When I reached out via email a few months ago, I asked my readers and local bootcamp members “What can I do for you right now?” And the two biggest responses I got were “at-home workouts,” and “tips for not eating everything in my house right now.”
I personally answered every email as best I could, and have since developed an at- home bootcamp program to those who requested one.
But for the nutrition tips – I wanted to devote some attention to this because it’s likely a high-stress situation for so many gym and health enthusiasts right now.
We’re feeling all shook up right now.
Being about seven months into the current pandemic, while it seems we STILL don’t know anything about this crazy disease, most doctors are agreeing that those suffering from the effects of Covid-19 are those with underlying health conditions; and those who are recovering or even not showing symptoms, are the ones with better metabolic and gut health. Obviously I’m no doctor and am not saying you won’t get Covid if you’re healthy; but I want to share the facts that the docs are reporting, and if I can help you improve your health in order to increase beating your odds with this disease we don’t know very much about, then I’m going to do so!
So many of us still feeling like we’re trapped in our houses – we are removed from our routines. Some of us started off really well – continuing to keep a sense of normalcy – but as the pandemic has continued, well, trying to stay “on the wagon” of meal prep and healthy eating is just getting tiring when you’re working from home, managing kids, providing all meals and snacks all day long, trying to keep up with the house (is that possible when no one leaves it anymore?) and battling the stress and anxiety of the unknowns in the world.
Many of us have just flat out stopped meal prepping because we’re always home. And we’ve replaced a lot of fresh food ingredients with canned or boxed or frozen because the shelf life is more stable, and we might be purchasing less expensive food items in order to save money during this scary Covid-19 time. Who still has job security?
To make matters worse, if you were on a nutrition plan before this or training with heavy weights that you no longer have access to, odds are, you’re probably even more stressed out than normal. Your entire routine is “off.” You may find that your brain can’t stop thinking about food now – especially since you’re surrounded by it.
What we need is less stress and more routine.
More confidence in our abilities to know ourselves and make better choices.
Here’s the thing. Now is not exactly the time to stress out about diets. It’s also not the time to stress eat either. We need to find a balance between the two. With emotional connections tied to food and boredom tied to the snacks in the pantry – stressing out about not eating the food just causes you to become even more exhausted.
And if you’re reading this – you probably understand how important food is for our health, and maybe even more importantly – how healthy foods fight disease and how many processed and high sugar foods exacerbate health issues. So no – I don’t necessarily think it’s time to “stress eat,” and I don’t think it’s time to try and diet, but I DO think it’s still important to eat as well as we can right now.
So let’s first take a look at the types of food we probably have in our cabinets and freezers by now.
What food do you have/need to have on hand to withstand a few weeks?
I’ll start with the fact that grocery stores are consistently restocking, and many of us have overcome the fear of grocery stores. (I went shopping at Aldi last week and it was packed. Not necessarily happy about that, but it’s clear that more and more people aren’t shying away from their usual grocery haul.) There’s a lot of evidence that says grocery store shopping doesn’t pose a huge risk to catching the virus (if you’re practicing social distancing rules), but you can never be too sure! I would still choose “safe over sorry” and wear a mask and gloves, and definitely wash your hands as soon as you get home. You can even step it up and shower or change clothes when you get home.
Buy for two weeks.
Most professionals who know anything about this coronavirus are suggesting to buy enough for two weeks at a time. Not all fresh produce will last for two weeks, but potatoes, onions, some apples, carrots, butternut and spaghetti squash all last a bit. Many veggies will last a little longer if you put them in the fridge as well – cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, peppers, etc. (I’m basing this on the fact that I’ve bought all these before and let them sit out / or left them in the fridge longer than I anticipated. Ha!)
Don’t stress about veggies – just get them.
Second, there’s nothing at all wrong with frozen veggies or canned veggies, especially during this time. Some would even argue frozen veggies are superior to fresh. If you can stock up on frozen veggies, grab enough for your side dishes for two weeks. And don’t forget the cauliflower rice. You can toss this into any dish for added veggie content without actually knowing it’s in there. Canned veggies would probably be your next best bet, and get things like diced tomatoes, beans of all sorts, and things that would be great in stews and chili like corn, carrots, potatoes, etc. You can even look for BPA-free cans.
Pick up foods that support your gut health.
A healthy gut fights disease. Now more than ever, we need a strong, healthy immune system. Pre and probiotics, vegetables, less sugar – it all is an important factor for good gut health. Buy some sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, plain Greek yogurt, and kefir. Supplements are ok, but real food is better. Green veggies, fibrous foods, lots of water, and all the weird foods that start with K. 😉 It’s very important that we look at this as an opportunity to boost our immune system and gut health, rather than eat fun snacks because we can.
