These Healthy Eating Habits Should Continue After Quarantine, Says a Registered Dietitian

Joan Salge Blake, EdD, RDN, FAND
Photo credit: Arx0nt - Getty Images
Photo credit: Arx0nt - Getty Images

From Prevention

There's a lot about the coronavirus pandemic that has caused anxiety and stress, but with restrictions easing nationwide, you may want to reflect on some of the positive changes that occurred while being hunkering down. Here are three diet changes that you likely made during this time that you may want to keep as your new normal:

1. Cook more, dine out less.

Before COVID-19, more than 55% of Americans who ate out (including take-out) did so at least two to three times per week, according to a 2019 survey, and another 10% of us ate out up to six times per week. But with the closure of restaurants, many of us (about 45%, according to another survey) report cooking more while quarantined. Not a big surprise, based on the limited options to get dinner on the table. But this trend toward more home cooking is a good thing, as research also tells us that when you dine out, you tend to eat more food and drink more alcohol. Restaurant meals, with their inflated portions, tempt you into ordering and consuming more calories, saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars.

Post-quarantine tips:

If you were making dinner reservations four times a week, consider cutting that in half post-quarantine. Your neighbors may be following suit, as a new survey from the Food Industry Association found that more than 35% of adults surveyed plan to make cooking more at home their new normal.

Cut back on your reliance on take-out by cooking once and eating twice. That is, make double portions of a meal over the weekend so that you automatically have leftovers for another meal during the week.

Photo credit: bhofack2 - Getty Images
Photo credit: bhofack2 - Getty Images

2. Lean on produce.

During this pandemic, there has been a short-term reduction in the processing of meat and poultry due to the closures of processing plants to curtail the spread of the virus among employees. This caused a shortage of meat and poultry at the supermarket and the price per pound to rise. The upside of this cost increase was that it forced us to stretch that pound of meat and poultry by reducing the amount of protein on our plate. This is a good thing, as most Americans need to reduce the amount of protein in their diet while simultaneously increasing the amount of vegetables.

Post-quarantine tips:

Keep the protein in your meal to a mere 3-ounce portion, which is visually equivalent in size to a ¼-inch-thick credit card.

Fill extra the space on your plate with Mother Nature’s finest, low-calorie vegetables. Veggies are filled with fiber and water, so they will fill you up for fewer calories.

Look for the weekly produce sales at your local supermarket to get the most vegetables for your budget. It doesn’t matter if your veggie choices are fresh, frozen, or canned. All are heart-healthy and waist-friendly.

3. Eat more, earlier.

Emerging research suggests that when you eat may be as important as what you eat. Many of us had the pre-quarantine bad habit of skimping on breakfast or lunch and ending the day with a hefty, late-night dinner. But your body’s natural circadian rhythms may play a role in your metabolism, according to another study, by influencing the activity of its regulating enzymes and hormones. Eating the majority of your daily calories later in the day may foul up the circadian rhythms in your body, which, in turn, can cause higher-than-wanted blood glucose levels and increased storage of fat in your body.

Post-quarantine tips:

Your new normal eating mantra should be “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.” In other words, downsize your evening meals and increase the number of calories you eat earlier in the morning.

When dining out, take half of your meal home and have it for lunch the next day. If you are returning to an office soon, plan your breakfast in advance and pack your lunch at night to get a jump-start on the morning commute.

Dr. Joan Salge Blake is a member of Prevention's Medical Review Board, a nutrition professor at Boston University and the host of the hit nutrition, health, and wellness podcast, SpotOn!, which is available on all major podcast platforms.

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