The COVID-19 pandemic means less, or no, grocery store shopping. Social distancing limits workouts, too. But you can still eat healthy and keep fit in lockdown.
Even if you normally eat nutritious meals and do your best to be physically active, it can be a challenge to keep up your best intentions in a time that is certainly not “normal. But understanding how to eat healthy and stay in shape in lockdown due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic can go far in keeping you physically fit. It can help your mental outlook, too. In fact, it may even help your immune system stay as strong as possible.
Obviously, there are challenges. Life has changed dramatically, and the changes will likely be around for many weeks, months or, potentially, even longer. And there’s much to cope with — social distancing, countless people figuring out the logistics of working from home, and fitness facilities closed. What’s more, even just getting groceries can be complicated.
But here’s good news: With planning and creative approaches to both food preparation and fitness, you can make the best of being on lockdown and stay as healthy as possible.
Eating healthy on lockdown needs planning
Many local and state governments have citizens on a strict curfew due to the COVID-19 crisis. Although grocery shopping is considered an essential activity permitted under mandatory stay-at-home orders, reducing the number of times you go to the store can lower your risk of catching the novel coronavirus. And because of your age or other risk factors, you may have been advised not to go grocery shopping in person at all, so you need to rely on helpful neighbors or ordering from online grocery delivery services.
Bottom line: The fewer treks to the store, the better, until medical experts announce otherwise. And fewer online orders can save you money in delivery charges.
Obviously, you should figure out exactly what you need prior to your few and far between grocery treks or online orders. First, before you shop, check out what you already have in your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry, and aim for making healthy meal plans for the next two weeks or longer.
Keep a list of the essentials you’ll need, and consider ingredients and alternatives you can substitute if stores are out of specific items. For example, if fresh milk is sold out, consider evaporated milk, or powdered milk, which has a long shelf life and is easy to reconstitute with water. Are eggs in short supply? Try tofu to scramble with herbs instead. Even if the substitute food items aren’t your favorite or anything you’ve used before, a quick surf of the internet can supply you with a host of recipes for almost any ingredients.
Dietitian, nutritionist, and certified health and wellness coach Julie Schwartz, MS, RDN, shops for her household of three with the intent of not going back to the grocery store for at least two weeks. And she has some tips from her personal experience. For example, check “sell by” dates on milk and other items, and try to find the ones with expiration dates at least two weeks away.
Because lettuce doesn’t have a long and crispy life in your frig, Schwartz advises looking for lettuce, kale, and other greens that appear to be the driest. Store leafy greens with a few paper towels at the bottom and middle in a container, and shake it now and then. The paper towels will help absorb excess moisture and keep lettuce and other greens fresher longer.
Although everyone has to rely more on canned, prepackaged, and frozen foods during this time, when you find fresh produce you can take steps to make it last longer. For example, berries are loaded with phytonutrients, and you can use them in everything from pancakes and muffins to snacks and salads. If you aren’t going to use all the berries within the first week, freeze the rest.
Concentrate on having plenty of long-lasting staples, including rice, canned and frozen vegetables, oat meal and a variety of pasta, sauces, and soups on-hand. To beat mealtime boredom, try new ways to serve them.
“If the grocery is out of your favorites, pick up what they have and take the opportunity to try something new. Don’t fret or stress over what isn’t at the store, it will be back,” says Schwartz, who helps clients through her Balance Nutrition Coach with nutritious and tasty eating plans as part of a healthy lifestyle.
“Search the internet for new recipes or watch ‘how to’ videos and cooking shows. Trying new recipes and ingredients is a distraction from other worries and can help you avoid stress eating, which can pack on pounds, too.”
You’ll likely be relying on more veggies during lockdown. And, even if you indulge sometimes in big helpings, a plant-based meal is typically low calorie and high in nutrition, Schwartz points out.
“When you cook, make enough for at least one meal of leftovers,” she adds. “Keep several meals frozen to have on hand if you become ill and don’t feel like cooking.”
Look: More tips for eating well on lockdown
- Root and tuber vegetables are good choices when available. They last two weeks or longer, are versatile, and packed with vitamins, minerals, and fibers. Examples include carrots, sweet potatoes, onions, turnips, potatoes, beets, radishes, and garlic.
- Fresh salads are nutritious, but greens don’t last for weeks. Search the internet for recipes for other types of salads built around items with long shelf-lives — including couscous (a type of pasta resembling small pellets made from semolina wheat), tri-colored Italian pasta swirls, and quinoa (a grain crop grown for its edible seeds). Add beans, artichoke hearts, feta cheese, some olive oil, seasoning, and canned or sun-dried tomatoes for a nutritious and hearty salad.
- Keep several types of rice on hand for a myriad of dishes. You can use tried-and-true recipes or your own creativity to make new rice-based meals incorporating veggies and frozen, canned or fresh seafood, chicken, or other protein sources. Keep milk (even the powdered kind), vanilla extract, cinnamon and raisins on hand, and you can even turn rice into delicious rice pudding for dessert.
- Eggs are a good staple for not only breakfast but, by adding sautéed fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables to create an omelet, a quick main meal.
- For snacks, skip the candy and packaged cookies, and opt for healthier choices like popcorn or nuts (but don’t go overboard with nuts as they are high in calories). Apples and orange have relatively long shelf-lives compared to other fruit and, when available, they make nutritious low-calorie snacks.
Don’t forget to stay active while you stay safe
Getting regular physical activity is a key to good health. Exercise helps keep muscles strong, lowers heart disease and stroke risk, and even benefits the immune system.
“Exercise can provide an immediate decrease in anxiety, improve mood and attitude, reduce body aches over time (even when there are a few new ones, if you’re just starting to exercise), and improve sleep, too,” Schwartz points out.
However, there’s no doubt exercise can be challenging during a time of curfews, social distancing, and lockdown rules. Some local governments have asked residents to stay inside, and public parks and paths are closed in many areas.
If you have a dog, most lockdown rules allow you to walk your pet. But remember, whenever and however you are walking or running outdoors, keep at least six feet away from others, and consider wearing a mask. You can also walk laps around the outside of your house or walk up and down stairs in your home multiple times for a workout.
If you have a yard, weeding and tending to a garden is good exercise, too. And if you have an exercise bike or other equipment that’s been put aside in the past, now’s a great opportunity to dust it off and use it.
“There is a plethora of free online workouts, too. But if you haven’t been working out, start slow,” advises Schwartz. “Doing 20 squats along with an exercise video may be easy today, but you may curse the show tomorrow! Better to do less and build up than do too much and be sidelined.”
If you have any type of injury or condition requiring you to limit certain activities, safely do what you can — even if it’s only simple stretches or walking in place — but do it consistently.
Schwartz urges taking time to consciously slow down, breathe, and relax, too.
“Get comfortable, sit down. Close your eyes and just focus on breathing in and breathing out slowly. Focus on deep breathing where your belly extends and fully contracts,” Schwartz says. “And take advantage of the variety of guided mediation and relaxation apps, websites and videos available that can help with anxiety during this difficult time.”
April 20, 2020
Janet O'Dell, RN