Eating a nutrient-dense, whole-foods diet is probably the single most important step you can take to improve your health.
And now, during COVID-19, eating a healthy diet is more important than ever.
Our immune system requires nutrients like vitamins A, D, E, and C, and minerals like zinc, selenium, iron, and copper to function properly—and these nutrients are best obtained from food, not supplements.
The good news is that most of us are eating at home a lot more than we typically do—whether we want to or not! And, as Michael Pollan has argued, cooking and preparing our own food is more than half the battle when it comes to eating well.
But maintaining a healthy diet while in the midst of a crisis can be challenging for several reasons:
Access to some foods may be limited
We’re shopping less frequently
We’re under a lot of stress (which can lead to poor food choices and emotional eating)
Our kids are home from school and we may have less time to cook
Our income may be reduced and our food budget more limited
With this in mind, I wanted to share a few tips for eating healthy while staying at home.
#1: Embrace simplicity Every meal you make doesn’t have to be a masterpiece—and it’s not realistic to expect that under the circumstances we’re living with. Simple meals with simple ingredients can be put together quickly and don’t require a lot of time and preparation. For example:
Eggs, bacon, and sauerkraut for breakfast
Steamed veggies, canned salmon, and a leftover potato for lunch
Steak and salad for dinner
#2: Be flexible and let go of preconceived ideas There’s no reason, other than habit and custom, that you can’t have breakfast for dinner. Or dinner for breakfast. It’s also not going to kill you to skip a meal here and there, eat breakfast at 10 am and “dinner” at 4 pm, or have a snack instead of a meal.
#3: Get creative Since you’re probably not shopping as frequently as you normally do, and many stores are still not fully stocked, you’ve probably had times where you’ve opened the fridge and haven’t seen much there to work with. But as any artist or musician will tell you, constraints can make us more creative!
Here are a few ways to get creative with food:
Take three things out of the fridge and find a new way to combine them in a meal
Choose a spice in your drawer and look up recipes that use it
Pick a protein that you have and check your cookbooks or online sites for a new recipe
Start a Google Docs file and invite your friends and family to share a few favorite recipes
#4: Learn to love leftovers Let’s face it, it’s a lot of work to cook and clean up after three meals every day, and there are going to be times when you just can’t (or don’t want to) do it. One way to address this is to cook anywhere from 1.5–2 times the amount you normally would for dinner, and eat these leftovers for breakfast and/or lunch the next day. This is a lot less work than it is to cook another meal from scratch.
#5: Cook one-pot meals One-pot meals in a slow-cooker or an Instant Pot can also be a lifesaver. Just throw a bunch of ingredients together in the morning, put them in the pot, and you’ve got dinner several hours later. There are many great books and online resources now dedicated to one-pot meals if this is new to you.
One more thing: I’ve been talking about how COVID-19 presents us with both challenges and opportunities. That’s true with food, too.
We can all use this experience as a chance to get accustomed to eating at home more, to get more creative with food, and to figure out how to prepare simple and delicious meals.
Those are all great skills to have post-COVID-19 as well.