All around the globe, people are gravely concerned about the fast-spreading coronavirus. Many of us are stuck at home, isolated from friends and loved ones, worried about our food supply, our health, our finances. We’re dealing with an ever-changing environment and massive disruptions to everyday life as we know it. This new reality will have a heavy impact on many people’s lives, not to mention their health routines. But this is a time to take a step back and reflect — and think creatively about how to manage your health and well-being under tricky circumstances.
You may not be able to eat the rainbow at every meal or keep up with your regular cardio routine while practicing social distancing. There are, however, many ways to stay healthy at home. To the degree that it’s possible, eating nourishing foods, participating in daily physical activity and maintaining relaxation practices can do wonders for your mindset, your immune function and your general well-being. Here are some tips for keeping it together while you and your family are holed up at home.
1. Focus on creating balanced meals
This isn’t an ideal situation so flexibility is required. Do your best to create balanced meals with what’s available. Aim for a generous portion of produce (whether fresh, dried, frozen or canned), some protein, healthy fats and quality carbs, ideally in the form of starchy veggies (like potatoes, sweet potatoes and butternut squash) or whole grains.
You can check out this complete list of what to stock when you’re at home with coronavirus to get a sense of the foods you should try to keep on hand. Though it’s smart to have enough food to last a while, it’s not a good idea to panic shop or hoard groceries. We’re all in this together!
2. Make meal prep part of your daily routine
Though spending more time at home may give you more time to cook, having a solid meal prep strategy can make it easier to get through your extended stay. Start using your fresh ingredients, such as fresh meats, poultry, seafood and fruits and veggies before moving on to longer-lasting frozen and shelf-stable items. You can also use shelf-stable foods to help stretch meals made with fresh ingredients. For example:
- Make tacos using a mix of beans and ground meat or poultry. This will help serve more eaters — or help you serve more meals out of a single batch.
- Whip up bean purees (like white beans with garlic) to serve alongside chicken and fish dishes. Since these sides contain protein, you can use a smaller portion of your main dish to help ensure there are leftovers.
- Stir beans into soups and sautéed greens to serve as a filling main or protein-boosting side dish.
- Accent meals with nutrient-rich nuts and seeds. They’re not only delicious, but they pack protein, fiber and other health-supporting substances — and they’re easy to store.
And remember, now’s not the time to shun carbs! Whole grains, pasta and fortified cereals can be part of a filling, balanced meal. Incorporating them into your dishes will give you more variety, plus dry products like these stay shelf-stable for a long time. Here are some ideas to spark your inner chef:
- Have a bowl of whole grain, low- (or no-) sugar cereal with dairy or an unsweetened plant-based milk. Add sliced apple or pear (these fresh fruits will last a while in your kitchen too) or some frozen berries. Top with nuts or seeds. On a different morning, make this with yogurt instead of milk.
- Have a bowl of oatmeal sweetened with cinnamon and vanilla extract along with fresh, canned or frozen produce for breakfast one morning. Oatmeal can also be used as a savory side dish. Mix it with green peas (they’ll add protein and fiber) and serve it alongside eggs, vegetable soup or another entrée.
- Mix pasta with canned tuna, fresh, frozen or canned veggies (such as green beans or tomatoes) and olives one night. Another night, you can use edamame or white beans to add protein and more fiber to your pasta and veggies.
- Use quinoa or brown rice as a base for grain bowls and stir fries. Both grains can also be used as a warm cereal.
3. Make room for snacks and comfort foods
When you’re doing your shopping, don’t forget the snacks and fun foods! Fewer social interactions is likely to mean more screen time and more family activities. Snacks can add extra nourishment throughout the day, while fun foods can help keep your family’s spirits up! And remember, baking can be a great family activity that also provides extra treats to nosh on.
Preparing your favorite comfort foods can help bring back cozy memories and make you feel good. Keep ingredients handy so you can break up your dinner routine with lighter versions of classic comfort food dishes.
