Limits on food shopping trips. Needing to prepare three meals every single day (goodbye cafe, lunch boxes and dining out). All-day access to the fridge. Boredom or craving comfort. If these lockdown-related factors have thrown your healthy eating for a loop, you’re not alone. But COVID-19 restrictions don’t have to result in opting for low-quality convenience meals or comfort eating.
According to Soaring Health dietitian Liz, the key to combating lockdown eating traps and maintaining a diverse, balanced diet for you and your family is planning. And while it may take some time to adjust to working out Thursday’s dinner on Saturday (or buying everything in one weekly shop rather than racing out for missing ingredients), the upside is that the habits you form during forced restrictions will help you to eat healthfully long after lockdown.
How to eat well during lockdown
1. Plan ahead
Meal preparation or ‘meal prep’ is a powerful tool. Not only does planning meals ahead make it easier to ensure that you’re consuming all food groups and meeting daily requirements, but the structure also helps to stave off snack cravings and impulsive food choices. Schedule a regular time such as Sunday afternoon or a day/time that works for you and write out a plan of the week’s meals (don’t forget to make a note of where to find the recipes). If a week is overwhelming, aim to plan two to three meals at a time.
Knowing which food items you have on hand can help you to plan meals and shopping and remove barriers to preparing fresh, healthy meals. Next time you’re looking for something to do, go through the fridge and pantry and discard anything past its best before or use-by date. Also get rid of anything you don’t think you’ll use.
3. Shop smart
The third critical planning component relates to shopping. Once you’ve planned your meals for the week and cleansed the fridge and pantry, make a list of everything you need to ensure you stick to the plan. Aim to buy everything for the week in one or two trips. This will help to guard against ad-hoc grocery runs, which can lead to impulse or convenience purchases. Relatedly, plan to shop when you’re not likely to be hungry (think after breakfast or lunch). Non-hungry shoppers are more likely to follow the list and less likely to grab that packet of corn chips or chocolate bar.
4. Know your hunger
One of the greatest traps during lockdown is boredom or comfort eating when you’re not actually hungry. Make a conscious effort to question your hunger before wandering to the fridge or pantry. If you find that your motivation for eating is boredom or discomfort, try instead calling a friend, going for a walk, reading a book, taking a bath or watching a favourite series. If you are hungry, consider a healthy snack such as a piece of fruit, some Greek yoghurt, a handful of nuts or some roasted chickpeas.
5. Rest and flex
Evidence shows that self-care and lifestyle practices such as sleep and exercise affect food choices. While adequate sleep quantity and good sleep quality help with appetite regulation and considered decision-making, sleep deficit and fatigue can contribute to cravings for refined sugars and high-fat foods, appetite dysregulation or confusion and diminished willpower. Exercise can also help to promote healthy eating and appetite regulation. As part of your nutrition plan, strive to sleep for around eight hours each night and undertake formal exercise daily.