Michael Glab MS, RD, LDN
3 nutrition tips for a quarantine
Updated: Mar 30, 2020
Life has drastically changed in the last seven days. We no longer have sports to watch, group gatherings over 50 people are not allowed and anyone who coughs gets a dirty look. The biggest change for many of us is the reality that many of us may have to stay in isolation for an extended period of time to prevent further spread of the COVID-19 virus. This is known as a quarantine and many of us have never been through anything like this in our lives.
It’s interesting to me that people went straight to hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer and not food. I’m also glad that happened because had the food supply dwindled to the extent of toilet paper and hand sanitizer then we might be talking about way more chaos than we're currently enduring. So how should you prepare to nourish yourself in an extended quarantine? Here are my 3 tips to get you through a potentially month-long or more quarantine.
1) Buy fresh and freeze
Fresh food is obviously best, but during a quarantine things can be different. Right now you are still able to go to the grocery store. But what if that changes and you can’t just run to market to get some fresh chicken breast for dinner. According to foodsafety.gov, fresh poultry will last up to 9 months in the freezer. Fresh beef, lamb and pork can last 4-12 months in the freezer. Fish can be frozen from 2-6 months. Fattier fish like tuna and salmon are best frozen up to 2 months. Leaner fish like cod can last up to 6 months. Shellfish last 2-4 months in the freezer.
There are three methods for safely thawing frozen meat: fridge thawing, cold water thawing, microwave thawing and cooking without thawing. For more in-depth explanations, please see this link.
I have purchased fresh produce like spinach, blueberries, pineapple, bananas and green beans and frozen them for 2-3 months with no issues. Fresh produce that is then frozen should last up to one year in the freezer. I did an inventory of various packaged frozen fruits and vegetables in my freezer and found that most will last over a year. Bread will also freeze for several months with no quality issues upon thawing. To avoid freezer burn make sure that all containers are well sealed and remain at a constant temperature (preferably at or below 0° F).
Finally, here is a great food safety chart to guide you with keeping or discarding food during a power outage. The key is to keep the fridge and freezer door closed as long as possible to ensure a constant temperature.
2) Purchase high quality, nutritious foods that will last without refrigeration or freezing.
- Peanut butter
- Popcorn kernels
- Olive Oil
- Canned tuna
- Canned chicken
- Canned sardines
- Canned beans
- Canned fruit
- Canned vegetables
- Condensed milk
I know a lot of people will see flour and pasta and be like “OMG how can you recommend that as a dietitian?” Well we are in a quarantine and flour and pasta are components of many baking recipes or casseroles. I mean if you want to eat rice or quinoa for every meal, everyday, then that’s your call. My call is maintaining a varied diet will be key to getting all the nutrients you can to keep your immunity strong. You are also less likely to experience burnout of ingredients that are prepared in a variety of ways.
As an aside, we are so privileged that our food system is so vast that it allows us to voluntarily cut out certain foods from our diet. This may come as a real shock, but if this pandemic plays out worse than expected then those privileges will likely have to be shelved. If you do not have any food allergies, food intolerance or religious reasons for cutting out certain foods, then you probably shouldn’t for the sake of your own survival.
3) Your personal health goals don’t have to be thrown out the window
This may sound crazy, but this quarantine is an unexpected opportunity to work on ourselves as individuals. If one or more of your top individual priorities is health related then take this time to continue working on it. If weight loss or avoiding weight gain is your goal then use these basic strategies:
- ½ of the plate should be non-starchy vegetables (spinach, carrots, peppers, broccoli) or berries. These foods are low in calories, high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.
- ¼ of the plate should be lean protein. 4-6 oz of chicken, fish, tofu or lean beef or pork. This is generally about the size of your phone. 2-3 eggs will also suffice.
- ¼ of the plate should be complex carbohydrate - rice, quinoa, farro, pasta, corn, beans, potatoes (regular or sweet), oats, 100% whole grain bread.
If one plate doesn’t fill you up then go back for the veggies and protein for a second helping.
Make sure to account for any lost activity such as walking in your daily work commute or regular gym workouts. Try to go for walks, jogs or cast workout videos to do in the home.
Stay hydrated. If you have a standard size 16.9 oz water bottle, then aim for 3-4 refills with water daily. Milk, unsweetened tea and black coffee will also count towards your daily fluid intake. Best to stay away from fruit juices and pop during this time.
Here's hoping this virus passes without too much more disruption to our way of life. Stay safe everyone!