I’ve been hesitant to write this post. I don’t want to come off as “shoulding” or pretentious. I’ve even thought, “Must be nice to be able to think about being healthy while managing work, kids, etc.” However, now that the dust of the initial craziness of quarantine has settled (a bit), we are finding new routines and learning that all we can do is take things day by day. It’s overwhelming! And understandably so- there is a REASON why work, childcare/teaching and parenting are three separate jobs. Worlds are colliding and it’s unnerving. All that being said, let’s get down to business.
We all made that initial trip (or trips) to the store to stock up on quarantine “essentials.” Five kinds of pasta, three kinds of pretzels, candy, and baked goods all made it into the cart. I’m personally guilty of all of these, so I get it. And I can’t say I regret stocking up on some of these things, along with meats, fish and canned goods, because we wanted to be able to build meals from shelf-stable ingredients if necessary. What I wish I had focused more energy on from the start, though, was meal planning and time spent in the produce section of the stores (which was surprisingly well-stocked and empty of customers as everyone cleared out the frozen foods and center aisles).
We have the ability to maximize our immunity during this time, and yet we’ve been ignoring the basic rule of healthy shopping: shop the periphery. This is a concept highlighting that the healthier foods reside in the produce section and the cold cases. I am not suggesting we adhere to this during quarantine, because we need to be prepared and to minimize our store trips. What I’m proposing is to meal plan strategically so we are buying more vegetables overall and buying ones that also last the longest.
Whether we are home all day working, taking care of kids or just passing the time due to unfortunate layoffs and furloughs, I suggest taking advantage by spending more time in the kitchen. It is an opportunity to learn the basic skills that will give us more confidence to feed ourselves in healthier ways. That is, to not rely on processed, packaged foods or takeout as much. Personally, I am still working outside the home every weekday and my husband is working from home, so we don’t have endless free time. But he has already noticed the benefits of being able to make a fresh lunch every day vs. purchasing something at a cafeteria, and since we have been trying to cook more I have been bringing leftovers to work with me.
Below are some basic tips that can help identify things we CAN control in a world that feels anything but stable and controlled.
1. Focus on Nutrition: Meal Planning
When I get into a rut of eating more processed foods, I start to feel what I can best describe as “gross.” My skin isn’t as clear, I am more tired, more lethargic, and then ironically not as motivated to cook. I also feel like I have more temperature issues (sweaty during the day, waking up hot and cold in the night). When the initial quarantine was announced, it came on quick. One day my husband’s work was taking an abundant amount of caution in having him work from home, and then just 2 days later schools were closed (indefinitely). That weekend we went out and stocked up on pantry staples and have been overdoing it on the carbs and processed foods since.
Want to limit those “Do I need this?” moments at the grocery store? MAKE A LIST. In order to make an appropriate list, which also facilitates getting in and getting OUT of the store quicker- we first have to meal plan. If you have a plan for your meals and snacks, you’re less likely to grab the extra items you don’t need. It saves you money, too.
- First, take inventory of what you have, and use those items to build meals from. This eliminates extra list items as we are trying to make trips quick to limit our exposure in public.
- Don’t burden yourself with new or complicated recipes every night unless you truly have the time and energy to devote to it. You could burn out and end up reverting back to old ways.
- Pick two easy, go-to meals to be part of your meal plan for each week, and if you like leftovers, make another night a “leftovers” or “you pick” night. We are trying to do a weekly big salad night.
- For three of the other nights, pick healthy recipes if you can. We are going for progress, not perfection. Use instagram, Pinterest, etc. for inspiration. My advice is to make one of the meals a crock pot meal or something that you know will yield extra portions so you can start the week off with extra ready-made meals.
- Leave one night open for takeout/delivery if you feel comfortable with that and can support local businesses.
- There is no dogma here. Meal plans don’t have to be set in stone. If what you have planned doesn’t work out, you can switch to an easier plan for another night or scoot in your takeout night. If you end up with an extra takeout night, it’s fine. This is about trying to manage a lot of things at once, while also keeping in mind that you will feel better and be healthier if you cook at home more, period.
- Consider meal kit services like Hello Fresh to make meal prep easier, or sites like Butcher Box for meat delivery to keep the freezer stocked.
