Grace Engels, RDN, is a clinical dietitian at Atlantic Health System’s Newton Medical Center.
The extent to which we are currently practicing social distancing is unchartered territory for all of us. While this practice is effectively slowing the spread of COVID-19, it also seems to be effective in increasing our food intake. Because we are ‘quarantined’ in our homes, we are watching more TV, our schedules are less structured, and we have fewer social interactions than we are used to. So, it makes sense that we look to food to bring some enjoyment or diversity to our days. Here are some things you can do to help yourself make healthier food choices when stranded at home:
- Separate Work and Food Spaces. Be intentional about where you are eating. Avoid snacking at your desk or on the couch; this can easily turn into mindless eating and can even more easily become a bad habit. You can also consider having concrete rules for yourself, such as ‘I will only eat if I am sitting at the dining room table.’
- Prepare Snacks Ahead of Time. Have healthy options ready to go so that when a craving does hit, you aren’t searching for that bag of chips. This can simply be having clear containers of cut-up veggies easily visible in the refrigerator or having a fruit bowl out on the counter. Pair fruits and vegetables with a protein or a healthy fat to really help satisfy hunger; maybe some plain Greek yogurt with ripe sliced banana, or peanut butter on apple slices, or hummus with baby carrots.
- Are You Hungry, or is This Just a Craving? If it’s been a few hours since your last meal or snack, you are probably hungry. However, if you know you’re not hungry but you just cannot stop thinking about that bag of chips, try giving yourself some time. Set a goal of 15 minutes and fill that time with an activity; go through your emails, take a walk around the block, or have a power cleaning session. If after those 15 minutes you are still thinking about those chips, then have some, but do it mindfully. Don’t eat straight out of the bag; serve yourself one portion size, enjoy it, and move on with your day.
- Make a schedule. Spending more time at home means your days are less structured. And with no restrictions, your kitchen has amazing potential to become an all-you-can-eat buffet that is open 24 hours a day. Consider scheduling set times for each meal and snack and do your best to stick to them.
The current situation also means we are going to the grocery store less frequently. Buying shelf-stable yet unhealthy foods is not necessary as there are many healthy options that last. Best fresh choices include, eggs, cheese, squashes, grapes, potatoes, apples, carrots, and celery; their shelf-lives are relatively longer than average. Of course, boxed, frozen, and canned foods are great options for when you’re low on fresh foods. These include whole grains like bulgur and brown rice, low-sodium canned vegetables, and single-ingredient frozen fruits and vegetables. Keep your body strong and healthy with good nutrition, stay safe and wash your hands!