Quarantine eating: real life stories

Remember mid-March? Long ago in a universe far far away, before civilization went into lock down?  What were your first thoughts?  Did you wonder what you were going to eat? How you were going to get food, as panic buying cleared grocery store shelves?

Plenty of jokes started circulating about how everyone was drinking their way through the day, eating junk food and piling on the pounds. Weeks later, I wondered what the reality was for women in my age group. I went right to the source, and surveyed a large group of friends about how their food choices and eating habits had changed during the lock down.

Here are some of the responses. The majority of respondents are retired and live with their spouses. Names changed:

Darlene

We used to go out to dinner more, so cooking 7 days a week, week after week is a PIA (pain in the a…). But we are eating similar foods, although we have to send more wine bottles to the recycle. Tried restaurant delivery, but it was 50/50 on the quality.

Jane

The type of food I have been eating hasn’t really changed. Sometimes when I am feeling particularly anxious about the virus and either myself or a loved one getting it, I lose my appetite and eat less. Cooking has always been an obligation for me. I have never found pleasure in cooking. We have been getting takeout food from the local restaurants about 3 to 4 times a week. This has been a win-win because we are supporting the local businesses, and I don’t have to cook. I am hoping that more restaurants will start to change their business models and look to providing more prepared meals.

Kathryn

Yes, my eating habits have changed for the better since the coronavirus quarantine. I have better control, better portions, better quality of foods, and a better timely routine.  Reasons for the better habits: 

  1. I am running around less, place to place. Therefore, more self-control over what and when food enters my mouth.
  2. I buy my food online every two weeks, which forces me to prepare what is needed and necessary. 
  3. Portions: I try to make and stretch the food to last for two weeks. If and when I have meat, I use the kitchen hammer to spread the meat to visually make the small portion to look larger. 
  4. Quality: When I need to snack due to hunger, I eat a protein food, or fruit, or vegetable. 
  5. Timely: certain times of the day I will eat, instead of all throughout the day.

I am no longer with Weight Watchers, because of the virus, but I feel the WW meetings helped me with the structure I have placed upon myself during this time. I will try to stay with my better eating routine, because I need to stay healthy to fight off the attacks of the virus and flu.

Alison

Here is an honest reveal of my eating during this “crisis”….I’m not proud, but love my life.

  • Have cut diet soda out…..switched to “ICE” sparkling water and Crystal Light
  • Limit alcohol to 2 daily…sometimes none…
  • have a serving of Smart Food white cheddar popcorn
  • 2 meals a day, such as meat and potatoes, pizza (pepperoni and arugula), mac and cheese, eggs, 1/2 Chicken salad sandwich with chips for lunch, fruit

Probably 1800 cals a day….eating what I want. My portions are not huge…average…if I order a personal thin crust pizza, I eat about half….make 2 meals out of take out orders.

I am happy eating things that comfort and make me feel a bit pampered.

Karen

I would say our eating habits have changed both for the better and worse. 

For the better: we are cooking more and have time to research new recipes,  But we’ve also made time to research things like how to preserve avocados, or the joy of freezing fresh lemon/lime zest and juice. Most people may already know these food saving things, but during our busy work lives we never took the time to investigate. And many a lemon, lime and avocado went bad. So we have less food waste, so that’s a good thing. Plus we are eating more beans because we have time to soak and cook them

And we are shopping less and driving less so that’s another plus for the planet.  We want to keep these practices going for sure. Less IS more !

For the worse: we have been snacking more because we are home more.  And since have not been getting out to exercise for as long usual, we have both put on a few pounds. We basically love food and love to eat so we are working on being more conscious eaters. A work in progress for sure.

Michelle

I probably have three big changes. 

  1. I don’t drop by the store to pick up this or that. I go once a week or less. I think this keeps me from spur-of-the-moment purchases, which is a good thing. It eliminates purchases of sweets, which I really don’t need.
  2. The bad thing is that I don’t buy as many fresh vegetables. I just don’t want to deal with all of the washing involved to make sure that they are virus-free.
  3. The third change is that we have more food in our pantry. I need to stay on top of that, keep it organized, and make sure that I don’t forget to use things.

Nina

Haven’t changed home eating habits. Do not eat out as often and I seem much more sensitive to too much salt or sugar in restaurant cuisine. We support our local restaurants by ordering take out occasionally. Sushi travels well; chimichangas not so much. I drink one glass of red wine with dinner most nights. We eat light most dinners—just veggies, a carb and fish or chicken. Biggest change is husband is cooking about 3-4 times a week and he tries new recipes from African cuisines or Mid-eastern. Love it. Hope he will keep cooking!

Ann

When the lockdown started I realized I had “tons” of bread flour so I started making things that used bread flour. I was lucky enough to have plenty of yeast. I baked some yummy pastries, breads, brownies and cookies.

What’s interesting to me though is that I actually had lost several pounds by about a month into the lockdown. Now, granted I have lots to lose but I have for most of my life struggled to stay below 200 pounds. And during this time I went measurably below that mark.