If you’re able to order in or pick up prepared food, consider making it part of your meal-planning approach. Not only will it help infuse cash into local businesses, but taking a break from the tasks of cooking and cleaning can very much fall under the category of self-care. At this time, many delivery services are offering contactless delivery.
4. Line up activities to avoid stress eating
One of the struggles when working from home is the constant boredom grazing you might partake in. There’s also the fact that the heightened stress can trigger emotional eating. It’s totally natural to reach for food to provide comfort during these challenging and uncertain times. And while it’s okay to lean on food sometimes, it’s also important to find other ways to cope. Here are some options:
- Set up a virtual therapy session. Many licensed social workers and psychologists offer their services online. An app, like TalkSpace, has a lot of support built into its plans, including special programs to help you handle COVID-19 stress.
- Curl up under a weighted blanket. If you’re missing physical contact, you might get some comfort from a weighted blanket, like this highly rated one from Luxome. Studies suggest weighted blankets can help ease anxiety and contribute to feelings of calmness.
- Try a short meditation. If you’re bored at your home desk, plug in your ear buds and listen to a quick guided meditation to stay centered. In addition to reducing anxiety and depression, practicing mindful meditation has been shown to help curb impulse eating. Insight Timer is a free app that offers a full library of guided meditations. Use Insight’s search tool to find a meditation that meets your time requirements (as short as one minute) and addresses your need state (sleep, stress, overeating).
- Practice gratitude. This coronavirus pandemic is a very overwhelming situation, but we all have things to be grateful for. Maybe you’re grateful that your family is healthy, you have a comfortable space where you can hunker down or you just had a warm meal. Studies show that meditating on gratitude can impact the pathways in our brains that promote positivity. A positive mindset has also been linked with healthier eating.
- Work on a puzzle. Not only does this serve as an alternative to food, but it’s also a fun family activity to do while you’re stuck at home. One with a pretty outdoor view, such as this serene beach scene, might be just the distraction you need.
- Color. Studies suggest that redirecting your attention to a soothing activity like coloring may help lessen anxiety. Try an adult coloring book like this one from Intricate Ink.
5. Make time (and space) to work out every day
Finding ways to stay active is good for your physical and mental health. If you have open space — a yard, a park, a safe sidewalk — where you can keep a safe distance from others, consider taking a walk when the sun is shining. A bike ride is another great activity that doesn’t involve any invasion of personal space. If in-person yoga classes or the gym is off-limits for the time being, you can supplement with at-home workouts. Here are a few ideas for staying fit in a confined space. Though most of these are paid apps, some offer free or reduced-price trials.
- Planet Fitness is now offering daily free fitness classes that are being live-streamed on its Facebook page. Each class will be a maximum of 20 minutes. All you need is an account — no equipment required.
- Pilates anytime offers mat Pilates and some barre-style classes that you can do from the comfort of your living room. Classes can be sorted by time and ability.
- Aaptiv has an assortment of activities that are set to music. If you’re going outside for a run or walk, you can use this tool to stay motivated and keep up your pace. It also offers other workouts, like yoga and strength training.
- Daily Burn is a great option if you love group workouts. You can pick from a number of styles. Alternatively, if you prefer to go solo, there also workouts for those who prefer a one-to-one training vibe.
- Glo has an extensive yoga library, along with Pilates and guided meditations. There are more than 4,000 on-demand classes so you won’t get bored, and you’ll work out with some renowned yoga instructors.
We may be struggling through a global pandemic, but maintaining your healthy routines — whether that’s a workout first thing in the morning, starting the day off with a healthy meal or making time to relax and reset — can provide a sense of control when things feel uncertain. We’ve all got a lot on our minds during this challenging period, but hopefully some of these suggestions will help you ride it out more calmly and healthfully.
MORE FROM SAMANTHA CASSETTY, RD
Want more tips like these? NBC News BETTER is obsessed with finding easier, healthier and smarter ways to live. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.