic offers one-on-one virtual or face-to-face appointments and group classes. Ask your doctor for a nutrition consult or call Tripler’s Nutrition Clinic at 808-433-4950 to learn more.


  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2018.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at