The COVID-19 outbreak has changed our relationship with food in major ways.
Between the stress of potential exposure to the new coronavirus at grocery stores, shortages of essential household items and foods, and stay-at-home orders putting us in proximity to a pantry full of snacks, the pandemic has created new challenges when it comes to eating healthy.
To help you adjust to your new food environment, we’re bringing you some simple ways to make smart choices amid the “new normal.”
Researchers have noticed some big changes in what people are buying and how they’re shopping since COVID-19 hit the United States. Here are a few recent shopping trends:
Citrus gets snapped up
Produce sales have spiked in recent months. Year-to-date fresh produce sales were up more than 11 percent in August compared with the same time period last year, reports Blue Book Services.
But the real standout in the produce section during the pandemic has been oranges. Sales of fresh oranges jumped a whopping 73 percent in May 2020 compared with the same month in 2019.
Meat sales soar
People have been buying meat at unprecedented levels while quarantining or isolating at home.
Meat sales have climbed nearly 35 percent during the pandemic, largely driven by an increase in beef consumption, according to the midyear Power of Meat study.
What’s more, almost half of Americans say they’ve purchased more meat while forced to cook and eat at home.
Freezers fill up
Frozen foods have also been a hot item during the pandemic. During the week of March 22, 2020, frozen foods saw a 94 percent spike compared with the same week in 2019, according to the Frozen Food Institute.
The figure included a range of frozen foods, including meats, pizzas, and chicken nuggets.
Safer shopping habits
Shoppers have been doing their part to make grocery shopping safer for themselves and others.
Data collected by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) in April and May 2020 shows that around half of people have been making less frequent grocery runs.
While at the store, more than 50 percent of shoppers have been wearing a mask and trying not to touch surfaces. Others have been avoiding the store altogether, with around 1 in 4 people relying on online grocery shopping.
Shelves empty out
The IFIC report also found that 40 percent of people were worried about being able to find products they usually buy early on the pandemic.
Their concerns are not unfounded — a combination of supply chain disruptions and panic-buying behavior have left many supermarket shelves bare.
Shoppers reported challenges finding toilet paper, cleaning supplies, tofu, paper towels, laundry detergent, soda, canned soup, hand soap, and many other products.
Big changes at the grocery store don’t have to mean that a nutritious diet goes out the window. Here are some ways to eat healthy while stuck at home.
1. Snack the right way
Are you grazing more often lately? You’re not alone.
At least 1 in 3 people say they’ve been snacking more during the pandemic, according to IFIC. While snacking on autopilot can put you on the fast track to overeating, taking a more mindful approach can make the habit much healthier.
Focus on foods that have high protein and healthy fats, such as hummus or Greek yogurt, which can keep you feeling full. Portioning out snacks ahead of time, rather than reaching directly into the package, can also help you avoid eating more than you intended.
2. Understand portion sizes
Portion control can be tricky at home, when second and third helpings are often within reach.
Understanding the appropriate portion sizes of different foods can not only stretch your groceries further, but it can also reduce excess calories in your diet and help you maintain a healthy weight.
Fortunately, you don’t need to weigh and measure everything. Your hand can actually be a helpful portion guide. Here’s how:
- Protein. One serving of meat, poultry, fish, beans, or another protein should be about the size of your palm.
- Vegetables. Aim for one fist-size portion of veggies or salads for women, and two fists’ worth for men.
- Carbs. Cap your grains and starches to about one cupped-hand portion for women, and two for men.
- Fats. Fatty foods, like nuts, butter, and oils, should be no more than one or two thumb-size portions for women and men, respectively.
Don’t forget that portion sizes also change based on your age, body size, and physical activity level, so your palm isn’t always the best way to estimate how much you should be eating.
Consider talking to your doctor for more information about portion sizes.
3. Stock up on frozen vegetables and fruits
If your supermarket’s produce section isn’t stocked as well as usual, try looking for frozen bags of your favorite fruits and vegetables.
Food producers freeze fruits and vegetables within hours at their peak ripeness to preserve their nutrients and flavor, making them a healthy alternative to fresh produce, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Plus, frozen foods make it easier to keep nutritious ingredients on hand when you’re trying not to go to the grocery store as often. Just make sure you peek at the nutrition label to make sure there’s no added sugar, fat, or salt.
4. Try shopping from a distance
It can be hard to stock up on a couple of weeks’ worth of food on a supermarket run if you’ve got a lot of mouths to feed at home. Fortunately, a number of modern conveniences can help keep your pantry brimming with healthy foods for everyone.
Consider ordering groceries online or using curbside pickup at your local supermarket to stay stocked up while maintaining plenty of physical distance.
5. Enjoy meals with others
Bonding with the people you live with over a meal can be healthy for both your body and your mind.
Cooking and eating together can help reduce stress and feelings of isolation that may otherwise drive us to turn to less healthy food for comfort.