What I realized was happening is this: eating was actually more planned, less automatic. When it was time for a treat, my hubbie and I would make a cup of tea, set out the treat-on a plate! and actually sit down to eat-together. Made it much more special than wolfing something down. We ate less often but enjoyed what we ate much more. No skimping at all. In fact we were planning our treats every day.

Meal wise, since we had SO much time to plan, we’ve been eating pretty well. Meaning yummy stuff. But again we plan it out and thoroughly enjoy what we make. Since we’re trying to only shop once per week we’ve been putting more time into planning out meals instead of flying by the seat of our pants. Which actually leads to some very nice meals. I actually like cooking so that helps.

We have not been eating takeout AT ALL. Nor have we been buying prepared food, very little frozen meals. Which is a big change.

When we shop we’re buying more fruits and veggies. At first it was hard to find the items we liked so I think it made us even more aware of what we should focus on. Now our shopping list has a large fresh produce section.

One more thing, since I’m not going to places to play bridge (coffee shops, bagel shops, the Elks club, etc) I am not buying pastries or bagels, eating crappy chips and snack. And I’m not buying sandwiches out (which are always bigger than I’d make). I guess I really didn’t need all that stuff!

Will I go back to the other way of eating? I don’t know but I hope not.

Maddy

Food choices have not changed that much, as we are still working outside the home.   We are cooking more at home and not going to restaurants.   We are experimenting more with cooking methods as we bought an Instant Pot.

We are eating more produce, less meat.  We plan to keep up with those changes as they feel right.

Sarah

I am doing great, maintaining all of my healthy habits. I try to eat mostly foods that are known to be beneficial to my body. I am sure my immune system is strong and healthy. 

Carol

My husband and I usually buy in bulk, so in trying to support a local farmers market we ordered what we though was $100 of bison.  It was 100 pounds of bison (ten times the cost).  Luckily we do have plenty of freezer space.  We have been eating a pound a week and giving to family and friends.  It will definitely last us through the pandemic.

 We also have fish at least twice a week, pandemic or not: halibut, baramudi, scallops, shrimp, or salmon.  We really love salmon and baramudi.  I make an unbelievably good salmon pizza with smoked blue cheese.  

I did make some bread early on when it was cold, and stews and soups.  I found a great pork stew that had prunes in it and Chicken Cacciatore that you make in the crock pot with olives.  It made us feel better having missed our Italy trip – Ha!  

We are big on salads about every other night and I alway try to make something green for every meal.  

I did make about 4 batches of Macadamia Chip cookies (5 dozen in each batch) and that was the in first 2 months.  I said I was doing it to send to my son overseas, which I did sent to him, but we ate at least half of each batch.  I made zucchini bread twice to also send him, and again we shared in that.  It did all get to him in very good shape he said.  

We usually enjoy eating at home much more than going out, although I do get tired of the prep and cooking, but it was nice during the pandemic to have so much time to do it, and more fun than usual. We usually eat only two meals a day.  Food wise the pandemic has been entertaining and enjoyable for us.  We had to be more creative getting plenty of exercise, but I did pretty good with that, walking, biking, lifting weights, doing exercise programs.

Kim

Some changes, such as later breakfast of cereal and fruit. and salads for lunch, then yogurt. With more time, dinner is more of an event. Roasted veggies, salmon, cod and more salads.  Am trying hard to keep weight down, despite little to no exercise. I don’t eat much meat, but never did.  Appetite less. Where before I would grab a Lean Cuisine for dinner, now I do not. Cooking for one is tricky.

Jessica

I feel during quarantine I am eating better.  I have the time to cook and make everything from scratch. I am not eating many processed foods. I cook  mostly veggies and fish. I also am using my air fryer a lot, which I love. 

I am cooking for 4, so my portions are less and more controlled.  I realize when I eat out, I eat more.  Working from home I am very focused and I am not snacking between meals.  Usually after work I go for a long walk so that also prevents me from going to the fridge. My meals are also more varied.  I am being mindful of trying to shop once a week only, so I am trying to use recipes of the food I have. I alway have a full pantry, so that helps.  

I am also on Weight watchers and I have the time to track what I eat and exercise.

Kelsey

We are eating more homemade sweets!  I have been making quick breads regularly for the past 8 weeks: banana bread, pumpkin bread, and cornbread.  I make them with 100% whole grain flour. 

I thought I was going on a jag with cookies too, but after 1 batch of oatmeal chocolate chip and 1 batch of ginger snaps, we pretty much got that craving satisfied.  Surprisingly, I haven’t been baking cakes except for one carrot cake with orange cream cheese frosting early on.

I am also making homemade bread, but not consistently.  We don’t eat more bread when it is homemade, because we still portion control bread in general.

Will this continue?  I’m not sure – for me, the quick breads are a bit too high calorie for daily dessert or afternoon snack.  But my husband loves them and they are really fast and easy to make.  We have both remained weight stable, so I suppose we have adjusted intake of other stuff.  Maybe less dining out and less alcohol is enough to have offset those sweet calories.

