'TODAY show' nutritionist: Clean eating tips for the coronavirus outbreak

NBC Today Show health and nutrition expert Joy Bauer shares her favorite superfoods, March 13, 2020

The Center for Disease Control recommends having enough groceries on hand for about two weeks in case your local store is wiped out of essential products or you need to stay home for prolonged periods of time in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. 

Experts also advise limiting your trips to the grocery store according to new social distancing guidelines that suggest avoiding groups of more than 10 people. 

Stocking up on the right foods is especially important at a time like this, says Joy Bauer, health and nutrition expert and registered dietitian for NBC's "TODAY Show." "Fruits and veggies can help you maintain a healthy immune system, in addition to eating an overall nutritious, balanced diet, staying hydrated, and logging enough sleep."

Transforming shelf-stable or frozen ingredients into a healthy yet satisfying meal can seem daunting, but it's easier than you think and it's inexpensive, says Bauer. 

Here are Bauer's top food picks and recipe ideas for eating well during the outbreak.

1. Swap out beef tacos for bean tacos

Buy an assortment of beans and lentils. "Talk about convenience — canned and dried beans last for up to two years," Bauer says.

Health benefits: They are packed with satiating protein, and fiber, which helps to maintain digestive health, reduce cholesterol levels, and keep blood sugars under control. Plus, they are an economical and convenient alternative to meat, poultry, and seafood.

Recipe ideas: Substitute beans for ground meat in chili, tacos, soups, or burgers, or add them to cold salads. Simmer lentils with diced tomatoes and seasonings for a hearty side dish, or add dry lentils to soups or stew to increase protein without relying on expensive meats. 

To enhance the flavor of beans, add garlic, she suggests. "Garlic is a fantastic flavor enhancer that may also help boost immune function." To keep garlic fresh, freeze it in a reusable plastic bag for several months, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture

2. Make apple nut-butter nachos

Buy nut butters, Bauer suggests: "Nut (and seed) butters are a great shelf-stable staple that delivers the same health benefits as nuts." And they're a cheaper alternative. Trader Joe's almond butter costs $6 for a 16-ounce jar, while a bag of almonds at the same weight costs around $10. 

Opt for natural nut butters like peanut butter, cashew butter, walnut butter, soy nut butter, and sunflower seed butter, and make sure they don't have added sugars or additives.

Health benefits: Peanut butter, for instance, is a concentrated source of protein, as well as heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, vitamin E, and B vitamins.

Recipe ideas: Use nut butters to personalize oatmeal, which is one of the healthiest and cheapest breakfasts around at just $0.30 a serving. You can also make apple nachos by spreading chunky peanut butter on layered sliced apples, then topping with toasted nuts and dried raisins, cranberries, or cherries. 

Unlike many fruits that perish easily, apples will stay fresh in the fridge for up to six weeks, according to the Food and Drug Administration. They can be a great way to incorporate fresh food into your diet when you're trying to limit trips to the grocery store. 

3. Meal prep pasta with veggies

Pasta is a great a go-to, says Bauer. This versatile ingredient works as a main or side dish — and nowadays, there's a wide variety of noodle types to accommodate all sorts of dietary preferences and needs, from chickpea and black bean to whole wheat and gluten free. 

In addition, it's inexpensive and convenient, Bauer says. "I usually whip up a big batch on the weekend and use it all week long."

Health benefits: Legume-based pastas like chickpea pasta are great for extra protein and fiber. Pasta is also a great way to incorporate veggies like spinach or kale into your diet, which are a great source of vitamin C for immune support, as well as fiber, vitamin K, and vitamin A.

Recipe ideas: Top your pasta with shelf-stable jarred marinara sauce, or make your own using canned tomatoes and some steamed or sautéed veggies, like leafy greens, broccoli, squash, or peppers. If you're in a hurry, serve it cold. 

If you can't get fresh vegetables, that's OK, Bauer says. "Frozen [vegetables are] just as nutritious because it's picked at its peak and flash frozen. And bonus: It lasts longer and there's no waste!"

When deciding what to cook, don't get overwhelmed. "Keep it simple. No need to start with new, elaborate recipes," Bauer says.

If you're new to using the kitchen, don't worry. Cooking can actually be cathartic during stressful times, she says. "As we're all looking for activities to do at home, cooking is a wonderful bonding activity, something to keep us busy, something that helps our health — a great outlet that brings the whole family together."

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