COVID-19 Eating: Food Lessons During Isolation
COVID-19 won’t last forever, it’s OK not to be eating perfectly
It’s day…I don’t know of the COVID-19 self-isolation or quarantine. To be honest, I’ve lost track of how long it’s been since we’ve been all asked to stay home, work from home and to limit our social interactions. It seems that our world has been turned upside down, and in many aspects, it has. I think we can all agree that nothing feels normal and we are all trying to cope as best as we can.
Like everything else in our lives, our eating, meal planning and working towards previously set nutrition goals may have gone by the wayside. And this makes sense. This situation is not normal. No one is expected to continue on with their lives as if nothing is happening. No one is expected to know how to deal with this “correctly” or to automatically know how to adjust their lives.
You may be finding yourself worrying about your food choices, the amount you are eating (or snacking), or about the general safety of our food supply, and I get it. These are all valid things to be experiencing as we navigate through this pandemic.
If you are struggling with any aspect of your eating right now, know that you are not alone. If you are feeling stuck with your eating, here are a few things you can try…
Get back to basics
When things are uncertain and your eating becomes erratic, the best advice for anyone is to get back to the basics. And by basics, I mean eating regular meals and snacks (and getting enough water!). How did you eat before this pandemic had us cooped up at home? Try to get back on a schedule with your eating. I guarantee that you’ll feel better if you do. I know it can seem hard to do but maintaining a consistent meal pattern is one way to bring some “normal” back into our lives.
If you struggled with eating regularly before COVID-19 hit us, then this may be a good time to build some structure into your day. Aim to eat every 3-5 hours. If you can, aim for balanced meals and snacks – that is,meals that contain some protein, grains, and vegetables or fruit (make snacks at least two of these food categories).
Due to restricted grocery visits or financial issues, getting a balanced plate may not be easy or available for you. Do your best – balanced plates don’t have to go together perfectly – for example, canned tuna (protein), frozen corn (grain) and applesauce (fruit), or whatever combo you can scrounge is just as good as a roast chicken (protein), side salad (vegetable) and rice (grain).
Don’t aim for perfection
So, are you or your family eating more processed foods? Are you eating more sugar or salt? Are you worried about not getting enough veggies? It’s okay. Seriously.
It’s okay not to be eating perfectly. Your body has an amazing knack for getting the nutrients that you need from what you provide, even if you think the food you are eating isn’t up to your usual standards. Have trust in your body, it knows what it’s doing.
This is a good time for some of us to let go of this perfectionism that nags us when it comes to eating. It’s okay not to eat “perfectly”. Believe it or not, it’s more worrisome when someone eats, or tries to, eat perfectly. Usually, this perfectionism with eating comes with a lot of food rules. Too many rules around eating usually also means more anxiety. And this anxiety is not helping us at this time (or ever, really).
If you’ve been working on nutrition goals for a while now, you may feel like the COVID isolation has really thrown you off track. And maybe it has. Again, that’s okay. At Health Stand Nutrition we have a motto of “Progress, Not Perfection”.
Working towards improving your nutrition is a journey, there will be bumps in the road. Each small step towards your goal is still a step in the right direction. If anything, this whole situation can teach us how to adapt on the spot and how to learn to refocus when your environment changes – this is a great skill (even if it’s frustrating and overwhelming at the time).
Remember, these isolation and restrictions won’t last forever. If your plate doesn’t look as you wish it would, don’t fret. This whole situation will come to an end.
Meal planning may need to change
You may not be able to plan meals as you used to. I know that my meal planning process was turned upside down because of this pandemic and I know that I’m not alone in this.
Do any of the following sound familiar?
You are limiting your grocery shops to less than usual, and you need to make a longer-term meal plan. You aren’t used to this.
You are trying to figure out how to plan for and buy enough fresh produce or other food products without any of it going to waste but also making it last?
You make a plan, head to the grocery store and low and behold, the ingredients you planned on buying are nowhere to be found. You have to think quickly and make a new plan on the spot but still end up missing key ingredients.
You find yourself stocking up on random ingredients and “winging” it for meals, when previously meal planning has been your thing. In the midst of getting a meal together, you realize once again that you are missing ingredients.
For some, or more accurately, most of us, a completely different way of meal planning is required to get us through this. And you may not be good at this right way. That’s totally okay.
To get you started, here’s a few suggestions to get your meal planning juices flowing:
- Plan for making leftovers.
- Plan to batch cook one dish each week.
- Make a list of backup meals that you can make with ingredients you typically have on hand. If your meal planning goes south one day, at least you have ingredients to make an alternative backup meal on the fly.
- Stock your kitchen with some versatile, long-lasting basics – rice, pasta, quinoa, canned tomatoes, canned or dried beans, frozen vegetables, frozen edamame, ground meats (these thaw quickly!), coconut milk, curry paste, canned fish, tortillas (these freeze well and thaw quickly), long lasting fruits and vegetables (carrots, potatoes, cabbage, winter squash, apples, oranges). Some of these ingredients can be used to make those quick back up meals mentioned above.
- Plan to use fresh, more perishable veggies early on in the week (right after you’ve done your shop), leaving the more hearty vegetables
- Keep a list in a convenient place in your kitchen (like your fridge) where you can add ingredients you either need whenever you think of them. You can add things you think about, as you think of them so you won’t be constantly trying to remember “that thing you wanted” later on.
You still need to eat
If your activity level is much lower than normal, there’s often a knee jerk reaction to drastically cut your energy intake by skipping meals or snacks. No matter your activity (or inactivity), I’d like to remind you that you still need to eat. Your body needs fuel. Skipping meals and ignoring your hunger isn’t the answer.
Each day is a blank slate. Undereating one day to make up a previous day’s intake or lack of physical activity is not advised. This can begin a dangerous cycle of restriction and overeating.
Working with a registered dietitian can help you learn to recognize your hunger and fullness cues and to answer that age-old question “Am I hungry?”. Listening to and honouring our internal hunger cues is a valuable skill that can help us navigate normal fluctuations in hunger.
Let’s be honest, many aspects of our lives have been turned upside down right now. It’s totally understandable if you feel like your eating habits have gone off track. Despite the chaos around us, we can turn our eating around. We can build some stability with our eating in this self-isolation. We can learn to be flexible and more compassionate with ourselves when it comes to feeding ourselves.
Looking for additional nutrition and wellness support during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Check out these other articles on our blog:
COVID-19 Mental Health: Is What I’m Experiencing Called Grief?
Healthy Pantry Snacks and Staples for COVID-19 and Beyond
COVID-19 Mental Health Awareness: Are you an Over-Responder or Under-Responder?
Re-defining the Joy of Movement During High Stress Times
COVID-19 Nutrition: Coronavirus Home Eating Guide
Free Fitness Apps, Yoga and Meditation Resources for Adults and Kids
Where can I find more Online Nutritionist Support?
\If you are looking for nutrition support on health concerns, emotional eating or family meal planning from the comfort of your home, we can help!
We’ve been offering virtual online nutritionist support by our Virtual Dietitian team for some time and can hand hold you through the process. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to use even if you are not technologically savvy. Read more about our Online Nutritionist services here: Our Practice is Open but we are working entirely Virtually for public health safety during the COVID-19 pandemic
PS: Don’t forget to check with your insurance provider, health spending account or private health services plan and see if you are covered for Registered Dietitian services.