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It's a difficult time for many. Our whole lives have been changed by the coronavirus and the goal of slowing down its spread.

Part of achieving this goal is to shop for food less regularly. We can’t just nip down to the local grocery store for a couple of ingredients a couple of times a week anymore.

For many of us, this means a big change to the way we plan, buy, prepare and store our food. So here are a few tips to keep your healthy eating habits going, even in isolation.

Try cooking from a template rather than a recipe

Many of us choose our meals from books or the plethora of online recipes available. This can be a great way to make food choices, but finding a different recipe for every night and cooking something new each day can be exhausting. It also means that we might end up buying lots of ingredients, some of which we won’t use up or might not be available at the shops.

When you’re planning your meals for the week, try to break it down into a few smaller steps. Plan to make more than you need a couple of times a week so that you can have leftovers on another night.

1. Start with the protein

Pick a protein source for each meal. Don’t be afraid to repeat some.

  • Monday: Chicken
  • Tuesday: Eggs
  • Wednesday: Beef
  • Thursday: Chicken
  • Friday: Four Bean Mix

2. Pick a carbohydrate-rich food

Again, don’t be afraid to repeat some.

  • Monday: Chicken + wraps
  • Tuesday: Eggs + sweet potato
  • Wednesday: Beef + rice
  • Thursday: Chicken + corn
  • Friday: Four Bean Mix + rice

3. Mix up the flavor/cooking technique

Change up the cuisine or style of cooking to get a different meal idea.

  • Monday: Chicken + wraps + Mexican = Enchiladas
  • Tuesday: Eggs + sweet potato + oven baked = Frittata
  • Wednesday: Beef + rice + Thai = Massaman curry
  • Thursday: Chicken + corn + BBQ = BBQ chicken skewers + corn cobs
  • Friday: Four Bean Mix + rice + salad = Mixed bean and rice salad

4. Load half your plate with veg

  • Monday: Chicken Enchiladas + baby spinach, tomato, onion, capsicum
  • Tuesday: Frittata + baby spinach + mushroom
  • Wednesday: Massaman curry + carrots + green beans
  • Thursday: BBQ chicken skewers + corn cobs + grilled zucchini + grilled capsicum
  • Friday: Four Bean Mix + rice + baby spinach + capsicum + grated carrot

Load up with veg

We are fortunate that there is generally no shortage of fresh fruit and vegetables. So, there’s no reason why we can’t use this time in isolation as a chance to practice our skills at cooking vegetables.

Not only will increasing the vegetable proportion of your meal give you more vitamins, minerals and fibre for your immune system, but it will help the meal to go further, saving you money and lowering the calorie content of each serve.

Try bulking up your vegetable content by:

  • Roasting a large tray of mixed veg, like pumpkin, carrot, red onion, capsicum, zucchini and green beans.
  • Making a large pot of vegetable soup to have a snack, lunch or entrée.
  • Adding a salsa of diced tomato, red onion and coriander as a side.
  • Pre-chop your own slaw with cabbage (red or green), grated carrot, celery, onion – and sliced snow peas for something different.

Store your food well

The benefit of more home-cooked meals is that we are more likely to cook the vegetables we have on hand. However, to save yourself the frustration of throwing away food that’s gone off and having to go to the shops repeatedly, you need to store your veg well.

Always store your fruit and each type of vegetable separately. The gasses that some fruit or veg produce as they ripen can speed up the ripening of other fruit and veg.

Leafy veg

Place a bit of paper towel in an airtight container or plastic bag. Rinse your leafy greens if they haven’t already been rinsed and pat them dry with a tea towel. Then place them in the container with a piece of paper towel on top.

Fruit and tomatoes

You can keep your tomatoes out on the bench until they start to become too soft. Then if you move them to an airtight container or plastic bag in the fridge, they can keep even longer.

Mushrooms

Keep your mushrooms in a brown paper bag in an airtight container or plastic bag.

While this uses up a lot of containers and bags, you can save the bag you used to weigh the veg at the supermarket or the plastic bag your bread comes in. All of these can be reused multiple times and will help your veg to last longer.

Good enough is good enough

A big barrier for many people when it comes to meal planning and shopping for the week is that they might not feel like eating what they planned for Thursday when Thursday finally rolls around.

You may not feel enthused about cooking what’s planned, but here’s the funny thing about our brain – it’s not always being 100 per cent honest with you.

When it gets to 4pm and you feel yourself saying ‘I don’t want to cook’ or ‘I don’t feel like that’, your brain is running through a very well-rehearsed script that pushes you to make a more instantly gratifying choice (like take-out!).

In many cases, we can overcome this script by remembering that every meal doesn’t have to be perfect, or mind-blowingly delicious. The plan might not seem to be what you feel like now, but your past-self picked this meal for a reason. Trust that your past-self has your best interests at heart.

You can also make the process more appealing by breaking down the task into smaller steps. Rather than thinking about making the whole thing, just get the veg out and put them on the bench. Or just chop the meat up and put that in the fridge. You can tackle the next step after that.

Better yet, if you are at home, why not start the cooking process earlier in the day so that by the time 5pm rolls around, you’re already halfway done? You could:

  • Grab some meat out of the freezer in the morning at breakfast
  • Chop your dinner vegetables when you’re making lunch
  • Mix a sauce together when you take an afternoon break
  • Measure out your ingredients into little bowls.

Keep calm, it’s contagious

Remember, we’re all in the same boat. We’re all doing our best. Your food habits are adapting to your new situation, and change always takes a bit of trial and error. Try to be that calm amongst the storm.

As always, if you have any concerns about your health or diet, speak to your doctor or other healthcare professional. You can also find answers to common questions about the coronavirus here, and myth-bust some of the disinformation floating around here.

Images: Unsplash

About the author

The Healthy Eating Hub

This article was written by an Accredited Practicing Dietitian from The Healthy Eating Hub. The Healthy Eating Hub is a team of university-qualified nutritionists and dietitians who are passionate about helping people develop long term healthy eating habits through offering evidence-based and practical nutrition advice that people can put into practice straight away.

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