In these challenging times, the need to feed our families while also practicing social distancing can add extra stress to our daily lives. However, the good news is that it doesn’t have to.

According to USDA’s My Plate, a healthy diet is made up of half fruits and vegetables. They recommend varying these fruits and vegetables as much as possible so that you are obtaining all of the different nutrients that you need to stay healthy. The easiest way to do this is to make your plate as colorful as possible. This is an easy life hack to ensure you’re varying your veggies.

Also part of these dietary guidelines is to make the other half of your plate grains and protein with a small amount of low-fat dairy (or non-dairy alternatives such as almond milk) on the side.

In a situation where we are being asked to only make trips in to public when absolutely necessary, buying all the staples for a healthy diet can seem like a daunting task — especially with a scarce amount of fridge space and perishable goods. The good news is this is a great time to get creative and there are many things you can do to ensure you’re still eating a balanced diet.

The USDA’s current dietary guidelines recommends that people needing 2000 calories a day include 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables in their diets every day.

If you make a big run to the grocery store and stock up on tons of fresh fruits and vegetables it might be true that by day seven some of your produce is not looking so fresh anymore. Buying lots of fresh produce can be a huge risk if you have a tight food budget and are unsure about how much produce you or your family can realistically eat before it spoils.

However, all forms count! This means that both canned and frozen fruits and vegetables count towards your daily recommendation of fruits and vegetables and can be just as good for you as fresh.

One thing to be careful of is added salt or added sugars. When buying canned or frozen vegetables it is important to look out for added sodium. For canned goods they will say “reduced sodium” but sometimes, especially with frozen, there can be added salt hiding in the ingredients list on the back, so it is important to always check the ingredients section of your food labels.

With canned fruit it is important to look for fruit canned in 100% fruit juice rather than heavy syrup because this extra sugar can take away the health benefits of eating the fruit in the first place. However, if you do find cans you’ve been stashing in the back of your pantry and they’re not reduced sodium or cans of fruit in fruit juice rinse them the best you can in a colander to help get the extra salt or sugars off.

The difference between fresh, frozen and canned is really just differences in textures and uses. This is where the fun and creativity comes in. Now is a perfect time to use up all the bags of frozen fruit in your freezer or cans of random vegetables you bought that one time and never used.

Frozen vegetables are great in stews and stir fry’s because once cooked you hardly notice the difference from fresh produce. Another great way you can choose to use frozen or canned fruit in is salsa. Both peach and mango salsa can really add a lot of flavor to low fat protein like baked chicken or fish tacos.

If you purchase a large amount of fruit or vegetables and find they are going bad quickly you can cut them up and store them in a Tupperware container in the freezer. This is also a great hack once life returns to its normal fast pace and time for preparing meals becomes short again. Pre-cut vegetables portioned in freezer containers makes for a quick dinner once sautéed in a healthy oil or low sodium soy sauce and served with a whole grain like brown rice or quinoa on the side.

Over ripe fruit also makes for a great smoothie and allows for a fun kitchen activity to get the whole family involved. Set out different fruits in bowls with which ever types of juice, milk or yogurt you have available. Allow your children to choose which fruits they want to add and don’t be afraid to try adding in green vegetables for a fun color.

Fruit smoothies frozen in small Dixie cups with Popsicle sticks can be an excellent healthy treat for kids and will help with reaching the minimum requirement of fruits and vegetables.

Bailey Delacruz is the Nutrition Education Program Assistant for OSU Extension Service of Douglas County. Bailey can be reached by e-mail or phone at 541-236-3017.

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