Eating in a Pandemic: How to Manage Healthy Eating

My Diet Matters

Oh, the overwhelming stress and anxiety that we are dealing with! And, the barriers to easy grocery shopping! And then there’s the expense of food when budgets may be tight due to lack of employment! The list of reasons for poor eating could technically go on and on. There is no doubt that eating a healthy diet in a pandemic comes with very unique challenges. With all these challenges, it’s still important to keep in mind that eating properly can go a long way in keeping you well. Lots of science backs that a good diet can go a long way in boosting your immunity. And, in addition to boosting your immunity, you want to be managing any nutrition related medical problems properly that you were dealing with before COVID-19.

Stress and anxiety eating in a pandemic

While we are all experiencing anxiety to some extent in this pandemic, some will find it easier to cope with than others. If your response to stress and anxiety always involves eating, you can take steps right now to curb this response pattern. These steps can be as simple as re-framing your thinking and managing your eating environment.

How to reframe thoughts

In terms of re-framing your thinking, try to ramp up your self-care. Turn your self-care into a task you tackle daily. Take care of your medical and nutritional needs that existed before the pandemic. And, by eating a quality diet, you will also improve your immunity and protection from all viruses. If you are like many, you now have some extra time on your hands. Try using it to get organized so that you can better focus on self-care, including eating a better diet in a pandemic. Consider increasing your physical activity and keeping a journal as stress reducers.

Keep it healthy at home

Lastly, keep in mind that if you only have healthier foods at home, it’s easier to make better choices. At this time, poor eating is tied less to dining out, and more to what is available at home. If you do not purchase unhealthy food, you will not be inclined to eat unhealthy food. When you make your list for yourself or your delivery service, keep it healthy. Do not load your cart with junk, and then expect to rely on willpower. If you have specific cravings you must satisfy, like a craving for chocolate, then do your homework to find healthier lower calorie options.

Pandemic grocery shopping list

With store shelves often empty, having an understanding of what constitutes healthy eating is more important than ever. Simple guidelines for healthy eating that apply to eating healthy, pandemic or not, include the following:

eating in a pandemic
  • Emphasize nutrient dense foods like fruits and vegetables. Key nutrients from all fruits and vegetables include fiber, vitamin C, and potassium. Keep in mind that frozen options for fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh counterparts.
  • Make sure you add more fiber and B complex vitamins through some good whole grain foods. Yes, a healthy diet can include several slices of whole grain bread every day! If you don’t like bread, add other sources of whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, or barley.
  • While meat may or may not become scare, you don’t need to eat a lot of meat to meet your protein requirements. Decreasing your animal protein will not hurt your health, and can be good for your health. In fact, less animal protein in your diet can translate to lower inflammation. Eating enough carbohydrates will spare your protein to be used to build and repair tissue. You can consider eating meat alternatives such as eggs, cottage cheese, string cheese, or canned fish.
  • Healthy eating also means consuming the right amount of calories. If you own a trackable such as a fitbit, consider charging it up. By tracking your calories burned, you can lose weight by eating less than burned. If you are wishing to maintain, match your food calories with calories burned.

Eating in a pandemic shopping list suggestions

Here are economical shopping list suggestions for healthier eating in a pandemic:

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Canned fruits packed in water
  • Canned tuna, chicken, salmon
  • Cottage cheese
  • String cheese
  • Eggs
  • Eggbeaters
  • Skim milk or dairy free alternatives such as almond, oat, hemp milk
  • Any nuts (just don’t overdo the amount as they are primarily fat with some protein)
  • Canned pumpkin for crust free pie
  • Healthy frozen dinners
  • Whole grain bread
  • Brown rice
  • Greek yogurts
  • Whole grain pasta
  • Barley
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Canned lentils
  • Low sodium broths for soup
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Peanut butter
  • High fiber cereals like kashi, wheat chex
  • Seeds such as flaxseed
  • Vegetable juices such as low sodium V-8
  • Lower fat snack foods like popcorn, pretzels
  • Treats that are less than one hundred calories

Take away

In these stressful times, it’s more important than ever to implement a healthy diet to support your immunity and take care of whatever your medical history was before the pandemic. If your inclination is to eat in response to stress and anxiety, find an outlet such as exercise or journaling. Also, keeping your food options at home as healthy as possible will prevent a high calorie binge. Keep your food options healthy by emphasizing nutrient dense fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Steer clear of too much animal protein as animal protein will make your diet more inflammatory. Choose staples from the above shopping list to promote healthy and sustainable eating on a budget.

Sue Rose, MS, RD, LDN

Sue Rose helps readers sort through the maze of nutrition information available to the public. As a seasoned clinical dietitian/nutritionist with decades of experience, her blogs attempt to educate and inform the public at a time when there is so much information it is often overwhelming to understand. Stay tuned for clarity on a variety of topics!

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