It’s OK if you can’t eat loads of fresh food during Covid-19 lock-down
With everything that’s going on in the world with the Covid-19 pandemic, we’re worried
about our families and our jobs, and it’s all adding to our usual load of stress. And just to make things worse, our eating habits have probably changed too because we’re not going out as often to buy fresh produce. We’re trying to limit our excursions to the supermarket or grocery, so we’re stocking up on canned, frozen or shelf-stable items, simply because these items last longer and fill the gaps in between eating fresh stuff.
As most health experts emphasise the importance of eating whole real foods and avoiding processed foods for optimal health and nutrition, deciding between fresh food and processed foods (canned or frozen options) can feel like choosing between being healthy or not.
So, you’re feeling kind of guilty at the moment and that lurking feeling of “not eating healthy” is catching up on you. Well, rest assured... it’s not all THAT bad, as long as you choose the right products. Here are a few tips to help you make that better choice.
Frozen can be just as healthy – if not more – as fresh produce
Frozen fruit and vegetables are in fact pretty good, as they are snap-frozen as soon as they’ve been picked and when they are at the right degree of ripeness, so they lock in the right value of nutrients. When buying fresh produce, these are picked, packed, transported, sit in the shop a couple of days and then up to a week in your refrigerator. By the time they arrive in your plate, a lot of nutrients have gone.
Hey, I live in a tropical country, so I’m not always lucky to find certain varieties of fresh produce, so frozen is my best second option if I need to vary my food a bit.
If your buying frozen fish or seafood, choose the packs of portioned pieces of fish (such as salmon, barramundi, cod or hoki) or prawns. Avoid anything that is battered, crumbed or with sauce as these will inevitably include sugar and additives and usually need frying which is the “unhealthy” cooking option. Otherwise, if you can buy your pieces fresh, freeze a whole batch when you get home, same with meat pieces.
Canned food can be healthy for you too, especially if you’re on a budget or have limited space in your freezer, as they are also picked at optimal ripeness, so a lot of the nutrients are well preserved. The problem though with canned produce is they’ve been cooked or exposed to high temperatures before canning, so they lose some of their nutrients and the texture of cooked fruit is not quite the same as raw fruit (i.e. peaches and pears). Also, canned fruit has juice or syrup, so although the fruit itself is good, don’t go overboard with drinking the syrup or juice.
Cans of tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines are a good option if you can’t get fresh seafood, as these can be added to salads, pasta or in a fish bake. They provide your dose of omega-3 fatty acids for a healthy heart and brain. Oysters and mussels are a good source of immune-boosting zinc.
Tomatoes are useful for adding to many recipes, chick-peas and various beans are a good source of fibre and B-vitamins and must-have staple foods to stock up in your pantry.
As sugar and salt are the main preservatives in canned produce, check the labels and go for the ones with the least sugar or sodium added when possible. Otherwise, drain and rinse them before eating them or adding them to your recipe.
This is where it gets tricky. Spending a lot of time at home, if you don’t have enough to keep yourself busy, you’re going to head to the fridge or the pantry saying “I’m hungry” … In actual fact, “you’re bored”. So, to avoid stuffing yourself with chocolate biscuits or a bag of potato crisps, let’s look at some healthy snack options.
For a start, instead of buying packaged biscuits full of hydrogenated fats or packet cake mixes, make your own home-made biscuits or cakes, and think of reducing the amount of sugar by half.
Here are a few ideas for nutrient dense snacks, without the added sugars, trans-fats and artificial flavours.
Nuts and seeds are high in fibre and proteins, as well as healthy fats. Make your own trail mix with what you like best. I love a mix of almonds, pecans, sunflower kernels and pumpkin seeds. Add a few raisins to that for a bit of extra energy. Make sure you keep them in air-tight containers for longer shelf-life.
Yoghurt with no added sugar and short ingredient list. Read the labels and compare different brands.
Home-made natural popcorn – not the microwavable stuff which has added flavours and colours. Make your own with olive oil or coconut oil and a little bit of salt.
A tablespoon of natural organic peanut butter
Home-made crackers – why don’t you check out my recipe for French style “sables”
So, don’t worry…
Packaged and processed foods are looked upon as being unhealthy. Technically speaking, the term “processed” means the food has gone through some kind of transformation from its original state, such as pasta, rice, beans, nuts, oils, etc. Let’s not forget that these are healthy foods and have nothing to do with ultra-processed instant meals with loads of additives, emulsifiers, thickeners…
So, unless it makes your life a whole lot easier, and you don’t eat ultra-processed meals every day, avoid them as much as possible and try to purchase the most natural options and then you can spruce them up with spices and your own home-made sauces when you’re cooking them.
In conclusion, what’s important during this difficult time is to ensure you get all the nutrients you need by eating a variety of foods high in fibre, protein and healthy fats; think fruit, veggies, meat, fish, legumes, nuts and seeds, whether they be fresh, frozen or canned.
If you can get fresh food right now, that’s awesome. But don’t stress about it if you can’t. You can still get all the nutrients you need even if you’re not eating fresh foods every day.