The pandemic has truly affected everyone, regardless of their lifestyle. We are limited to the activities and habits that we can do, which then forces us to take a new norm. And one of the things that I noticed is the way we define what is “essential.”
I’m sure you’ve heard of the phrase, “you can only go out to buy essential needs”, and notice how stores remove items that are deemed non-essential. With this in mind, is it still possible to create healthy dishes every day if you are limited with the ingredients? Not to mention, you might also need to work in a tighter budget because of the pandemic.
We all know that a healthy body requires a healthy diet. But this can be hard to pull off, especially with the limitations and compromises implemented everywhere. However, do not let go of the idea of healthy eating yet. With the tips below, you can still cook healthily amidst the pandemic.
Check Your Pantry and List What is Needed
One of the lifestyle changes that we have to follow is that we have to limit our trips outside. Unless you are an essential worker or you’re buying essentials, it’s better to stay at home. Minimizing social interaction and trips outside benefit not just you and your family, but also the whole community.
And because of this, you have to be mindful of your grocery list. The last thing you want is having to come back every other day to the store to buy something you forgot. To avoid this health risk and hassle, it’s important for you to plan your meals in advance.
Meal preparation is one of the secrets when it comes to healthy eating. For example, have your recipes for the whole week ready, and list the ingredients that you’ll need for them. You don’t even need to spend a lot to cook healthy meals because various recipes with this concept are available online. At the same time, these recipes don’t require ingredients that are hard to find, especially at these times.
Speaking of which, make sure that you have checked your pantry and refrigerator before you go to the store. This will give you an idea of what you may or may not need already. You can even make a running grocery list composed of ingredients that you will surely run out in a week. For example, the staples that never leave my list are bread, milk, eggs, and chicken.
Lastly, you want to categorize your stocks so that it’ll be easier for you to notice if you happen to forget something. For example, segregate them into condiments, canned goods, and perishable items. You can also ask suggestions from other family members so that everyone can participate in this healthy diet plan.
Buy Food Items Strategically
Now that you have your pantry and refrigerator checked, and you have a list of what is needed, the next step is how to buy the food items themselves. What I mean by this is that you can cook healthily much easier if you create a strategy.
To give you an idea, check the list that you made and try to remove those that are just empty calories. I know it’s tempting to fill your cart with “easy” foods like chips, sodas, and cookies, but they are just increasing your grocery bill. And they are not even beneficial for your family’s health. They might seem like they are curing your cravings, but one is never enough, and you’ll just be in a cycle of giving in to temptations of unhealthy foods.
You can switch them with healthier options such as yogurt, dried fruits, mixed nuts, popcorn, and other filling snacks like chickpeas and energy bars. You can also opt for ingredients that are versatile such as beans, frozen fruits and vegetables, peanut butter, and oats. They are easy to use in multiple recipes, and they are not easily perishable.
At the same time, you can search for healthy options for other essential kitchen ingredients. For example, this is a useful guide full of alternatives for vegetable oil. Not only are you cutting your grocery costs, but you’re also lessening unhealthy ingredients without being limited to recipes.
And do not be deterred by canned items when it comes to cooking healthy. Low-sodium and no-sugar canned goods such as sauces and condiments can save you the time in preparation, while also not cutting too much from your budget. Pasta using a store-bought sauce with vegetables and protein is still healthy.
When shopping for a healthy pantry for the pandemic, keep balance in mind. Stock up on fruits and vegetables full of vitamins and minerals, as well as filling proteins. Root vegetables, bell peppers, seeds, apples, citrus fruits, and tuna all have a long shelf life but are cheap and healthy.
What Ingredients Should You Buy and What Can You Do with Them
A challenge when it comes to cooking healthily in the pandemic is what you can do with the ingredients you bought. As we have previously discussed, a mix of fresh, frozen, and shelf-stable items should benefit you. You can start with the fresh ingredients, and then with the shelf-stable and frozen items later on.
Besides following the various recipes online, you can also switch some ingredients and change some techniques on your own. For example, you don’t need to use costly ingredients for a salad or a burger. Try opting for tofu instead of meat for a healthier and budget-friendly burger.
A complete and healthy meal is composed of a balance between protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. You can keep your saturated fat in check by using less meat and more vegetables as well. Beans, rice, and grains are sometimes easy to interchange.
For breakfast, opt for energizing but good carbohydrates like whole-grain bread, whole wheat waffles, and vegetarian wraps. You can also have filling lunches and dinners such as chicken noodle soup, homemade pizza, oatmeal with fruit slices, chicken or tuna sandwich, and salads.
While for snacks, vegetable slices and some ranch are much healthier than chips. And if you are craving something sweet, frozen fruits should curb your sugar cravings. You don’t need to spend a lot with a bit of imagination and ingredient switches. Plus, your spices and condiments are there to improve your meals’ palatability.
You can also use some recipes that can later turn into another healthy dish. To give you an idea, you can use stocks from cooking meat and veggies for sauces and soups. You can even turn those leftovers into easy one-pot meals and sandwiches.
Don’t be afraid of making a big batch because you can use the leftovers for other meals, or you can just freeze them for later use. This way, you won’t get bored with the repetition, and you can play with multiple dishes throughout the week.