If stay-at-home orders have messed with your normal healthy eating schedule, you’re not alone. Working from home means access to snacks at all hours of the day, and it might feel like you’re constantly in the kitchen even when you’re not truly hungry.
There’s an emotional component, too. “The disruption caused by the pandemic may add additional stress and could negatively influence food choices,” says Sara Casey, RD. What’s more, if you’re choosing quick-access packaged foods, you may be missing out on key nutrients like fiber and healthy fats.
It’s worth it to stick to some type of schedule. “Because we are all creatures of habit, maintaining or creating an eating schedule could be the backbone for adding on other healthy behaviors, like knowing you need to eat something at 3 p.m. to keep up your energy until the next full meal and choosing a fiber- and protein-rich snack to increase satiety and hold you over,” says Casey.
Plus, “scheduling regular meals and snacks will keep your blood sugar balanced,” adds Alicia Galvin, RD. Imagine you skip a meal and grab chips or candy to quell hunger and tide you over until the next meal. The result is a blood sugar spike, followed by a plummet, which can ramp up snack cravings for the rest of the day, resulting in more calories and carbohydrates consumed, she says.
If you’ve lost the healthy eating schedule that kept you going (or want to start one), here are some expert tips:
Working from home doesn’t mean you’re less busy, and it can be just as difficult — or even more so — to find time to start dinner or make a run for food, says Galvin. But answering your hunger and fueling your body with nourishing foods is just as important as any meeting. “Block the time on your calendar for meals and snacks as well as when you’ll grocery shop,” says Galvin.
If you forget to log a meal or snack, don’t worry. “Start with one meal or snack to plan out and build from there,” says Casey. For instance, set a calendar invite on your phone for a snack reminder at 3 p.m. every day. (The specific timing will be what’s best for your day and needs.) Eventually, you can stack on this habit and build up to logging all of your meals so that you can see your progress.
If you don’t have anything at the ready, you might get stuck mindlessly eating snacks while deciding whether you want to make a salad or wrap for lunch, says Galvin. That’s where batch cooking, or meal prepping, comes in. Plan a day where you can batch cook proteins, grains and veggies and throw together leftovers for quick, well-balanced meals.
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If you read labels carefully, you can find nutritious frozen meals, like these breakfasts and lunches from Trader Joe’s. You can also make your own for a variety of different diets. Having healthy frozen meals on hand is a great way to avoid getting so hungry you eat anything in sight.
“Be ready to modify and shift from your schedule as needed,” says Casey. “Eating schedules are meant to be more like guidelines that provide some structure versus a rule for when you’re ‘allowed’ or ‘not allowed’ to eat.” If you’re truly hungry, you should have something to eat regardless of the time, she adds.
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