Has all this time sequestered at home from COVID-19 impacted our weight? A recent study published in the journal Obesity surveyed nearly 8,000 adults worldwide on weight indicators and stress levels before and during the pandemic. More than a quarter of participants reported weight gains. Many also increased “sedentary leisure activities,” decreased time spent being active or intensity of physical activities, and, on average, had higher anxiety levels.
Not all of the study’s findings were dire, though. All of that time at home prompted many participants to prepare and cook more foods in their kitchens, eat out less, and better their dietary patterns overall.
Meal planning at home and being mindful of what you select when ordering or eating out can have tremendous effects on improving eating habits. Continuing our blog series tied to National Nutrition Month, we’re offering these tips on personalizing meal planning and what to watch out for if you’re letting your favorite eatery do the cooking.
Make the list, save some dough
You may have heard that a good way to cut down on food costs is to avoid grocery shopping when hungry. Creating lists is another way to stay within budget. (Here are others, courtesy of the MyPlate.gov site.) Check your fridge and cabinets first for what’s already available and create a list for items you actually need. Stretch those dollars by opting for recipes and nutritious ingredients you can repurpose or use throughout the week. Legumes and whole grains—beans, lentils, brown rice, oats, and quinoa, to name a few—are inexpensive and incredibly versatile. The same goes for certain canned or frozen food options such as seafood, fruits, and vegetables, as they’re just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts. Making large batches of food for the entire week helps solve the “what’s for dinner?” conundrum. Plus, buying in bulk helps cut costs. Looking for healthy recipe ideas? Two great places to start: the MyPlate site and the Produce for Better Health Foundation site.
Planning on what to munch on between meals is another cost-saving and healthful tactic. When purchasing snack foods to stock your pantry, check the label for sodium, added sugars, and saturated fat, compare options, and stock up on nutritious alternatives that will quell hunger pains between meals. Air-popped popcorn and in-season fruits and vegetables are cost-effective options. Cut fruits and veggies yourself to save cash vs. buying pre-cut. (Case in point: Baby carrots, despite their name, are not the offspring of larger carrots. They’re normal carrots sliced into smaller bits and can be more expensive than their larger counterparts.)
Also, get creative and make your own snacks that will last you the week. Mix together some dried fruits, nuts, and whole grain pretzels or cereal, and you’ve got a delicious and healthy trail mix. Grab a large tub of nonfat or low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese and add in some fruit for another healthy and inexpensive alternative to those sugar-loaded individualized options. Scoop out individual portions at snack time.
If leaving it to the professionals…
There’s nothing wrong with taking a break from cooking and ordering from your favorite restaurant on occasion. There are ways you can keep nutrition in mind when ordering take-out or dining in-person. Make comparisons while reviewing the menu in the same way you would compare food labels at the grocery store. Search for words that translate into higher saturated fat and calorie content (creamed, buttered, pan-fried, batter-fried, or crispy) and instead order options better for your body (baked, broiled, grilled, poached, roasted, or steamed). Consider a soup or salad as a way to get your veggies. And there’s no shame in eating some now and saving some for later (another cost-cutting tactic). If ordering takeout, instead of eating directly from the container, plate out a portion and put the rest in the fridge for another meal.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a number of other healthy ideas for ordering out.
Visit this blog throughout National Nutrition Month for additional tips on fine-tuning your eating habits.
—Fred Durso, Jr., is a Nutrition On Demand intern currently pursuing a master’s degree in food and nutrition and the necessary requirements to become a registered dietitian. Prior to heading back to school, he spent more than a decade as a journalist/communications specialist.