Your healthy eating guide during self-quarantine!
Chances are, you’ve had to make some adjustments in the past few weeks. Working from home, homeschooling kids, and keeping your distance from friends and family…even learning which stores are most likely to still have toilet paper!
Add to that the near-constant stream of distressing news and it can get overwhelming, quick. With so much of our daily lives upended, nutrition seems like the last thing to prioritize. Unfortunately, this unique period of time we’re all in looks like it’s going to be more of a marathon than a sprint.
This means self-care—including diet—has got to stay at the forefront of our planning. Eating well is the foundation for many things that are especially critical now. Stress, sleep, and our immune systems depend on it, in fact.
This guide will provide you with helpful tips as we navigate our way through these times. From food safety tips to accessing local resources to stress-eating, we’re here to help!
1. Avoid food poisoning
The name of the game here is to stay home and stay healthy. That plan will quickly go down the drain if you’re heading to the ER with food poisoning. So, before we go into our more light-hearted tips, we’re going to get the heavy stuff out of the way first. Food safety is always important, but perhaps never more so than during a quarantine.
- Meat — When thawing meat, it’s best to do so in the fridge, or by running it under cold water. Placing it on the counter to thaw increases the possibility that it will thaw too much, allowing bacteria to grow. If you’ve never used that meat thermometer in your utensil drawer, it’s time to dust it off! Chicken needs to be cooked to 165 degrees F, and pork/beef to 145 degrees F. If you can’t locate your thermometer, make sure all the pink is gone from the middle any juices are clear.
- Produce — Anything moldy, slimy, smelly…sorry, but it needs to be tossed. In general, try to use up your fresh produce before other foods to cut down on waste.
- Canned items — Most canned food is fine to eat for quite some time. However, there’s one caveat: cans with dents may have small holes in them and should be avoided.
- Expired labels — Here’s where you need to put on your thinking caps. Food must be thoroughly examined, using all your senses. Anything that seems off—mold, weird colors, strange textures—it’s probably time to toss it. But being choosy here can pay off, too, because lots of things can be safely consumed well beyond their expiration date. The best practice is to not take a chance when you have doubts.
- Takeout/leftovers — Many people are still ordering food in, trying to support local restaurants. When the food arrives, it should be transferred to your own plates, and all containers are thrown away. Wash your hands thoroughly after this step. Whatever you don’t eat needs to go straight in the fridge; it should be safe to eat for the next two to three days from there. Keep in mind all those food safety lessons from Home-Ec! Keep cutting boards separate for meat and veggies, for example. Be cautious while cooking—no tastes for the cook with the same spoon!
Following these tips religiously may seem overboard, but remember—this is you doing your part! Staying home and keeping the people who may be quarantined with you from getting sick is the main objective.
2. Combat mindless eating
One of the number one things people like to do when they’re bored is to eat. It’s likely you’re more sedentary than usual, streaming movies and watching Netflix. Snacking while doing these activities is ingrained in many of us. Stress will only increase this urge. We’re not going to say deprive yourself of treats and yummy foods—quite the opposite, really, as this might add to the stress!
Just have a plan for keeping healthy snacks as your go-to, as well as a plan for managing stress. Here are some proven techniques that will help combat that twitchy quarantine feeling:
- Stay active —Find an exercise video to stream online.
- Journal your feelings —If nothing else, having a record of your quarantine days will be a great time capsule-fodder!
- Play —Kids, pets, games…now are the time to take advantage of activities that might have felt like a “waste of time” before.
- Create —art, music, conversation (virtually, of course). Boredom is actually proven to be a creativity booster.
- Meditate —If you’re not sure where to begin, search your app store—there are tons of options to get you started.
- Go for a walk —If your environment allows it, go for a (socially-distant) walk around the block.
While it may seem like everyone and their mother are doing practical things, like cleaning and organizing, don’t feel like you must keep up. It’s great if you get some of these things done too, but remember that quarantine is not a competition. And keeping your stress levels low will keep you from running to the kitchen.
3. Meal planning
Generally, people make meal plans to prevent convenience overcoming health and fitness goals. Meal planning during quarantine serves a slightly different purpose. Here, the name of the game is quantifying the food you have, the food you need, and how best to use it. This will limit the groceries you need to get—keeping you home where you belong—in addition to being efficient.
Begin with a quick inventory of the foods you have. Highlight the foods that will be first to go bad.
Pro Tip: freeze anything that can be frozen—veggies should be cooked first. Fresh fruit, leafy greens, and quick-to-spoil foods should make up the majority of your first meals.
Make a chart with all the meals you’ll consume over the next couple of weeks. Most people find it simplest to eat similar things at the beginning of the day. Then when dinner rolls around, you can have some variation.
Review recipes you’d like to try. You’re home all day, so why not, right? Try to keep meals as balanced as possible and include the major food groups. Consider making big-batch recipes like soups and casseroles that can stretch for a few days or be frozen.
4. Change your quarantine mindset
It can be hard not to see a self-quarantine as a deprivation of sorts.
But, what if you took this time and viewed it as an opportunity, rather than a challenge? Most people have pantries stuffed with food that gets overlooked for their typical meals. Now is your chance to “supermarket sweep” your pantry!
There are several good apps to help you create recipes out of what you have on hand. One good one is Supercook, and it’s even free! Satisfaction can come from unlikely places, like finally using that bag of dried green peas!
5. Accept good over great
This point is an important one, so listen up. People that have been following strict diets or food lifestyles are likely struggling now. It can be hard to give up the diet you’ve been following. Especially if you’ve been working at it for some time, and rely on its success as a source of accomplishment.
Many diet plans like keto and paleo require frequent trips to the market for fresh ingredients. Simply put, we don’t have that luxury now. Obsessing over your inability to stick to your diet of choice is stressful, no doubt. But, there is not much we can do right now.
Letting go of the need for perfection will go a long way towards maintaining your mental health. Allowing yourself some wiggle room by forgiving yourself for indulging in forbidden foods is a start. We’re all living in a new normal—just remember, it won’t be this way forever! And you need to come out of it with your sanity intact.
6. Know your community resources
So far, we’ve written from the point of view that assumes you can access food easily. However, we also know that a lot of people are struggling financially right now. Ordering groceries for delivery and call in take-out orders can add up, fast. Social media and news websites, in particular, provide a vital link to those who are food-isolated.
If this sounds like you, look into churches, food pantries, markets—even local restaurants. If they don’t have specific info posted online, a quick call might connect you to those that do. There’s no reason to feel shame for needing help.
People come together when the going gets rough. Because of that, many people are willing to lend a helping (virtual) hand! Stay safe, stay sane, and stay well out there friends!