- Produce that lasts a while: Apples, oranges, cabbage, carrots, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, beets. Put veggies in the fridge and they’ll last longer. Stock up on frozen veggies if you can. We grab canned tomato products, but otherwise I prefer the quality of frozen to canned vegetables.
Here are some of our actual recent meal plans for examples (@eatwhatfeelsgood on IG for inspo):
- Pulled pork in crock pot with cole slaw
- Big green salads with grilled chicken and avocado
- Homemade fish sticks with leftover slaw
- Homemade Beef Stroganoff (googled: Betty Crocker recipe)
- Turkey BLTs
- Takeout (Pad Thai)– Americana Asian Kitchen in Glen Mills, PA
- Spaghetti Bolognese (gluten free boxed pasta, jarred sauce, 1lb ground beef, browned)
- Turkey, Chorizo and Bacon Chili in the crock pot
- Big Green Salads with sauteed shrimp and avocado
- Chicken Thigh Tikka Masala– jarred Tikka Masala sauce, rice, carrots, red pepper, peas and cauliflower
- Salmon, sweet potatoes and cooked cabbage (we still have cabbage left over from last week)
Burgers and homemade oven fries-We did frozen pizza instead (See! Flexible! We were out of propane)
- Takeout– Cheesesteaks from Double Decker Pizza in Chadds Ford, PA
- Pizza (neighbor has a pizza oven and offered!)
- Easter Meal! Spiral ham, green beans, pineapple casserole, my mom’s “Gourmet Potatoes” recipe (basically a twice baked potato casserole)
- Burgers and homemade oven “fries”
- Wings and salad (made with Costco “party wings” packs- oven at 400 degrees for 45 min)
- Ground chicken tacos
- Salmon and cauliflower gnocchi (gnocchi from Trader Joe’s)
- Steak, potatoes, broccoli/ or Pork Tenderloin with pierogies and leftover veg. (We have the stuff for both, we will see how the week goes.)
2. Healthy Snacking
Being home more than usual has meant more snacking for us. And by more, I mean endless. snacking. I can’t say we are even bored since we are both working, but we keep finding ourselves wandering to the pantry throughout the day. Here are some snacking tips to minimize the damage of processed foods.
- Snack on fruit and make it visible: You are much more likely to eat a healthier snack if it’s prepped in the fridge or out on the counter
- apples, oranges, bananas
- add nut butter (grab some packets for perfect serving sizes!)
- Cut up fruit or veggies and keep in containers in the fridge for easy grabbing
- Cheese sticks
- Jerky/meat sticks
- No-bake energy balls– there are many varieties that are searchable online, sometimes with the names “power balls” or “protein bites.”
- Mini-meals: who says a snack has to be “snacky?” You can have a smaller portion of leftovers and it’ll probably be healthier and more filling!
- Protein shakes: Go for a brand low on sugar and junky ingredients.
3. Stay Hydrated
- Don’t forget water: you might be thirsty (or bored) and not actually hungry.
- Water helps filter toxins from our bodies and can even give us energy!
- Herbal teas count for hydration
- Aim for half your body weight in ounces. For example, If you’re 130 lbs, drink 65 oz water per day
- Don’t over-burden yourself with shooting for a gallon per day unless you’re an elite athlete. Remember, that is 128 ounces and more than your body truly needs. More is not always better.
4. Take Supplements (if appropriate)
I am in no position to give medical advice, so this information is not prescriptive. I will say what we do in our house and why.
- Juice Plus:
- Whole food based nutrition supplement
- Comes in capsule form or gummies (that actually taste good!)
- Like a vitamin, but not: instead of containing synthetic versions of vitamins, it is literally fruit and veggies that have been pureed, freeze-dried and pulverized into a powder so the nutrients are full-spectrum and easily absorbable by the body
- I am a consultant! They cannot be found in stores. Use this link to buy through me!
- Shown to prevent viral illness when taken regularly, and shorten duration of a cold/virus if taken at the onset of symptoms
- Research has yet to be done specifically for COVID19
- Zinc picolinate is the version that I take because research I have done indicates it is a form that is more absorbable by the body than some others
- Antiviral properties
- High in antioxidants
- Most take it in syrup form and I have also found gummies
- Vitamin D:
- Best form is mid-day sun. Aim for 15 minutes without sunscreen.
- Viruses tend to be less common in the warmer months, and research suggests that Vitamin D could be a contributing factor in preventing such illnesses.
