During a pandemic, many things may seem out of control. Healthy eating doesn’t have to be one of them. One benefit to isolating at home is that more Americans are preparing meals for themselves and trying out new ingredients.
Even if you must curb your grocery runs and the shelves aren’t always full, you still can take smart steps to shop, cook, and eat in ways that are good for your health and your budget.
Stock Up on Healthy Staples
Load up on go-to items you can tap into in an emergency, or when you lack the energy to whip up a full meal. They include:
- Oats. They are high in soluble fiber, which may help lower blood cholesterol. You can toss them into homemade smoothies, cookies, and pancakes.
- Whole-grain ready-to-eat cereals. Choose a cereal that lists a whole grain as the first ingredient. Look for at least 3 grams of dietary fiber per serving. Many breakfast cereals are very high in added sugar. One serving of cereal on average can have up to a third of the sugar you need for the whole day.
- Brown rice. It’s a healthier side dish option than white rice because it has more fiber and protein as well as minerals such as selenium.
- Whole-grain pasta. It’s higher in dietary fiber and protein than enriched pasta. You can eat it as an entrée with pasta sauce, or toss it into soups, casseroles, or salads.
- Beans and lentils. These are a great alternative source of protein to chicken and meat. Use them to beef up salads, soups, chili, or even pasta. Buy dried ones and soak and cook them in water. Or rinse canned ones to flush away any sodium.
- Canned tuna, salmon, and sardines. These are high in both protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fats.
- Canned tomatoes. They are a versatile way to add a serving of veggies. Use them for sauces, soups, and chili. Look for ones that are low sodium or have no added salt.
- Low-sodium stocks and broths. These are a great low-calorie way to add flavor to soups, stir-fries, and sauces.
- Dairy. Milk, including nut milk, that has been pasteurized with ultra-high temperatures doesn’t need to be refrigerated and lasts a long time. You can freeze yogurt. Some yogurts can be high in sugar, so read the labels.
- Frozen fruits and veggies. These foods are more important than ever during isolation, as they provide a variety of nutrients that help boost your immunity. Frozen fruits and veggies keep almost as many of the nutrients as the fresh versions. Canned options can be good, too. Just watch sodium and buy fruit packed in juice, not syrup.
Make the most of every trip to the grocery store. Arm yourself with a shopping list to keep your visit short. You might:
- Create a “master” list. This includes items you buy on most trips, like eggs or particular produce. That way, you can quickly check off what you need on your next grocery run. It also lessens the chance that you’ll overbuy items.
- Turn to apps. A paper list is fine, but there are some meal planning apps for your phone that will create a shopping list for you based on chosen recipes. Your grocer may also offer an app that lets you make a list and clip electronic coupons.
- Shop online when you can. This cuts down on trips to the store. Some supermarkets offer free pickup services. Or you can use shopping services that deliver to your door.
Have Go-To Recipes
Prepare for the times when you’d rather do anything than cook. Learn some quick, easy, and delicious favorites you can whip up when the takeout menu beckons.
- Pasta with store-bought sauce and a salad. You can add some beans to the pasta sauce for protein. Look for low-sugar jarred sauces.
- Baked chicken breast. Season it with lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Serve it with steamed broccoli, cauliflower, or other veggies and brown rice.
- Veggie burgers. Serve them on whole-wheat buns with sliced cucumbers drizzled with vinaigrette dressing.
- Salad with protein. Fix up your favorite garden or mixed salad and toss with a protein: grilled chicken cubes, fried tofu slices, a hardboiled egg, canned tuna, and more.
Staying inside more means easier access to the fridge and the pantry. Watch for mindless snacking. Strategies include:
- Eat three meals a day. Skipping meals may tempt you to overeat later. But don’t force yourself to eat if you’re not hungry. Fill at least half of your plate with fruits and veggies. Load the rest with even servings of whole grains and a healthy protein like fish, poultry, beans, or nuts.
- Tune into hunger cues. Each time you feel an urge to nosh, rate your hunger on a scale of 1-10. One is you’re famished. Ten means you’re stuffed. Eat when you’re between 4 and 7.
- Don’t snack on autopilot. Avoid diving into a bag of chips. Plan and portion out snacks in advance. When you’re ready to enjoy it, eat mindfully without distracting yourself with TV, the internet, or work.
- Be picky about snacks. The best ones are high in protein, healthy fats, and good carbs like whole grains, beans, and vegetables. Think fruit with peanut butter, steamed edamame, cheese and crackers, or veggies dipped in hummus. You can create your own healthy trail mix by combining a quarter-cup of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit.
Even if you’re under isolation with others, you might not always prioritize meals together. Research shows that eating with family tends to lead to healthier menus. The communal meal doesn’t have to be dinner. Just make it a part of your routine. Take the time to talk and listen to each other, even if you’ve been around everyone all day anyway.