Healthy eating is important any day of the week, let alone during a pandemic where many of us are wondering how to stay as healthy as possible, and how our diets can help. As part of its advice on coping with stress during the COVID-19 outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) advises ‘maintaining a healthy lifestyle – including a proper diet’, while the WHO’s regional office for Europe has produced a handy guide to food and nutrition tips during quarantine.
This features a list of the best foods to stock up on during lockdown, including long-lasting fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen fruits and vegetables, dried and canned pulses, whole grains and starchy roots, canned vegetables, canned fish, eggs and shelf-stable milk.
At a time when the monotony of lockdown makes the siren call of pizza far too loud to ignore, how can we eat better at home? We spoke to Registered Dietitian Stephanie Snell of UC Health to get her tips for healthier snacks and meals to make at home, especially during times when there might be a lack of fresh food available to buy. Here’s what she said…
Is it possible to boost our immune system with food and supplements?
“I would say that you are not boosting your immune system by eating any one specific food," says Snell. "With that being said, nutritional diversity is always good for your health. Think about eating foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish… the list goes on. I typically steer patients toward eating whole foods for their nutrition, rather than relying on supplements, unless otherwise specified by their doctor.
“So there isn’t a particular food that I would associate with benefitting our health to stave off coronavirus. I would say focus on the hygiene and social distancing recommendations that are being released.”
What are your go-to healthy snacks?
“I recommend foods that are nourishing and filling for snacks. These are often fiber-filled, like a fruit or vegetable, with a side of protein or fat. I’m a fan of veggies and hummus. Be mindful of the frequency of snacking at this time, as food may be more easily accessible than usual. I also recommend drinking water throughout the day.”
Easy-cook big batch meals to make during lockdown
What nutritious, easy-cook meals could we make during lockdown?
“Bean-based soups and stews are always a fallback of mine for nutritious and budget-friendly meals, and beans are typically inexpensive. You can add lots of vegetables – even frozen vegetables – to these recipes.”
You mentioned frozen food… Is it good for us?
“Frozen food is great to have on hand. To be clear, I am referencing frozen ingredients and not frozen meals. I recommend frozen vegetables to patients even when they aren’t stocking up on food. It’s a good way to have vegetables on standby when you do not have access to fresh vegetables.
“I steer my patients toward any frozen product that is the frozen food itself (a vegetable, fish, and so on) without sauce. This way they are getting just that food without any additional ingredients. Frozen vegetable mixes with peas, corn and potatoes are going to be higher in carbohydrates, as these are starchy vegetables. This is primarily something to be mindful of if you are counting carbohydrates for diabetes management.”
If you can't afford one of the best freezers right now, The American Society for Nutrition has also produced a guide to nutrition-packed foods that will stay fresh for a week or longer. These foods for the fridge, freezer and cupboard include:
- Grains – instant oatmeal, quick cook pasta, frozen brown rice, couscous
- Fruits – sturdy fresh fruit (apples, citrus), plain frozen, canned in juice/water
- Vegetables – sturdy fresh veggies (celery, broccoli, onions, potatoes), plain frozen, low sodium canned, sun-dried
- Soups and broths – canned, frozen, shelf-stable cartons
- Beans/Legumes – canned beans (black beans, chickpeas), dry beans
- Nuts and seeds – bagged, canned, nut butters
- 100% juice – refrigerated, frozen, canned, boxed
- Milk – fresh, canned, shelf-stable packages
3 gadgets to aid healthy eating at home:
There are plenty of kitchen gadgets to help you cook better at home, including the best slow cookers for one-pot meals, and the best blenders for making everything from smoothies to nut butters and soups. If you're a fan of fresh juices, also take a look at our guide to the best juicers. Here are three go-to gadgets to help you make healthier snacks, drinks and meals at home, during lockdown and beyond...
Cuisinart Hurricane Blender
Use this blender to make your own fruit and vegetable based smoothies, as well as to blend fresh or frozen ingredients for homemade soups, dips, dressings, sauces and desserts. The Cusinart Hurricane Blender sports a double housing design to reduce noise, and has an LCD display with programmable countdown timer.
It blends smooth, hard and fibrous foods, from celery, apples and banana to spinach, kale and broccoli, and can handle nuts and seeds too, as well as pre-bought smoothie mixes. The Hurricane Blender has a puree function for making baby food, plus Low Pulse and High Pulse functions to chop a variety of soft and hard foods. Handily, the included 60oz BPA-free jar sports both US and UK measuring indicators.
Crock-Pot CSC031 Slow Cooker
This 5.7L-capacity slow cooker is ideal for those who want to make their own bean-based soups and stews – check out Crock-Pot’s Tuscan Bean Soup recipe that uses canned beans and cupboard staples, and produces 6-7 portions.
The Crock-Pot CSC031 is dishwasher safe and simple to use thanks to two heat settings. After the slow cooker has finished cooking, it automatically switches to a ‘keep-warm’ setting to maintain your dish at the ideal serving temperature until you’re ready to eat.
Breville Juice Fountain Compact Juicer
If you enjoy making your own fresh fruit and vegetable juicers at home, a blender could be a brilliant addition to your kitchen, and this Breville offering puts in a decent juicing performance for its lower price tag.
Its compact size means it won't take up much countertop space in your kitchen, while its three-inch feeding tube will accommodate larger chunks of nutrient-packed fresh fruits and vegetables. The juicer is relatively quiet in use (though not as quiet as a slow juicer), though we did experience a hike in noise when juicing leafy greens like kale and spinach, and chunkier fruits like pineapple. It’s also easy to rinse after use, so clean-up won't take forever.