These days, many people are expressing fear and anxiety, and are looking to find ways to cope with the pandemic and the ‘new normal’. With children and entire families staying at home together all day, and school and work schedules disrupted, the loss of a daily routine can escalate anxiety and disrupt healthy eating. One of the main causes of this increase in anxiety seems to be uncertainty, which can throw plans for eating healthy, well-balanced meals out the window.
Planning meals for the family is a challenge on its own; however, it can be even more challenging with seclusion at home, limited supplies in the pantry, and more people to feed with different tastes. There is also the uncertainty of bare shelves, with normal nutritious staples mostly unavailable, at least temporarily. It is tempting to buy whatever is available, even if it is not something that is a part of your normal diet.
It is hard to cope with being quarantined at home and not reach for your favorite crunchy, salty snack or your favorite candy because of boredom or feeling on edge. Eating a few chips is okay; however, many people may not be able to step away from eating the entire bag once it’s open. Also, if you are already feeling sad, a quick fix of cake or cookies will ultimately make you feel worse. Why? Shelf-stable items and processed foods like baked goods contain a lot of simple carbohydrates that can wreak havoc on our blood sugar, which can escalate anxiety and worsen mood.
So, how can we mindfully make good food choices amid the COVID-19 pandemic? How do we stay healthy?
Food and Nutrition Tips amid the COVID-19 Pandemic
Good nutrition is essential for health, particularly during this time when the immune system needs to fight back against the virus. However, limited access to fresh foods may compromise opportunities to continue eating a healthy, well-balanced diet. It may also potentially lead to an increased consumption of highly processed foods, which tend to be high in salt, sugars, and fats. Nevertheless, even with limited and few ingredients, you can still continue eating a healthy diet.
Here are some food and nutrition tips amid this COVID-19 pandemic.
- Make a plan and assess what you need.
Cases of over-purchasing have been observed throughout the world. However, panic buying behavior may have negative consequences, such as food overconsumption, increase in food prices, and an unequal distribution of food products. Therefore, it is vital to consider your own needs, as well as those of others. Before going grocery shopping, assess what you already have at home and make a plan. You might feel the need to purchase large amounts of food; however, make sure to utilize what is already in your pantry. This way, you can avoid food waste and allow others to access the food products that they need.
- Be strategic about which food products and ingredients you use first.
Use fresh ingredients and food products that have a shorter shelf life first. If fresh products, particularly vegetables and fruits continue to be available, prioritize those over non-perishables. Frozen vegetables and fruits can conveniently be used over longer periods of time and often have a similar nutrient profile to fresh ones. Also, to avoid wasting food, you may want to consider freezing any leftovers for another meal.
- Prepare home-cooked meals.
During normal daily life, many people often do not have the time to prepare home-cooked meals. However, with self-quarantine and lockdown mandates, you now have the chance to make those recipes that you previously did not have time to make. Many delicious and healthy recipes can be found online. Take advantage of all these free, available information and experiment with the ingredients that you have access to. However, don’t forget the principles for healthy eating provided in this guideline.
- Observe safe food handling practices.
Food safety is crucial for food security and a healthy diet. When preparing food for yourself and others, it is highly important that you observe good food hygiene practices to avoid food contamination and foodborne disease. Some of the main principles of good food hygiene include:
- Keeping your hands, utensils, and kitchen clean and sanitary.
- Separating cooked and raw food, particularly raw meat and fresh produce.
- Cooking your food thoroughly.
- Keeping your food at safe temperatures.
- Using safe water and raw materials.
- Stay hydrated.
Good hydration is vital for optimal health. Whenever available (and if it is safe for consumption), tap water is the healthiest and cheapest drink. It is also the most sustainable as it doesn’t produce waste, compared to bottled water. Drinking water instead of sugar-sweetened drinks is a great way to limit your intake of excess calories and sugar. To enhance its taste, you can add frozen or fresh fruits like slices of citrus fruits, as well as herbs such as rosemary or mint.
Also, avoid drinking large amounts of strong tea, strong coffee, and particularly caffeinated energy drinks and soft drinks. These may lead to dehydration and can negatively affect your sleeping patterns.
Make sure to avoid alcohol, or at least reduce your alcohol consumption. Alcohol is not just a dependence-producing and mind-altering substance that is harmful at any level consumed, but it can also weaken the immune system. Thus, alcohol consumption and particularly heavy drinking, can undermine your body’s ability to cope with infectious diseases, including COVID-19.
It is recommended that alcohol in general be avoided, particularly when in self-quarantine. As a psychoactive substance, alcohol can also affect your decision-making skills and mental state and make you more vulnerable to risks, such as falls or violence when under quarantine with someone else. Alcohol consumption is also known to increase symptoms of anxiety, fear, panic, and depression – symptoms that can intensify during self-quarantine. Alcohol consumption is not a good coping mechanism – be it in the short or long term – although you might think that it will help you deal with stress.
- Enjoy family meals.
Social distancing measures implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that many families are spending more time together at home, providing new opportunities to share meals together. Family meals are an important chance for parents to be role models for healthy eating, and for reinforcing family relationships.
Increased time at home during this time can also present new opportunities to teach children about healthy eating and to get them involved in cooking healthy foods. This is a great way to help them acquire important life skills that they can carry into adulthood. Letting children choose what fruits and vegetables to include in your meals may encourage them to eat more. Also, when involving children in cooking, it is best to keep meals simple and to teach children about proper food safety and good food hygiene practices.
The Bottom Line
Staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic is difficult for everyone, and the increased boredom and anxiety can cause people to abandon their healthy eating habits and snack on whatever is around. However, with a little planning, you can continue to make good food choices – for yourself and your family – and maybe even boost your immunity and overall mood.