Quarantine Food: Nutrition Tips During the Pandemic
Updated: May 13
Good nutrition is crucial for health, particularly in times when the immune system might need to fight back. Limited access to fresh foods may compromise opportunities to continue eating a healthy and varied diet. It can also potentially lead to an increased consumption of highly processed foods, which tend to be high in fats, sugars and salt. Nonetheless, even with few and limited ingredients, it is not only doable but important to maintain a healthy diet during quarantine.
To support you with eating healthy during self-quarantine and isolation, we have outlined some helpful tips:
Have a plan, make a list, and have only what you need.
Multiple cases of over-purchasing have been observed throughout this unfortunate pandemic, and panic buying may have negative consequences, such as an increase in food prices, overconsumption of food and an unequal distribution of products. So, it’s important to consider your own needs, as well as those of others. Assess what you already have at home first and then decide what you will need for nutritious meals. You might feel the need to purchase large amounts of food, but make sure to consider and utilize what is already in your kitchen as well as food with shorter shelf life. This way you can avoid wasting and allow others to access the food they need too.
Be strategic with the use of ingredients prioritizing fresh products
Use fresh ingredients and those that have a shorter shelf life first. If fresh products, especially fruits, vegetables and reduced-fat dairy products continue to be available, prioritize these over non-perishables. Frozen fruits and vegetables can also conveniently be used over longer periods of time and often have a similar nutrient profile to fresh foods. To avoid food waste, you may consider freezing any leftovers for another meal.
Make home-cooked meals and try to not to rely on takeout.
During regular daily life, we often do not have the time to prepare home-cooked meals, so this is an opportunity to do just that. Spending longer periods of time at home gives the chance to make those recipes you previously did not have time to make. Many healthy and delicious recipes can be found online. So, now is a time to take advantage of freely available information, and experiment with the ingredients you can access, but remember to keep in mind nutrition in recovery and its impact on not only our physical health but the mental as well.
Take advantage of food delivery options
Although home-cooked meals should be prioritized, some cities and countries have rather advanced delivery systems for ingredients and ready meals, and many businesses are offering take out and delivery. Some solutions include “contact-less” options, where no human interaction is required supporting self-quarantine and isolation measures if this makes you more comfortable. These should be prioritized, particularly from reliable businesses following strict food hygiene requirements. Keeping in mind that these services might be overwhelmed, you might want to consider exploring what is available in your area by researching apps such as Yelp and UberEats.
Be aware of portion sizes
Being home and possibly bored, it is easy to fill out time with eating! It is important to not overeat due to boredom during this time. It can be difficult to get portion sizes right, especially when cooking from scratch so be sure to research healthy portions because there is a health balance in being sure you are also eating enough.
Follow safe food handling practices
Food safety is a prerequisite for food security and a healthy diet. Only safe food is healthy food. When preparing food for yourself and others, it is important to follow good food hygiene practices to avoid food contamination and foodborne diseases especially during this delicate time. The key principles of good food hygiene include:
1 keep your hands, kitchen and utensils clean
2 separate raw and cooked food, especially raw meat and fresh produce
3 cook your food thoroughly
4 keep your food at safe temperatures
5 use safe water and raw material
By following these five key recommendations for safer food, you can prevent many common foodborne diseases.
Limit your salt intake
The availability of fresh foods may decrease and it may become necessary to rely more on canned, frozen or processed foods. Many of these foods contain high levels of salt. WHO recommends consuming less than 5 g of salt per day so try to prioritize foods with reduced or no added salt. You may also consider rinsing canned foods such as vegetables and beans to remove some of the excess sodium if you are unable to find low sodium options. Be aware that pickled foods often contain high levels of sodium too. In many countries, 50–75% of the salt intake comes from the food we eat rather than what we add ourselves. Given that you might be consuming enough salt already, avoid adding extra salt when cooking and to your meals at the table. Experiment with fresh or dried herbs and spices for added flavor instead. A great brand that has lots of taste but no salt, is Mrs. Dash which you can find at almost all local groceries!
Limit your sugar intake
If you crave something sweet, fresh fruit should always be the priority. Frozen fruit, canned fruit in juice rather than syrup, and dried fruit with no added sugar are also good options if fresh fruit is unavailable. When other dessert options are chosen, ensure that they are low in sugar and consume small portions. Watch out for low fat options, as these are often actually high in added sugars. Overall, try to limit the amount of sugar or honey added to food and avoid sweetening your beverages.
Limit your fat intake
WHO recommends limiting total fat intake to less than 30% of total energy intake, of which no more than 10% should come from saturated fat. To achieve this, opt for cooking methods that require less or no fat, such as steaming, grilling or sautéing instead of frying foods. If needed, use small amounts of unsaturated oils like avocado, olive or sunflower oil to cook foods. Prefer foods that contain healthy sources of unsaturated fats, such as fish and nuts. To limit saturated fats, trim excess fat from meat and poultry and choose skinless options. Reduce foods such as red and fatty meats, butter and full-fat dairy products, palm oil, coconut oil, solid shortening and lard. Avoid trans fats as much as possible. Read nutrition labels to ensure that partially hydrogenated oils are not listed in the ingredients. If food labels are not available, avoid foods which commonly contain trans fats such as processed and fried foods, like doughnuts and baked goods – including biscuits, pie crusts, frozen pizzas, cookies, crackers and margarines that include partially hydrogenated fat. If in doubt, minimally processed foods and ingredients are better choices.
Consume enough fiber
Fiber contributes to a healthy digestive system and offers a prolonged feeling of fullness, which helps prevent overeating and also helps a lot during recovery. To ensure an adequate fiber intake, aim to include vegetables, fruit, and wholegrain food in all meals. Wholegrains food include oats, brown pasta and rice, quinoa and whole-wheat bread and wraps rather than refined grain foods such as white pasta and rice, and white bread.
Good hydration is crucial for optimal health. Whenever available and safe for consumption, tap water is the healthiest and cheapest drink. It is also the most sustainable as it produces no waste, compared to bottled water. Drinking water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages is a simple way to limit your intake of sugar and excess calories. To enhance its taste, fresh or frozen fruits like berries or slices of citrus fruits may be added, as well as cucumber or herbs such as mint, lavender or rosemary.
Avoid drinking large amounts of strong coffee, strong tea, and especially caffeinated soft drinks and energy drinks. These may lead to dehydration and can negatively impact your sleeping patterns, which will likely already be impacted during this unique time.
We know this time is difficult, and we hope that these tips can help keep you safe and healthy and still focused on nutrition during your recovery. Please note that these tips are from WHO and are not right for everyone, always consult a doctor for your specific dietary needs. To learn more about the importance of nutrition during recovery and how to shop healthy on a budget, check out our other blog posts!