Even people who enjoy a trip to the grocery store have been making fewer trips this year following CDC advice for limiting exposure to the coronavirus. Many have stopped going altogether, choosing to order groceries online, over the phone, or through a grocery delivery app. The benefits in terms of maintaining good social distancing practices are obvious, but there are many possible health (and budget) benefits as well.
If you’re used to going to the office every day, your lunch routine has changed thanks to COVID-19. Whether you were taking a homemade bagged lunch or in a groove with the nearby salad spot, you’re approaching lunchtime differently now.
The world may feel chaotic, but you can still bring order to your lunchtime by creating a new set of habits that aligns with your eating goals and helps you manage your diabetes.
“People aren’t used to what’s happening right now, and it takes time to adjust. Everyone needs to find something that works for them,” says Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND, award-winning nutrition expert and author of The Create-Your-Plate Diabetes Cookbook, published by the American Diabetes Association.
View our complete guide to staying healthy while staying home
Here’s Amidor’s best advice for making your work-from-home lunch a healthy, low-stress oasis during these trying times.
Set Kitchen Hours
“One of the biggest pitfalls of working from home is grazing,” says Amidor. “If you’re eating in between meals, you might not even notice it’s time for lunch.”
This is a special concern if you’re managing diabetes because missed meals can cause dips in blood glucose. It can also lead to overeating later in the day. “If you’re overly hungry, you might just grab cookies instead of a balanced meal,” she says.
The solution, according to Amidor, is simpler than you might think. “Set kitchen hours—specific set times when the kitchen is open. Outside of those windows, the kitchen is closed,” she explains.
In addition to ending the grazing problem, this strategy has a wonderful side benefit. “You won’t be doing dishes all day. Have your meal or snack, clean up, and you’re done,” she says.
Make a Plan
Often, when you work in an office, weekday lunch decisions happen the day before. Ideally, they’re prepared at home and carried to the office, a move that limits impulse eating and spontaneous lunchtime splurges, such as take out.
You should be doing something similar at home. “I recommend planning all your meals in advance by the day or by the week,” says Amidor. “Write it on paper or use a dry erase board.”
Research from Carnegie Mellon University suggests we make better decisions when we choose foods in advance of eating. When you’re already hungry, it’s harder to choose the healthy option. Planning your lunch will likely lead to lower-calorie, more vegetable-rich meals.
Remember the Plate Method
When routines change, it can be hard to keep practicing the basics, so remember to use the Diabetes Plate Method. That means your 9-inch plate should be half non-starchy vegetables, one-quarter grains, fruit, or starchy vegetables, and one-quarter lean protein.
“When you have all-in-one dishes like lasagna, think about the parts,” says Amidor. She suggests replacing half the meat in a typical lasagna with chopped mushrooms and loading it up with more veggies than cheese to get it in line with the Diabetes Plate Method.
Stock Up on Veggies
If you’re filling half your plate with vegetables at lunch, that adds up to a lot of vegetables during a week, and we’re all trying to limit our trips to the store. This is where shopping and meal planning strategically comes in.
If you’re trying to shop for two weeks, limit super perishable items like leaf lettuce and herbs to what you’ll use in the few days after you shop. Beyond that, plan to use those longer-lasting vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, carrots, and cauliflower. It’s frozen vegetables that will fill in the gaps between grocery runs. Amidor likes frozen spinach, kale, and cauliflower.
Batch Cook Your Grains
You can make the most of that quarter of the plate for whole grains by choosing intact whole grains or whole wheat pasta, according to Amidor. Whole grains are a good source of fiber, which will create a more filling lunch and help manage blood glucose.
Many of the healthiest whole grains, like brown rice, take some time to cook, so it can be more efficient to make a bigger batch over the weekend. If you’ve got farro, barley, or quinoa ready to go, it’s easy to mix up a bowl at lunch by adding in the vegetables and lean proteins you have on hand.
Don’t Forget Cans
Salmon and tuna in cans and pouches are terrific shelf-stable lean proteins to use at lunch in sandwiches, salads, or bowls, says Amidor. “Some are preseasoned and have nice flavors,” she says. “I also like canned chicken. You can mix it with whole-grain pasta and frozen vegetables for an almost instant lunch.”
And canned beans, of course, are a healthy staple that can play the protein role on your lunch plate. Amidor also suggests keeping some canned vegetables on hand, such as string beans and artichokes. “Just remember to rinse canned food to remove some of the sodium,” says Amidor, and look for canned products that are low sodium, reduced sodium, or no-salt-added when possible.