Go for healthy pantry staples that can accent a meal or turn a small meal into a hearty one:
- Gluten free pastas (or whole wheat if gluten doesn’t bother you)
- All natural PB, Almond Butter, etc.
- Nuts and seeds
- Dried fruit (if you’re good with portion control – they’re high in sugar but could be great in oats, yogurt, or with a homemade trail mix)
- Apple sauce
- Sauces (low sugar ones)
- Canned beans and veggies
- Canned chicken, tuna, sardines, and salmon
- Chicken, Vegetable, and Beef Broths
- Avocado and coconut oil
- Almond and coconut flour for some healthy baking when you get bored. 😉
Buy meats you can freeze/store easily or use in multiple dishes.
We’ve been picking up ground meats that we can use in different dishes – a large package of ground beef can make chili, burgers, a pasta sauce, etc. We love kielbasa sausage, so we’ve picked up several packages of those. And we’ve got some of the less expensive cuts of meats in our freezer – frozen fish, chicken legs, whole chickens/turkeys, vs just buying the leanest cuts or the more expensive cuts. And speaking of less expensive proteins – if you like them, canned tuna, salmon, and sardines are PACKED with protein and super important DHAs.
Get some veggie pasta, pasta sauce, and eat without guilt.
We stocked up on cauliflower pasta and chickpea pasta pretty early – Erik knows I like to eat gluten free as much as possible (eating gluten makes me feel tired, bloated, and pretty crappy overall). So we’ve got plenty of boxes of veggie and chickpea pasta in the cabinets and the easiest dish in the world is to boil some pasta, throw a pasta sauce over top, and add a side of veggies. My absolute faves are Banza Chickpea Pasta, Classico Pasta Sauce, and a frozen bag of broccoli with melted butter (mostly because the three-year-old will eat broccoli). And this will last several meals.
Speaking of, make meals that last.
I have a HUGE container of chili in the fridge right now because I threw everything I had into the instant pot two nights ago, cooked it for 20 minutes, and ended up with … what I’m guessing is about 8 servings of chili. I used an onion, garlic, a green bell pepper that was about one day from going bad, some ground turkey I had in the freezer, two cans of diced tomatoes, chicken broth, frozen corn, a can of kidney beans, some leftover frozen spinach, a can of sliced carrots, a half a bag of frozen riced cauliflower, and chili powder, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper. Chili – loaded with veggies and protein. And I even made a huge container of rice to serve it with. This is filling, nutritious, almost everything came from my cabinet or freezer, and it’s going to be dinner for a week for this family.
Don’t buy crap to snack on.
The easiest way to not snack on the food that you don’t want to snack on, is simply don’t buy it. If you buy it for other people in the house – is there something healthier they’ll eat? OR – can you pre-portion things out into smaller containers and label them for the others in your house? Or heck, pre-portion them out for you as well, and write the day of the week on each package.
But what if you already buy healthy snacks but have trouble with portion control? Or trouble with just staying out of the kitchen in general? If you’re buying Greek yogurts, cheese and nuts, fruits, jerky, protein bars…whatever it is you’re snacking on these days…you need to make sure you’re not over-purchasing snacks and you’re portioning them out correctly. I don’t purchase more Perfect Bars than I need for one week (or two, depending on how long I’m buying for), or I know I’ll overeat them if I have more than I need. For me, the key is sticking to meal planning during this time, and developing a new “stay-at-home-routine.”
Side note: If you DO overeat a snack or two, that makes you normal. Don’t stress about being perfect 100% of the time. Eat it and move on. Your day and your nutrition habits are NOT wasted.
The best thing you can do right now, is get yourself into a new routine. A routine that includes meal prep and snack times.
Before quarantine, you likely had a routine. You simply need a new one. Figure out a new morning routine. Your new work hours. Your home-schooling hours. Can you still food prep on Sunday? Don’t forget your new at-home workout routine, and schedule everything in a notebook or planner. Put it on the fridge! The time of day you’re going to work, workout, school the kiddos, and EAT. List it all. And DON’T forget your “me time.” You need it now more than ever.
If you’re a morning person, build a routine around getting up to exercise, having a nice breakfast, maybe even sitting down for some “me” time after to stretch, have some coffee, read, journal, etc.
And if you’re not a morning person, try to get into the habit of at least waking up early enough for the “me” time. I’m not a morning exerciser, but I can’t start my day without a little bit of quiet time with my coffee, something to read, and sometimes some journaling or working on the computer. “They” say the most successful people are those with some sort of morning routine.
Develop a Meal Routine.
Depending on whether you’re home schooling, working from home, parenting your kiddos, or just bored off your a$$, you need a meal routine. Here’s mine:
- Coffee (with a little bit of milk and collagen) before anything else. If I’m hungry, half a perfect bar.
