Eating well during lockdown
As we find ourselves in lockdown, perhaps balancing home working with home schooling, or trying to support vulnerable neighbours, it’s tempting to put healthy eating on the back burner. Have you noticed an increased appetite for pizza, crisps and chocolate since lockdown?When we’re stressed or frightened, we naturally seek out sugar and fat for a quick energy boost. High carbohydrate comfort foods are temporarily calming during times of crisis. However, what feels like a satisfying solution in the short term can grow into a bigger problem in the long run. Comfort eating traps us in a hard-to-break eating cycle that adds to stress levels, and ultimately makes us far more vulnerable to low moods and anxiety. Our bodies were not designed to sustain chronic stress nor to use food for comfort.
Now more than ever, it is vital to develop healthy eating habits to keep our immune systems strong and to improve our resilience in these emotionally challenging times. Thankfully, maintaining healthy eating habits with shelf stable foods during quarantine can be easier then you might imagine. Now is an excellent time to channel your inner chef, and learn how to cook nutritious meals using what you have in your freezer and cupboards. Here are my top tips for eating well during lockdown:
Use frozen fruit and vegetables:
Would you believe that frozen fruit and vegetables are often more nutritious than their fresh counterparts? This is because they are picked and packed at peak ripeness, which is when they are most nutritious. Freezing fresh produce locks in vitamins and antioxidants which may otherwise be lost during transit and storage. Here are a few top choices:
- Broccoli has a much higher vitamin C and antioxidant content when bought frozen and is generally cheaper than fresh.
- Peas retain their Vitamin C levels much better when frozen and are easier to prepare.
- Spinach lasts considerably longer then its fresh counterpart and contains far more B vitamins and beta-carotene.
- Bananas freeze well and make a useful addition to smoothies, ice cream, baking or porridge
- Berries can be used in the same way as bananas and are packed with antioxidants which are anti-inflammatory and support immune health. Just 150g of frozen strawberries provides 150% of your RDI for Vitamin C.
As well as stocking up on nutritious frozen vegetables when you shop, it’s a good idea to freeze any vegetables that may otherwise go to waste. Your frozen odds and ends will make an excellent addition to soups, stews, ragu, chilli, curry, etc at a later date (also any vegetable scraps can be frozen and made in to a stock!)
When buying fresh produce, it’s a good idea to see whether you can support a local business as many are struggling. Many local farm shops or independent stores continue to be well stocked and some are even oﬀering a delivery service. In Bristol we are spoiled for choice with Matter Organic, Better Food, Chi Foods, Earth Organic and many others. I recently discovered Good Sixty, which sources the very best food delivered from independent retailers and artisan producers around the UK. Now is the time to support our local independent retailers, otherwise I fear we will miss them.
Grow what you can:
I started growing my own vegetables, herbs and berries a few years ago and it’s had such a positive impact on my life. If you are struggling for space, you don’t need a big garden, a window sill is suﬃcient for many fresh produce. All you need are pots, seeds and compost.
Some easy things to grow include:
- Herbs – such as basil, coriander, mint, thyme, oregano, parsley etc require little space and are important for adding flavour, which helps you to keep your salt intake down.
- Strawberries will keep producing fruit each year from the same plant. I have several plants at my allotment but also keep some in pots in the garden.
- Salad leaves are much more economical to grow at home and will give you an abundance of fresh leaves. Stagger the planting otherwise you may find that you waste a lot of the produce (or leave it outside your house for your neighbours to use). Growing salad leaves is fantastic to ensure that you are maintaining BANT’s wellbeing guidelines and getting in lots of leafy greens. Top tip: if slugs are getting at these plants then ward them oﬀ with broken egg shells on the soil.
- Tomatoes are another easy and versatile option, you can either buy the seeds or a young plant. You can use grow bags rather than planting into soil if you prefer.
Eating from your cupboard:
Beans and pulses (tinned or dry) are shelf stable and provide a versatile base for your meals. A staple in many cultures, they provide a rich source of fibre and B vitamins. They are also a great replacement for meat as a source of vegetarian protein. Here are some of my favourite recipes using these cupboard staples!
– Chocolate and chickpea energy balls
– Ash Persian bean soup
– Puy Lentils with roasted tomatoes and peppers
– Veggie chilli
Pasta, rice and flour have been in short supply recently, so it’s a good opportunity to experiment with other grains such as quinoa, bulgar wheat, millet, barley etc. You can read more about high nutrition grains here.
Nut butters are not only delicious, but are a fantastic source of plant-based protein and healthy fats. Pair them with fruit for a tasty snack, use them as the base of stir fry’s and salads and use them in baking.
Keep a stash of dried fruits in case you run out of fresh. Dried fruits are a useful source of iron and fibre. They also satisfy a sweet tooth!
Popcorn is another useful source of fibre which you can pop yourself at home and add whatever flavour you fancy. My favourite topping is a little bit of grated dark chocolate.
Get creative in the kitchen:
One benefit of working from home everyday is that most of us have more time to cook. My daughter and I have loved spending more time in the kitchen and it’s nice to know that I’m managing to teach her things that she wouldn’t be learning in school. Nothing quite beats a warm, fresh loaf, so we have been experimenting with diﬀerent recipes. Here are my favourites so far:
- Sweet potato bread– this recipe uses a several ingredients but is gluten free and is naturallyslightly sweet.
- Flatbreads– these are so easy and are good to have with soups, curry’s, tagine’s, mezze etc.
- Soda bread– this was delicious and doesn’t require any yeast.
Secondly, pasta. Again, there are so many recipes of diﬀerent types of pastas for you to try but if you are stuck without the right ingredients then for a simple ‘Orecchiette’ all you need is plain flour and lukewarm water (some recipes call for other flours such as durum wheat, but I have used plain and it works just as well). Have a look at this recipe to see how to shape the pasta.
I’d recommend pairing this with a simple, nutritious tomato sauce using tinned tomatoes which are high in Vitamin C and antioxidants, these are so important to boost your immune system and fight infection – fry 2 garlic cloves, one onion, 1 tbsp olive oil and seasoning and herbs of your choice and add one tin of tomatoes and 400ml of water, let this simmer for as long as you like and chuck in your fresh orecchiette 2 minutes before you are ready to serve.
A simple and delicious dressing to add flavour to any meal:
You should try and limit your salt intake where you can which may become a bit more diﬃcult when consuming more tinned goods, so try experimenting with other herbs and spices to add depth of flavour. I find that adding a simple dressing to salads, proteins, vegetables or even tinned foods is an easy way to add lots of flavour to a dish using store cupboard ingredients that will last for a long time. One of my favourites is 2 parts olive oil, 1 part lemon juice and a splash of apple cider vinegar. This adds a really fresh flavour to any meal and lemon juice is packed with vitamin C and apple cider vinegar has anti-viral and probiotic properties which are both fantastic at boosting your immune system’s function.