Silver linings after a year of COVID eating

Silver linings after a year of COVID eating

Silver linings after a year of COVID eating

Can you believe it’s only been a year since the pandemic really started to impact our lives, at least here in Canada? It feels to me like forever — I see crowded maskless gatherings in movies and have to remind myself that it’s normal.

I’ve been reflecting on how our eating habits have changed after a year with COVID. It’s trivial next to the tragedy of lives cut short, healthcare workers pushed to the brink, jobs lost, businesses struggling, and the loneliness, grief, and worry that has impacted us all. Nonetheless, it’s what I hear, read, and think about every day in my work.

Lysol and flour shortages

Some of the changes were temporary, thank goodness! Remember washing oranges with dish soap? Yikes. According to a survey published in May 2020, 42% of Canadians were wiping down their groceries. I did it too. Once. Glad I helped put that to rest. No unnecessary stress, thank you. We had enough to legitimately worry about.

woman looking at an empty grocery store aisle

Photo by Carlos de Toro @carlosdetoro on Unsplash

And the bread baking! Did you do it? Are you still doing it? I think I’m one of many who did a few loaves and then returned to the convenience of buying it. (And I wrote about how yes, bread, particularly whole-grain bread, is fine for heart health.)

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Clicking for our dinners

How about online grocery shopping? The number of Canadians doing that jumped from 7% in 2018 to 17% in 2020, according to one survey. I certainly saw that on my blog, with traffic skyrocketing for my reviews of online shopping with PC Express and Save On Foods.

Some are expected to continue click and collecting, but many will not — one survey found that only 7% of respondents found online grocery shopping easier! What do you think?

As for takeout food delivery, the pandemic has more than doubled business for the apps, but it remains to be seen whether that trend will last after we’re vaccinated and can dine out without worry.

Eating our stress (/boredom /loneliness /grief…)

For many people those first few weeks triggered what felt like excessive emotional eating, although it wasn’t new, just more widespread. Eating to manage stress is reported by 46% of Canadians, so if you do it, you’re not alone!

In late March 2020 the local CBC morning show was already talking about “craving all the carbs,” and they invited me to come on and chat about it. My key message was that it’s not necessarily a problem, and to give yourself grace, as I echoed in this follow-up post. (You can listen to the segment there too.)

Later I offered heart-healthy(ish) food ideas with comfort in mind, from satisfying snacks to “comfort foods for a COVID winter.” After all, you might actually be hungry! I find people need more food than they think they do.

Photo by K8 on Unsplash

Emotional eating continues to be a major theme with my patients (along with concerns about weight gain), so I wrote about it again in December, outlining how the principles of Intuitive Eating may help.

Cooking, cooking, and more cooking

As the year went on, people adjusted, foodwise, and some even managed to improve their eating habits, despite the proximity of the pantry and lack of routine, as home-cooking will usually do. Cafeteria lunches were replaced by nourishing, simple fare. When I asked about this on social media, Marilyn said,

“We are making healthier choices. Bread is homemade, more exploration with food, lots of veggies. And meal time has become a chance to reconnect instead of racing through our meals.”

Rhonda added,

“We used to get take-out or go out for dinner a few times a month. I started experimenting with recipes at home to make things like “New York Style Pizza” and “Sweet and Sour Pork.” And, a funny thing happened when we did finally venture to do take-out; my family preferred my cooking. They complained that the used-to-be-favourite take-out was too salty, too greasy, too tasteless, etc.

“We still have a few restaurants that made the cut, (thankfully, for my sanity) but there are definitely more than a couple that we will not be returning to. And, in general, I think it’s because we have found healthier and tastier options this year, since we had time to experiment a bit more in the kitchen.”

family cooking dinner

Photo by Jimmy Dean on Unsplash

Yay! Music to this dietitian’s heart.

How have some people found new satisfaction in cooking? The common threads seem to be more time for experimentation and meal planning. As Karen proposed,

“The barrier to cooking can be time & not knowing how long things will truly take to make… As well, I’m wondering if people are meal-planning more because they have to grocery plan (at least if they are limiting grocery shopping). Finally, I wonder if people are discovering creating!

But some have understandably struggled with this shift, growing weary of cooking day after day after day after day. One reader mentioned being “in a rut of eating very boring” foods. And 2020 didn’t add extra time to everyone’s lives… especially those working on the frontlines or with young children at home.

For those, I share my “What to cook when you don’t feel like cooking,” post, but I must admit, some people say even that is more cooking than they can or want to do. I’m working on an even simpler version… stay tuned! Meanwhile, there are alternatives to typical fast food.

For those who have found enjoyment in the kitchen, will it stick? I think so! At least back in the spring of 2020, 47% of Canadians said they planned to cook more when the pandemic ended. Once you’re comfortable in the kitchen you can save time, save money, and benefit your health, saving restaurant meals for special occasions.

Still need help with cooking?

Through the pandemic dietitians, nutritionists, and chefs have continued to offer meal planning advice, cooking classes, and recipes to help people find their food “sweet spot.” So if you’re not there yet, take advantage! There are more accessible resources than ever to help you learn to cook so well you actually prefer it.

One of the most impactful free services I’ve offered this year was the 5-day recipe collection honing Go-To List Challenge, which I left open so people can do it anytime. It’s been so fun to see (and taste!) the recipes participants have been exchanging.

Online healthcare services… finally!

Author, Cheryl Strachan, working from home

Photo by K Strachan

And thankfully, the pandemic pushed many healthcare services online. I gave notice on my office April 1 and made my counselling practice 100% virtual, which made it easier as well as safer for more people to access.

And with cardiac rehab programs pushing the pause button on in-person nutrition classes, I created a 10-week online course for people who’ve had a heart event, which is right now on it’s second run. So fun! If you or a loved one might benefit from that, I’m planning to do it again in the fall. (Sign up here for updates.)

I don’t think we’ll be going back to requiring people to come into our offices for each and every visit. I’ve been doing phone consults for the local cardiac rehab program, and while some say they miss the human interaction, just as many prefer the convenience of doing it from home, without having to drive, park, and hunt for the office, on top of everything else they’re dealing with.

What’s ahead?

This year has been tough enough… we might as well focus on the positives. I’ll continue to offer virtual care as long as people want it, but we’ll definitely go back to eating in restaurants for date nights and while travelling. We didn’t eat out much beyond that before anyhow. Turns out that (at least compared to run-of-the-mill chains and takeout,) you can make better food at home.

What about you? Have you been doing virtual or phone medical appointments? Online shopping? What do you think? Do you plan to continue eating more home-cooked meals? Chime in on Facebook. Always happy to hear how you’re doing and how I can support you.