Healthy eating can be challenging at the best of times but recent events have created some truly unique circumstances for us all to contend with. Social distancing, remote working and school closures mean that most of us will be eating more regularly at home for perhaps many weeks to come. Combining this with some supermarket shortages makes it more important than ever that we all get creative and become familiar with a good selection of meals and snacks that suit our needs and tastes and those of our families.
So, if every cloud has a silver lining, perhaps we should see the positive here as the opportunity to try out some new ideas that we might not usually have time for, and experiment with options that could become permanent features in the quest for long term healthy eating routines underpinning the everyday health and energy results that we all deserve. And for everyone with children, this could be a good time to get them involved in the preparation of what they’re about to eat!
Key things to think about
As you adapt to a different working set up and plan your food schedules for the next few weeks, it’s more important than ever to keep the basic healthy eating principles in mind…
1. Start your day right
A good healthy breakfast is a great way to start the day. Regular meals are important for keeping blood sugar balanced as this helps to maintain your energy levels so you don’t feel fatigued and resort to sugary snacks.
Quick tip: Have three meals and two small snacks every day.
2. Get colourful
Eating a multi-coloured variety of foods is good for you as each colour contains a different combination of vitamins, minerals and nutrients to keep your body working in balance.
Quick tip: Try to choose red, orange, yellow, green and purple fruits or vegetables every day. Include organic fruit and vegetables where possible.
3. Drink up
Water is vital for everyone’s daily routine. Dehydration can leave you feeling sluggish, unfocused and irritable so drink plenty of water to remain energised throughout the day.
Quick tip: Sip water regularly from a small refillable water bottle. Aim for eight medium glasses of water or herbal tea daily.
4. Get your five a day
Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. A portion is equivalent to the average sized apple, or a portion the size of the palm of your hand. Fruit and vegetables are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, fibre, and plant chemicals that help regulate important body processes. Include some raw plant foods for added variety.
Quick tip: Use juices, smoothies or soups to help you achieve your five a day. Include salads, vegetable sticks and fruit to vary your diet.
5. Eat Whole Grains
Whole grains are rich in vitamins, minerals, fibre and plant chemicals all of which help body processes. Fibre is essential for maintaining a healthy digestive system. Most fibre comes from whole grains such as whole wheat, brown rice, brown pasta, oats, fruit, vegetables and pulses. Food processing makes many of these grains 'white' (e.g. white bread, white rice), and they are used in many products (cakes, biscuits, pasta for example). Unfortunately, this saps the grains of vital nutrients, especially B vitamins, which we need for energy production and stress control.
Quick tip: Increase variety by choosing whole-meal bread, brown rice, oatcakes, barley, quinoa, rye, oats and millet.
6. Skip the salt
Excessive salt intake can contribute to high blood pressure, so avoid adding it wherever you can.
7. Boost your immune system
Your immune system helps prevent illness and infection. Stress, fatigue, pollutants and stimulants all affect the immune system, with a knock-on effect on your health. Following the healthy eating schedule will provide a range of nutrients to keep you fit and healthy – building up your defences against infection.
8. Eat essential fats
Omega 6 and omega 3 are essential fats because the body cannot make them and, therefore, they need to be included in the diet. They are important for brain function, vision, reducing risk of blood clots and fighting inflammation. Rich sources of omega 6 are sunflower, safflower and sesame seeds and their oils. Rich sources of omega 3 are hemp seeds, flax seeds (linseed), pumpkin seeds and their cold pressed oils, as well as oily fish.
Eat nuts and seeds raw, and use oils as part of dressings. Avoid cooking with these oils as they are easily damaged by heat, particularly frying temperatures. Avoid too much saturated fats found in red meat, the skin on meats, butter and in some processed foods. Always look at the food labels.
Quick tip: Include two portions of oily fish in your weekly diet (Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovy, Sardines, Herring, fresh Tuna).
9. Beans and lentils
Pulses such as beans and lentils are rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals. They make good additions to meat-based meals and stand alone as important contributions to vegetarian and vegan diets. If you buy tinned beans and lentils, avoid those with added sugar and salt, buy organic where possible and rinse thoroughly. Baked beans are a simple use of pulses and you can buy them sugar free and organic.
Quick tip: Add pulses to casseroles, soups and salads or buy bean soups as a good way of getting the bean benefit. Try to include beans in three meals a week.
10. Have protein with every meal or snack
Protein is important for growth and repair. Like carbohydrates and fat, protein is an important energy source. Protein is found mainly in meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, soya and pulses.
11. Slow down and chew
There are always plenty of items on a home to do list but don’t be tempted to eat while carrying out other tasks. Digestion begins when we think of, smell and see food. Chewing food well begins the breakdown of food, improving digestion and allowing your system to use more of the nutrients and plant chemicals.
Quick tip: Practice mindful eating. Chew food well and take time to eat in a relaxed environment.
12. How much is enough? How much is too much?
A guideline meal size is as much food as you can fit in two cupped hands and a snack is a palm-sized portion. That said, every individual is different and your calorie/energy intake will depend on various factors including age, gender, physical activity levels and muscle mass. Experiment with a variety of daily meal and snack options to find out what combinations, during each day and over the course of weeks and months, lead you to optimum energy and your desired results with weight management objectives.
And remember, with such a profound change in routine as most of us are experiencing right now, primarily with reduced activity as we’re confined indoors, it may be necessary to reduce your overall calorie intake across each day.
13. Save yourself effort, time and money
To make meals go further, prepare enough food for the family and for leftovers. Eat the right portion sizes for each meal and snack and keep the remainder for the following day.