Safe and Healthy Nutritional Practices to Follow During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Rachel Wong, RD, SCO, LD, an outpatient oncology dietician at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, discussed nutrition practices that patients with cancer can follow to remain healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rachel Wong, RD, SCO, LD, an outpatient oncology dietician at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, discussed safe and effective nutritional practices to consider during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic during a Facebook broadcast series from the cancer center. 

Wong highlighted that there are a lot of concerns surrounding obtaining groceries during the pandemic, and she suggested that the best way to combat this is to shop smartly and limit trips to the grocery store. Planning meals ahead for at least 2 weeks is the ideal amount of time according to Wong.

“You have to plan appropriately, because you could buy things that you need just for that week, but if you’re really trying to make that time go longer, ideally make it only an every 2 week trip, you have to plan your meals out,” explained Wong. “Take out a piece of paper, sit down, even if you have kids, sit down with your kids and think about what would you like to have for this week and for next.” 

Creating meals using frozen and canned staples is the easiest way to stock up for lengthy periods Wong suggested. Meals such as chili can easily be created using such items, and additional dry foods such as pasta or rice can be added to stretch it even farther. Moreover, Wong explained that buying fruits and vegetables that are less ripe can help add to their shelf life.

“Try to think about the meals that are easy to prepare,” Wong said. “You can buy foods that are less ripe, because most of the time you’re going to the store and you’re trying to find ripe foods or things that you think are going to taste good, but look for, for example, a tomato that’s more firm to touch because it will take longer to ripen.”

Should patients with cancer, especially those who are immunocompromised by various treatments, be wary of touching their groceries due to the fear of possible transmission, Wong indicated that simply wiping packaged goods down with disinfectant wipes is enough. However, produce should not be sanitized and simply rinsing fruits and vegetables should be enough.

In regard to transmission by produce, a lot of questions have centered around whether or not to consume fresh produce that many individuals may have laid hands on. According to Wong, if these foods are being cooked and individuals are following safe cooking practices, of which should already be followed regardless of COVID-19, this should not be a hazard.

“Don’t be afraid to buy the foods, because there’s no evidence that has shown that the virus is transmitted through food,” said Wong.

When asked about maintaining a healthy weight during this time, Wong suggested that maintaining as regular of a schedule as possible is key. This could include avoiding eating desserts and sweets constantly, waking up and going to sleep at certain times, coming up with a food schedule. Though it’s entirely fine to indulge occasionally, Wong indicated that it’s important to keep the body within its regular balance.

Though no specific food has been proven to prevent COVID-19, Wong highlighted the need to consume foods that will boost the immune system. For patients with cancer, eating a diet centered around plant-based foods that are high in vitamin C, calcium, vitamin D, and other immune boosting nutrients is necessary whether or not a pandemic is occurring. 

“If you only eat junk food and, you know, eat processed food all the time, you’re really not getting those kinds of nutrients in your diet and therefore that can cause you to have potentially a weaker immune system by not getting the vitamins you need, and that’s why I would really recommend meal planning and writing out what you need at the story,” Wong explained. 

Additional safety practices noted by Wong included utilizing meal and grocery delivery services, checking for designated shopping hours at local grocery stores, and reaching out to various local and government services if obtaining or paying for food is an issue at this time. 

“There are a lot of support services available. You can ask your doctor and they can give you resources that are available that you can reach out to,” said Wong. “Don’t let yourself go hungry.”


Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. Cancer and COVID-19. Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center website. Published 2020. Accessed April 23, 2020.