As we slowly settle into the “new normal” of doing work and school in isolation, many of us are also finding it difficult to keep up with our health, especially maintaining a healthy diet. While the strict lockdown and physical distancing regulations are making access to food a bit more difficult, it is still possible to purchase and consume a healthy affordable diet on a tight budget.
Families can implement coping strategies to help them meet the dietary requirements for the whole family and especially for learners so that they are able to maintain good memory, alertness and energy. Knowing what to do at this time to help learners cope could save many students struggling with the sudden change.
This article aims to ensure that families are able to safeguard their livelihoods in order to mitigate the secondary effects of the pandemic on nutrition. The following recommendations could be helpful to those struggling to maintain a healthy diet during this time.
Importance of nutrition
According to clinical dietitian Tayla Kaltenbrun the human body requires ‘fuel’ in the form of water, macronutrients – carbohydrates, proteins, fats and micronutrients – vitamins and minerals to function optimally. During difficult times, the body is strained and needs a healthy balanced diet to maintain physiological balance to carry out important bodily functions.
Kaltenbrun’s advice to parents and learners is to focus on having foods rich in nutrients that improve brain function; foods that keep the body feeling full for longer and maintain alertness throughout the entire day. To achieve this, here are five suggestions for healthy eating.
- Eat a variety of foods across all the food groups to ensure an adequate intake of important nutrients. Include fresh/frozen fruits and vegetables packed with vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants to protect against major chronic diseases. Meat, dairy, whole grains – for slow energy release, iron, zinc, B vitamins – reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety while boosting brain function. Healthy fats as found in olives, nuts, seeds and oily fish high in omega 3 fatty acids – will help to improve both short- and long-term memory and promote optimal brain health.
- Limit the intake of foods high in fats, sugar and salt. These are often hidden in comfort foods and are therefore easy to take in excess in times of high stress. Sweeter and saltier tasty snack can feel comforting. Read food labels to identify and help you limit purchasing and consuming these ingredients.
- Drink water regularly to stay well hydrated and to help support the immune system. Hydration helps the body to naturally eliminate toxins.
- Make a plan for your shopping and meals. Lack of planning can lead to panic buying, unnecessary overspending, overconsumption and an unequal distribution of products.
- Watch the size of your food portions by using your own hand to gauge the appropriate volumes;
- Leafy vegetables – A portion must fit into both open hands put together.
- Cooked cereals – A portion must be the size of a closed fist.
- Fruit – One portion of fruit should be the same size as your closed fist.
- Meats – One portion should be the size of the palm of your hand, excluding your fingers.
- Fats – One portion must be the size of the tip of your thumb, which is about a tablespoonful.
Some useful guidelines on planning and preparing meals on a budget
Planning your meals helps you buy and cook only what you need. Consider your family’s needs, assess what is already available and plan your intake. While you might feel the need to purchase large amounts of foods, look at the shelf life of everything in your pantry to avoid food waste.
- Aim to have more foods that are non-perishable and/or have a longer shelf life. These include:
- Fresh veggies with a longer shelf life like beetroot, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, yams, cabbage, squash/butternuts, onions and garlic.
- Fresh fruit with a longer shelf life: apples, melon, oranges, grapefruit and lemons.
- Frozen vegetables and fruit, canned vegetables and fruit, dried fruit, tomato sauce and canned tomatoes.
- Grains like rice, bread (with a longer shelf life), maize-meal, pasta, cold dry and hot cereals, bread rusks, crackers and biscuits.
- Legumes, including canned and dried beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts and seeds.
- Frozen/canned meat and fish, stewing bones and eggs.
- Dairy products such as yogurt, hard cheese, long-life milk, milk powder and evaporated milk.
- Flour, oil, butter or margarine, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, jam/honey, sugar, herbs and spices.
- It is important to continue practising good hygiene and food safety during food preparation and meals. The virus can be killed by practising cleaning and sanitising surfaces and by cooking foods at safe internal temperatures.
- Use fresh ingredients and those that have a shorter shelf life first and the non-perishable ones later over time.
- Avoid food waste, freeze leftovers for another meal.