Stay-at-home eating challenges

Eating habits have been disrupted by stay-at-home orders and can be adding to the variety of other stressors you are currently dealing with. Having to cook more of your own meals, struggling with foods being out of stock, feeling lost without your normal routine, emotional eating, to name a few.

Are you facing any of these challenges? Here are some tips that might help!

“My meal routine is completely thrown off”

Being home all day can be challenging for a variety of reasons. One challenge may be trying to figure out how to fit your old routine into your current situation. Without your normal structured day, everything can feel out of whack, which can affect your eating schedule. Also, with many foods out of stock in grocery stores and trying to stock your kitchen with two weeks worth of groceries as the CDC recommends, eating when and what you normally do may not be possible.

Here are some strategies that might help you establish a “new normal” routine:

  • Set a daily and weekly routine to help keep structure in your days. Include meals, work or class schedules, physical activity, and any other things you would usually do. Try to mirror your pre-pandemic schedule to help your routine feel as normal as possible.
  • Set reminders throughout the day at times when you would usually eat your meals. These are to remind you to check in with your hunger and see if it is time for your next meal or snack. It does not mean you have to eat at that time; if you check in with your body and you aren’t hungry, continue with what you were doing and check back in regularly to see when you are hungry.
  • Meal plan! When stocking up with enough food for two weeks, it can be helpful to have an idea of what meals you will prepare. Plan for meals with fresher ingredients at the beginning of the two weeks and include frozen, canned, and other longer-lasting foods towards the end of your plan. Check out our “3 Steps to Meal Prep” blog for more tips!
  • When foods are out of stock, experiment with foods you aren’t as familiar with that fit in a similar food group. For example, if the protein you usually buy isn’t available, experiment with a different meat, seafood, or plant-based option. Consider frozen fruits that will last longer than fresh. Whole grains like barley and farro can be used instead of rice. Find the joy in trying new foods; you might find your new favorite go-to food by branching out/

“I can’t justify cooking for just myself”

Cooking and eating solo can be hard, but it’s important to remember this is a form of self-care and now is the time we need this most. Here are some helpful strategies:

  • Prepare big batches of meals so you don’t have to cook everything from scratch each day. You can also prep ingredients (chop veggies, pre-cook grains, marinate meats, etc.) if you like to cook most days so you can have your meal ready in less time.
  • Plan a menu you’re actually excited about. It doesn’t need to be gourmet or complicated, but make sure you build in your favorite foods so you have some motivation when you don’t feel like cooking.
  • If you are bored of, not used to, or don’t like eating meals by yourself, set up a few virtual meals each week with friends or family and share breakfast, lunch, or dinner together over a video chat service (like Facetime, Skype, or Zoom) or a simple phone call!

“I order more takeout because it feels less stressful than going to the grocery store”

Supporting restaurants that are staying open for carry out and delivery can be a great way to help local small businesses. However, you might be stressing about how much restaurant food you are consuming and how much money you are spending. Here are some helpful tips for cooking more at home:

  • Some of the previous tips can be helpful here as well: meal plan and preparing large batches of meals can help lessen the burden and time commitment of having to cook every meal.
  • Share the responsibility of cooking with people in your household. Divide up your meals for the week and decide who will cook each one. Or, split up the cooking process. One person can be in charge of chopping and prepping ingredients, one person can handle the cooking, and another can do the cleaning. Rotate through the tasks so people are in charge of different things throughout the week. Children can be involved with age-appropriate cooking tasks.
  • Find easy recipes that don’t take a lot of time or effort to prepare. Not every meal needs to be fancy or time-consuming. You can create yummy and nutritious meals in less than 30 minutes. You can also take advantage of pre-chopped veggies or quick-cook grains to make cooking easier. Check out our “Easy Pantry Meals” blog for quick and tasty recipe ideas.
  • To help support your favorite restaurants, pick the days you’ll order takeout and schedule these in your week’s menu so you can plan accordingly.

“I’m experiencing emotional eating and I don’t know how to stop”

Turning to food for comfort is a normal and biological response to stress. If you are turning to food for comfort more than usual and feeling guilty about stress eating, here are some helpful tips for navigating these situations:

  • Brainstorm ways to cope with stress and other emotions so you have a big toolbox full of coping mechanisms to turn to when times get tough. Your list might include journaling, going for a walk, soaking up sunshine and fresh air, calling a friend or family member, meditating, practicing yoga, exercising, taking a bath, listening to music, and dancing around the house.
  • Follow a regular meal pattern to stay fueled throughout the day. Being overly hungry can make stress feel worse and coping even harder.
  • Practice mindful eating. When you are eating, instead of thinking of the stressor, focus on the food and how it makes you feel. Use all of your senses to experience your meal. Being mindful when you are eating can help you experience food more completely and help you realize when you are satisfied so that stress doesn’t trick you into overeating.
  • Be kind to yourself. Being stressed or feeling guilty about emotional eating is not helpful and will only continue to fuel the cycle of turning to food for comfort and adding more stress into your life. Be careful with the language you use to talk to yourself – it can be helpful to ask yourself, “Would I say that to a loved one?” When you turn to food for comfort, accept it non-judgmentally and think about what you learned from the experience. Rather than dwell in guilt, visualize how you can try one of your coping mechanisms next time.
  • Check out our blog about stress and eating for even more information.

While these strategies may help some of you, they may not work for everybody. Each person has unique nutrition challenges and needs. If eating is a source of your stress during this difficult time or if you want to use your extra down-time to prioritize your nutrition goals, our Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are here to help. Call 970-495-5916 to learn more about our telehealth counseling appointments and services.

Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center