Eating healthy during lockdown, self-isolation and quarantine: practical tips.

In the current situation, it is very easy to feel overwhelmed and even fear food scarcity. We are not used to feeling that it might not be enough food for everyone, and empty supermarkets shelves exacerbate our worries. So how can we prepare to ensure that we still eat healthy?

Check your cupboards

Before you rush to the shop, focus on you all the things stored in your cupboards or pantry. We have all bought those packs of chickpeas, lentils or dried algae (!) that we never had time to cook with. The best way is to put everything outside and organise it according to the category e.g. legumes, different types of rice, pasta, flours, teas, spices, cans etc. On top of that check your freezer, you may find some things you completely forgot about and now may be a good time to use them! Checking on what you already have at home will prevent you from panic buying and also from buying too much.

Macronutrients and polyphenols

After checking your cupboards, you can start thinking about the different macronutrients categories. Think about fats, proteins and carbohydrates as well as sources of antioxidants and polyphenols. A body with less oxidative stress will be better equipped to fight any infection. Consider what would last you for a long time (hint: not processed packaged food!) in every macronutrient category. For example, good sources of fat include olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, nuts; good sources of proteins include fatty fish, good quality meat, legumes and beans; good sources of carbohydrates are rice, sweet potatoes, butternut squash; and for the ever important antioxidants and polyphenols, in addition to fruits and vegetables, you may include olive oil, dark chocolate (above 70%), different teas, herbs are spices. Also, always eat fresh food first as the nutritional value will decrease with time.

Get creative, engage your family and do not forget about the microbiome

As our gut microbiome likes variety, so try not to eat the same meal for lunch every day. Try to be creative and create new recipes based on what you have in your cupboards and freezer, make sure you add a lot of herbs and spices. Involve your family and make it fun! If you do not find your favourite type of particular ingredient in the supermarket such as flour, try to use alternative flours such as almond, coconut, rice, buckwheat to create new recipes. Also, make sure that your gut microbiome remains healthy during this challenging time, think about what kind of probiotic and prebiotic-rich food you can add to your meals.

Kitchen equipment and what can be used

Check your kitchen equipment, if you have a juicer, blender, slow cooker or pressure cooker, dehydrator now is the time to use it. The slow cooker is ideal for the preparation of certain meals such as meat, legumes and beans as a long cooking time makes them more digestible.

Did you know that you can prepare your own bone broth at home using a pressure cooker or just cooking it in the normal pot for a long time? You just need bones, spices and some vegetables (any bones left from a chicken dinner or Sunday roast will do).

If you have a juicer you can buy a bunch of vegetables, fresh herbs, ginger and turmeric and after juicing place them in a container you normally use for ice cubes. They will last for longer and you will have an instant nutrient boost! You can also freeze your broth in the same way.

Do not forget to use the reusable cotton bags for shopping which can be easily washed after coming back from the shop

How to make food more nutritious and last longer?

General rules for making food more digestible, last longer and preserving nutrients include:

  • choose vegetables or fruits that will last longer such as apples, onion, garlic, butternut squash, (sweet) potatoes etc. just do not store onions and potatoes, or apples and bananas together!
  • for fresh products such as fruits and vegetables you normally store in the fridge, remove them from any plastic containers, make sure they are dry (you can wrap them in a paper towel) before placing them in the fridge; any moisture contributes to faster spoiling.
  • soak and sprout legumes, beans, grains before eating them, this will make them more digestible
  • make fermented vegetables yourself, you will just need a jar, some salt and water; the process of fermentation and food preservation with salt is an ancient technique – and fermented foods contain good bacteria
  • although I normally do not advise eating pasta(!) if you cook and cool down certain foods such as pasta or potatoes (you may reheat them after cooling) you are increasing the levels of healthy resistant starch
  • buy frozen foods (vegetables, fruits, herbs, meat, seafood, fish, even garlic or ginger) or freeze immediately after buying, freezing will preserve nutrients and ensure food will last for longer
  • buy canned food like sardines, mackerel, tomatoes, beans, coconut milk; although canned food is not ideal it may be useful during this time, but be sure to look for BPA and BPS-free containers and no added ingredients
  • consider dried food like dried mushrooms, spices or algae (e.g. nori)
  • you may need a powdered form of certain foods e.g. powdered coconut milk

Healthy snacks

When you spend more time at home or under stress, you may tend to deviate towards more unhealthy sugary snacks. When in that situation, after asking yourself WHY you crave certain foods such as biscuits and seeing if there are other ways you may meet that need (e.g. hug, 10 min of rest, drinking herbal tea, taking 10 deep breaths), you can consider these healthier snacks: nuts with honey e.g. almonds, fruits with nut butter e.g. apple with almond butter, dates with walnuts, tahini on dark chocolate, apple with cinnamon, frozen fruit sorbet, canned fish, hardboiled eggs or vegetables sticks with hummus.

Mindful eating and reflection

We tend to eat ‘on the go’ and not to pay too much attention to HOW we eat. Now it may be a good opportunity to slow down and practice more mindful eating, which includes eating in a seated position, taking deep breaths before eating, actually smelling and looking at our food (remember that the digestion process starts in the brain!), taking small bites and then chewing multiple times and feeling the texture and really tasting it.

Even now, we can still make sure we eat healthy. However, in the current time of perceived food scarcity, maybe we can also reflect on where our food came from before it ended up on our plate. What about the welfare of farmers, workers and animals? It may be a good time to reflect on our current food supply and feel the gratitude for living in food abundance for most of our lives.

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