**More information about the above supplements and research related to immunity can be found in a multitude of places, but information here is from Super Immunity by Dr. Joel Furhman**. I don’t agree with all of his views on nutrition but I respect his research and take on immunity.
5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
This is what everyone has been talking about: masks, gloves, etc. The “rules” and recommendations are changing daily, it seems, but I will share my current take on them since I work in a nursing home and have a “healthcare worker” perspective. This is not medical advice, however, just my opinion. Please don’t hoard medical supplies, and do consider donating any items that could be of use to local hospitals or nursing homes.
- Masks: I agree with the recommendation that everyone should be wearing them when out in public.
- While the surgical or N95 masks are more protective, I feel that a barrier of any kind (within reason) is better than no barrier.
- I think homemade masks are wonderful, especially when equipped with a slot or pocket for a filter to be placed inside if necessary/possible.
- I work in healthcare, and I have been wearing a surgical mask with a cloth cover over it. I change out the cloth one throughout my shift as needed (like if I have been in a room of someone with symptoms) and it keeps the outside of the surgical mask protected so I can extend its use to 4 days or so per mask. I’m all about conserving medical supplies within reason.
- Gloves: If you wear gloves, consider what you are touching with and without them and do it smart.
- It is more sanitary and protective of yourself and others to use hand sanitizer frequently while out in public than to wear gloves that you are then touching items, your face and your steering wheel with. Want to use them while pumping gas? Fine, but remove and trash them before touching anything else.
- Gowns: So far, the “real” ones have been left to medical professionals, but I feel like you could create a makeshift “gown” or barrier of sorts for yourself if you are living in the same residence with someone who tested positive for COVID 19. Since we should be practicing 6-foot distancing and keeping trips out of the house quick and to a minimum, wearing trash bags and other “gowns” in public seems unnecessary. However, to each their own I suppose.
- Eye shields/Goggles: Wearing eye protection when exposed to a known positive COVID 19 case is recommended, as these patients are likely able to spread the virus to others by coughing or even talking around them. It is still not crystal clear whether COVID 19 is “droplet precautions” or “airborne,” because it is still so new, but taking extra precautions with a known case is wise due to the aggressively contagious nature of this disease. With my patients who are not showing any respiratory symptoms or fever, I am not wearing goggles at the time of writing. As we know, recommendations can change.
- Caps: These refer to any head covering that creates a barrier, but specifically, medical professionals have been using shower-cap-like head coverings or surgical caps that tie in the back. Again, with known COVID cases, covering yourself is wise, but likely not necessary unless directly exposed. If you have been exposed, shower and wash hair as soon as you can.
- Shoe covers: These are the same things people wear around real estate open houses when owners don’t want people walking on the carpet with shoes. Some may be a more protective material, but use your judgment on whether you really need them. When out in public, this is not necessary, just leave your shoes outside the house (in the sun, preferably!) if you are concerned or have been exposed.
6. Manage Stress
Stress impacts the immune system negatively. If resources within the body are working hard on your brain state regulation constantly, there are nutrients that are diverted there and cannot work to promote immunity and protect against virus mutation/assimilation into the body. I encourage you to take your mental health (and that of those close to you) seriously during this time. Drastic changes in routines, isolation, and fear of illness are both powerful influences on our psyches.
Some things you can do during this time to improve your mental health:
- Listen to music or podcasts
- Yoga/Exercise video
- Go for a walk/run
- Take a nap
- Funny/uplifting TV
- Turn off the news
- Be mindful of how social media impacts you- does it contribute to happiness or stress for you?
- Unfollow or mute those who are stressing you out. I give you permission.
- Take a bath with essential oils
- Journal- I recommend this to anyone, but especially during quarantine it can be a helpful outlet.
- Set up Zoom or FaceTime calls with friends and family so you can at least “lay eyes on” those you love. IT HELPS.
- Find a creative outlet: music, painting, crafts, crocheting, baking, etc. Mine apparently has been writing and recording silly song parodies (check me out on my personal IG @abspofford).
- Bring hand sanitizer with you wherever you go and use liberally.
- Cough into your elbow if you’re not wearing a mask
- Obviously, wash your hands frequently
- Sanitize doorknobs, light switches and common areas frequently
I hope these tips were helpful! I may be updating this post as needed if information is no longer accurate. I will label any updates as such. Constructive and respectful feedback is always welcome here.