A guide to buying cheap, nutritious food – safely – while in self-isolation.
There are two important aspects of food shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic – how to do it safely and how to make sure items are cheap and healthy.
You know the drill on leaving home: keep your distance from others and wash your hands as soon as possible after touching any surfaces. The experts also suggest the following when grocery shopping:
- Plan your trip by making a list so you minimise the time spent in the store.
- Shop at quieter times to avoid a crowd.
- If possible, wipe down the trolley or basket you use with disinfectant.
- Use credit or debit cards instead of cash.
- Wash commonly touched items such as cards, keys, and phones after your trip.
- If you organise delivery, ask the courier to leave the groceries outside your door.
Now that you have your blitzkrieg shopping plan, what should you buy?
Heart Foundation director of health strategy Julie Anne Mitchell reminds us to choose wisely.
“It’s more important than ever to keep up healthy habits and eat nutritious foods during this time, and it doesn’t have to break the bank,” she says.
She says choosing “heart-healthy” foods saves money and avoids food wastage. “Frozen vegetables, brown rice, chickpeas and tinned fish are just a few staples you can keep on hand for healthy and budget-friendly meals at home.”
The Heart Foundation wants us to cut back on highly processed products and buy fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, a variety of healthy proteins and fats, and smaller amounts of animal-based foods.
Heart disease is our No.1 killer and poor diet its No.1 contributing factor. This pandemic attacks our immune systems, making diet more crucial than ever. Here are some suggestions on how to buy the right foods.
- Stocktake. Assess what you have in your fridge and pantry and buy only what you know you will use. “When stocking up, focus on things that you and your household enjoy eating, and recipes you’ll have the time and energy to prepare,” says Caroline West Passerrello, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
- Be colourful. Eating more fruit and vegetables is vital and the more colourful the mix the better. “Frozen or canned vegetables and fruits are good alternatives when fresh produce is hard to buy or too expensive, and they keep for longer,” says Ms Mitchell. “If you are buying canned versions, try to choose the ‘no added salt’ or ‘low salt’ versions. Pick fruits canned in juice, not syrup.”
- Promote plant protein. Tinned beans, lentils, chickpeas, eggs and tinned fish are cheaper, healthier options that are easy to prepare.
- The big freeze. Make industrial-sized portions of simple but tasty foods such as chilli, soups, sauces and baked goods and freeze them for a busier day.
- Smart snack attacks. Food coach Jeannette Bessinger says with self-isolation limiting our movements, there should be less need for between-meal extras. “However, if you do have snacks or dessert, be conscious of the portion size and take the time to really enjoy it. It’s okay to seek comfort in food, as many of us do, but mindlessly munching with no concept of quantity is where things go wrong. Eat it slower, let yourself taste it, and let yourself be comforted,” she says.
- If you do snack, try protein-dense nuts, seeds, dehydrated kale chips, fruit or homemade popcorn.
- Hydrate. Sugary drinks add weight and water is healthier and can help sate hunger. It’s also free. And drink more tea. Oolong, for example, is noted for its metabolism-boosting effects. And it’s mostly hot water.
- Establish a routine. “Our metabolisms are like toddlers, they thrive on routine,” says Ms Bessinger. She advises “consistent sleep schedules, eating schedules and allowing for 13 hours between the last time you eat at night and the first time you eat in the morning …”
- Forgive yourself. It’s normal to crave ‘comfort foods’ in times of stress, but emotional eating will eventually decline. Don’t obsess about gaining weight or make eating an added stress. “In acute times of stress we release cortisol … and prolonged stress, which is what we are now experiencing [gives us] elevated cortisol, which increases hunger,” said Christian Gonzalez, naturopathic doctor and integrative oncologist based in Mountain View, California. “The prolonged mental stress signals our body that food may be scarce, and when that is not the case, we begin to graze, snack and overeat.” You might want to try the ‘80/20 rule’, or eating well 80 per cent of the time, and allowing yourself treats 20 per cent of the time. Or allow yourself one treat per day.
- Research. If you have time on your hands, google recipes and health tips. There are plenty of sources of good nutrition and thrifty shopping hints online.
Are you being extra careful to shop safely? Has your diet changed?
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