Eat a healthy balanced diet, exercise at least 30 minutes a day, get enough sleep and limit stress. This is great advice for everyone, at any time, but this is especially important during a pandemic like COVID-19. However, when we are being told to practice social distancing, it makes it increasingly harder to heed this advice. With most families living on their food storage of canned and shelf stable food items, eating a balanced diet is not really on the menu. The gyms and fitness centers are all closed, the average person does not have access to a home gym, this makes getting in those 30 minutes of exercise difficult. Don’t even get me started on sleep, who can sleep with the stress and anxiety bearing down on all of us, from every angle. As an ISSA certified nutrition coach and a Culinary Institute of America trained chef, I would love to share with you some tips to fuel your and your families bodies during this time and hopefully help keep you all healthy.
1. Plan Your Meals
Before the world got turned upside-down, did you meal plan? If you did, great, you should continue to do so, now with even more vigor. If you did not, there really is no better time to learn. First, take an inventory of what you have on hand, go through your fridge, freezer and pantry. Make sure to record (yes, literally write it down, I made THIS spreadsheet to help) what the item is, how much of it you have and the expiration date. Then, make a chart (again yes, writing again) with your meals for each day, making sure to accommodate for the number of people in your family. Make sure each meal is well balanced, but also familiar. If your kids are used to a sandwich for lunch everyday, plan to give them a sandwich, there is a better chance they will eat what you make. For the average person, a balanced meal consists of a protein, starch and plant source, such as a fruit, vegetable, or both. If you are following a specific diet or macro percentage, then you will need to make adjustments to follow those guidelines. Easy peasy. No, really, it’s pretty easy and will help alleviate stress of wondering what your next meal will be or if everyone is going to have a full nourished belly the next day. Here is a Meal Planning Worksheet, basic and easy to use.
2. Eat the Rainbow
Make sure your meal plan offers a lot of different fruits and vegetables. Eating a variety of plant sources, in many colors, is a tasty way to get more of the vitamins and minerals in your diet that you may be lacking. A nutrient deficiency can lead to numerous health problems, including digestion problems, skin disorders, stunted growth, and dementia. During uncertain times like this, a nutrient deficiency is the last thing you want to worry about.
3. Purchase Fresh Items
It is an excellent time to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables. With most people stocking up on canned items during the mass hysteria, the produce sections of the stores are pretty well stocked. Most grocery stores are open, offering delivery and pick up services, accommodating the most at risk with special times and working hard to keep the shelves stocked. With Spring peeking around the corner, produce is aplenty. Look over your meal plan and see what fruits, vegetables and proteins you need to purchase to fill in whatever is missing. Make a list, place a delivery or pick up order and then add more. You can always freeze whatever you have in excess to have on hand for later when these items might not be so readily available.
4. The Freezer is Your Friend
Freeze those fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as, protein sources. Fact: most food lasts longer in the freezer. Buy an extra head of broccoli, bag of sweet potatoes or a bunch of bananas, then chop them up, blanch if necessary, and pop them in the freezer. Proteins freeze well too. Chicken breast, ground turkey, pork roast and burgers, all do great in the freezer. Grab a large box of freezer bags off Amazon, remove the meat from their packages, get as much air out as possible and label with a name and date. Be sure to add these new items to your inventory as well.
Ah, my old friend FIFO. First in, first out. One of the very first things I was taught about food safety in culinary school. Basically, eat whatever is going to expire first, first. That’s it. So when you're meal planning, or even organizing your pantry, be sure to prioritize those most perishable items to the front lines. Who knows, you might even invent a new family favorite, corn and cranberry pork fritters anyone?
6. Avoid Boredom or Stress Eating ...
We are all doing it, and if you say you’re not, you're just lying to yourself. It is only human to look to food for comfort in times of high anxiety, or even when just bored. Realize that it is happening, then change lanes and course correct. This could look like going for a walk, reading that book you have had on your night stand for a few months, venting to a friend over FaceTime or finding a therapist online to seek guidance from. Adding extra pounds can put your body under even more stress physically and weight on your self-esteem emotionally, making a volatile situation even worse.
7. … But Still, Treat Yo’ Self
Speaking of your emotional health, you need to take care of that. Make sure your meal plan includes healthy, yet satisfying, snacks. Keeping your spirits up and keeping a smile on your face is just as important as vitamins and minerals, just don’t over do it. Hey, eat that brownie, have that second macaroon or pour that glass of wine, you deserve it. Again, just don’t have too much or go overboard. Moderation is the name of the game.
8. Support Local Restaurants
Mix it up, plan for a night of take-out or delivery from your favorite local restaurant. If you are not used to cooking every single meal at home, this can give you a break and prevent you from burning out. You will also be supporting local businesses that are in desperate need of your help right now. Opt for something with loads of fresh ingredients and think about ordering extra to reheat the next day.
9. Prioritize Sleep
Sleep is critical for your health. Develop a sleep routine to combat stress. Turn off devices to limit your exposure to blue screens, stay away from caffeine or practice meditation, at least an hour before bed to help induce sleep. Limiting your time on social media and news outlet websites can help you reflect, maybe even journal, to help calm you. People who do not get enough sleep tend to consume more calories, find it harder to make healthy choices and resist tempting foods, have sleeping disorders like sleep apnea and gain weight faster and easier. Manage that stress, develop a sleep routine and make sleep a priority.
10. Get Up and Move
Everyday activities like laundry, walking, gardening and cleaning, cut down your risk of premature death and improve your overall health. Any amount of movement you can do counts. Now that we are all working from home, try and get up, change out of your pajamas, get ready for the day and try not to sit in one place. At the office you have excuses to walk to the conference room, meet a coworker for lunch or run to the post office. Now that you are at home, you have less opportunities to burn calories. Many gyms and fitness professionals are offering free live classes and programs on social media. Schedule time to follow along and maybe even learn something new, like yoga or zumba, from the comfort of your living room. Get outside for a hike or bike ride, as long as you stay 6 feet away from anyone, the world is your oyster.
For the Celiacs, Gluten Sensitive and Gluten Intolerant
As if it isn’t hard enough, or stressful enough, for us to eat on a normal basis, a pandemic like COVID-19 makes it that much more difficult for those of us who need to follow a gluten free diet. We need to follow the advice above and then some. Thankfully, most fresh fruits, vegetables and proteins are naturally gluten free and we know our way around the specialty sections of the grocery stores. It would be a good idea to stock up on gluten free flours and baking ingredients, as well as, pantry staples like protein bars. If items start becoming scarce, we need to find comfort in knowing we have options. Use apps such as Find Me Gluten Free to help when ordering delivery or take out and be sure to give specific instructions when placing grocery deliveries to avoid cross contamination. Another item to have on hand is whatever you use to help soothe during the event you are glutened. Everyone is different and has different methods of relieving pain while glutened, make sure you are stocked and ready if it happens to you. Here is an If I Happen To Get Glutened Worksheet that you can fill out ahead of time, giving your loved ones instructions on how to help you.
In the end, stay home, stay healthy, stay safe. Follow these few tips to help you and your loved ones during these trying times.