- Breakfast when the fam wakes up. Usually eggs with a veggie. Starting my day with veggies is important to me – I always feel more successful throughout my day when I eat veggies first thing. Spinach is a typical breakfast go-to for me. (PS – oats provide energy and fiber and are not expensive! And eggs last a long time in the fridge. We buy at least 2-3 dozen at a time.)
- Lunch is later – usually simple – deli meat and cheese on a gluten free English muffin or wrap with a side of veggies or maybe even some canned tuna with rice or beans and yes, more frozen or canned veggies. Sometimes it’s just leftover pasta with sauce or whatever we had for dinner the night before. Sometimes it’s a concoction of things in the fridge freezer, and last week I made ground turkey withh sweet potatoes and kale. But I guarantee lunch is ALWAYS: a protein, a veggie, and a healthy carb source.
- Evening snack: Usually something small like a Greek yogurt or hard boiled egg- maybe some nuts and jerky, or the other half of my protein bar from earlier. Apples, peas, tuna, and sometimes I just eat some deli meat and cheese with hummus or mustard.
- Dinner: Whatever I can make with lots of ingredients that lasts for several meals. Pastas with meat sauce, chili, soups, stews, whole chickens pair well with potatoes or rice or quinoa or lentils with a side of veggies. Ground meats can go a long way in dishes too. Get a variety of veggies in your freezer/pantry and a huge bag of rice and you’ll be set.
- Late night snacker? I totally am. I love cottage cheese with jelly or nuts or just some flax and chia seeds. Smoothies are another snack I go to at night, and recently – maybe it’s the quarantine but cereal has been a snack I crave at night. But I do get the “healthier” ones! Ha! And honestly, if you’ve got it, just a good ol’ fashioned scoop of protein powder mixed with water or milk is a perfect and inexpensive way to boost your protein intake.
No matter what you eat, you’ll eat better on a schedule.
- If you’re going to over-purchase anything, over-purchase veggies and meats (that you can easily freeze).
- Purchase extra eggs for hard boiled egg snacks and packs of seasoned tuna.
- If you overeat nuts and seeds, skip them! You don’t “need” them.
- Buy snacks that help your goals, not the ones that hinder them just because we’re living during a pandemic.
- If you’ve already got cookies and whatnot in your pantry, don’t stress! Just save them for your post at-home-workout, and then don’t buy them again when you run out IF you have trouble with portion control.
Speaking of portion control, now COULD be a really good time to learn about nutrition.
I don’t think anyone should be taking this already stressful time in our lives and turning it into trying a new diet or trying to lose weight, but you could absolutely take this time (if you have extra time on your hands now) to learn more about food. Read labels and start learning about your favorite foods: what foods are packed with proteins, and what foods have more sugar in them than you originally thought?
Read ingredient lists.
How many ingredients are listed (the fewer the better), and how many can you pronounce or do you recognize? How many food items have hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup? (Arguably two of the worst ingredients one can ingest.)
Get to know your body.
I’m a huge fan of knowing my body: knowing what foods irritate me, what makes me feel great, what makes me bloat, and knowing how much energy I’m expending and how many calories my body needs to keep up with my daily self. It might not be the best time to start an elimination diet to see if your body tolerates gluten or not, but check out what I can help you with if you’re curious on learning more about macros or how many calories YOUR body should be consuming each day.
And last – speaking of weight gain – it’s freaking OK to gain some weight during this time.
I already said that I don’t think this is the time to purposely neglect your nutrition, but I also don’t think it’s time to pursue a new diet or stress over every morsel you put into your mouth. If you choose to learn more about nutrition, that’s awesome! If you choose to just relax a little and eat a little more pasta with your family, eat the pasta and relax. We are all going to come out of this. The number on the scale isn’t what defines us, and in the midst of such a scary time that none of us have faced before, food shouldn’t be what you worry about. Do your best to make healthy decisions. When you cautiously go to the store, buy the healthier pantry staples. Make meals that last several days. Freeze extra meals. Drink tons of water. Go for walks when the weather is nice. Get into a new routine. Keep meal prep consistent. Have a treat every now and then. Have a drink on a particularly stressful day. Finding balance doesn’t always come easy, but if you’re going to really work on something regarding food, fining balance among the chaos, might be the best way to go.
I’m here to help you! (Free recipes below!)
I’m attaching for you my Healthy Recipes from the Pantry .PDF in the hopes you can find some new, fun, healthy recipes to try over the next month or so. And if you’re ever in the need of some one-on-one nutrition help, now that I’ve mastered using Zoom, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or hop over to my nutrition page to see what I can offer you.
Good luck guys, stay safe!! 😀