While 2020 was a year like no other, it is now finally winding down. The pandemic has affected and continues to impact nearly all aspects of how we live. Whether its changes to grocery shopping, socializing or learning, COVID-19 has caused us to redefine our priorities and restructure our day-to-day lives like nothing we’ve ever experienced before.
So how has the COVID-19 pandemic influenced the predicted food and nutrition trends for 2021?
There’s no doubt that health and safety was a major focus this year, shaped by real concerns about COVID-19. Learning that chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and obesity increase the risk of severe illness from coronavirus, many people became increasingly motivated to prioritize their health this year. We have learned how to navigate telemedicine visits. We have also become educated on a slew of public health terms like “contact tracing” and “transmission”. Most of us have never had to “quarantine” before this year. To some degree, we have had to take a step back and consider both our own health and the health of our families and communities in a new light this year.
A raging pandemic has spurred increased interest in immunity and lung health. It’s no surprise that people are seeking out foods and products that may help strengthen the immune system and improve breathing. Although no foods or supplements can make coronavirus health claims, it’s safe to say that strong immunity is still a top priority for folks right now.
At the same time, we’ve seen a surge in baking and cooking comfort foods at home. In fact, stay-at-home orders earlier in the year led to widespread homesteading practices like canning, growing vegetable gardens, animal husbandry and sourdough bread baking. While long lines and empty shelves at grocery stores may have spurred the homesteading trend, extra time around the home created an environment where these old ways became new again.
COVID-19 is not yet behind us and it will likely continue to shape our food and nutrition choices and behaviors in the new year. Top consumer publications predict the upcoming food and nutrition trends and they are making 2021 look unexpectedly bright. One of the top trends for the new year is functional nutrition or the promotion of healthy foods to improve health. The impact of COVID-19 has caused a lot of interest in foods that can positively affect health. The concepts of functional nutrition you can expect to see include immunity boosters and foods to combat stress.
Another food and nutrition trend to expect in the new year is “food with a purpose.” Local foods that have a story and are environmentally friendly are on the rise. More consumers want to know where their food comes from and how it impacts not only their health, but the health of their communities and the environment. We know that many small businesses, including farmers and restaurants, are struggling during the pandemic. A deeper understanding of our economic interconnectedness is leading to a rise in buying locally grown foods.
Flexitarianism may be one of the biggest diet trends to look out for in 2021. This means people will be moving away from a fixed diet towards trying a more moderate and balanced approach to eating. In this case, balance means straying away from expensive, rigid diets and unnecessary products and using real, whole foods as a way to boost nutrient intake. We are shifting away from unrealistic standards to a holistic perspective that values strength, balance and vibrancy.
Lastly, we are in the age of both convenience and honesty and the food industry must keep up. Home meal kits and fresh food delivered to your door will continue to grow in demand. Companies will not only try to make nutritious food more accessible, but they will be more open and transparent about what ingredients they use and how their food is prepared. With information available at our fingertips, more consumers are educating themselves about ingredients and keeping companies accountable for their products.
While reflecting on the past year, continue to look forward to what’s to come. Lessons learned and habits formed during the pandemic will shape our food and nutrition choices in the new year.
LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD is a registered dietitian, providing nutrition counseling and consulting to individuals, families and organizations. She can be reached by email at RD@halfacup.com.