We are drinking a lot LESS alcohol because it is a hassle to get it – the liquor stores near us are small enclosed spaces so we don’t bother.  I haven’t had wine since early March for that reason.  

Less real espresso made at my fave cafes….sigh.  I miss that the most.  And no, we haven’t done pick-up even though some places have offered that.  Same goes for pastry from bakeries.

Will this continue?  No – we like wine, so once it is easier to get it, we will start drinking it again.  I will also start getting espresso from my fave places again. 

We still eat 3 meals/day and the usual healthier snacks we have always eaten, and we always get daily exercise. Because my husband worked from home 100% up until this week, I have been delighted to have our mid-morning tea/coffee, lunch, afternoon snack, and dinner together.  We walk together daily; that is new for us. We both really miss the gym for weight training.

Laura

I am planning and shopping differently. Instead of going to the store every other day, I’m planning meals for a week or more ahead and shopping about every ten days. Now that I’ve been forced to be more organized, I actually like it. I stick pretty much to my list so I can get in and out quickly. I don’t snack on anything in the car after shopping because of possible contamination. I am not running to the store just to get a sugar fix either. So, overall, I feel more in control and am wasting less time going to the store. I hope that this will stay a habit.

At the beginning of all this, I felt really tired. My coffee consumption went up for a while. I’m more adapted now and am having my normal one cup of strong coffee in the morning.

Martha

My weight loss group is Zoom meeting every week, so that is a healthy habit I have continued. I know that my family is still trying to make healthy food choices during this time. It has become easier as the stores become restocked. I did notice that for a very long time I was seeing marked down produce which surprised me. I am not seeing that now, and I have observed the fresh produce area is the busiest in the store. I find we are eating out a great deal less, which is helpful.

I do know the first few weeks were rough for me, but I am back to thinking about my disciplined lifestyle. The weather has also gotten better, so I am back to walking everyday. For me exercising was hard when the gym closed, and there was no pool for my normal winter activity.

One funny thing I noticed was I did buy a bottle of wine to have. It is still there, because I rarely drink anything.

Deanne

Simplified and getting better planned and organized around shopping just once a month. Also keeping my shopping to mainly healthy choices. I am also more careful not to waste food and to eat the left-overs or plan meals with them & be creative about it.

There’s a potential for depression in this situation and good meals/food helps keep our spirits up, as does continuing to make meals enticing & a special time together. 

I feel I am eating slightly less and more healthy, I’m not sure why. Less stress from commitments, relaxed schedule, more good choices for health because it might help guard against COVI? 

For practical reasons- to avoid shopping trips- we eat canned fruit now, or frozen eg. blueberries on cereal every day- ie. when the fresh run out. This goes for using powdered milk to see us to the next shopping trip, or cans of coconut milk.

Tad bit more wine😊,  less dark chocolate (when it’s gone it’s gone) but more choc chip cookies to make up for it, especially when fresh baked. 

More protein — a conscious choice, something I tend to short change. 

More vegetables, fruits, salads. More coffee (2-3 cups/ day vs one) possibly because of more leisure time to sit and drink it. Less junk food, less bread, less chips. 

Our meat has been simplified to mainly chicken, grilled fish, and ground bison, easy to stock in quantity and divide it to freeze.   This seems fine. Maybe better, as we feel and sleep better. 

Breakfasts are the same: oatmeal, cereal, once a week eggs, OJ, coffee, nuts, raisins, chia seeds, sunflower seeds.  Prunes daily, ha!  

Lunches: yoghurt, apples, clementines, English muffin or tortilla or multi grain breads, cookies or dark chocolate.

Not really any major changes. Maybe more Mexican and Italian since left overs are easy & can last all week.

I’d like to keep up a simplified regime of shopping & stocking just healthy food; & eating in amounts that don’t make you feel full. 

It would be nice to return to breakfasts out, locally and to Sundays at Big Daddy Bagels – a traditional family gathering time/spot for years.  I miss Mexican out & miss our large family dinners, running the family B&B, feeding everyone in town or passing through.  Easter for two was very strange!

Melanie

I think initially the pantry beckoned me intermittently all day long.  It was a sense of ‘what do I do now?’ The answer was “oh, I’ll eat to feel better.”  That was early on…..mostly sweet or salty were the cravings.

Then as time progressed I became less anxious about the staying at home restriction.  My husband and I developed a ‘walk date’ everyday.  This became one of the center stones of the day.  Routines definitely helped my food cravings.  Doing PT, gardening, walking/hiking, biking and tennis are part of the routine puzzle.  

Slowly developing a more positive attitude helped too.  I always allow my self some chocolate and a glass of red wine daily.  A huge salad for dinner has become a staple to avoid unnecessary munching and excess carbs.

Overall, the initial stress led to excess eating, but slowly I was able to align my eating with how much energy my body actually needed. 

Oh, and I’ve gotten into variations of roasted vegetables…..eating my main meal midday when possible.

Also noticed the importance of protein during the day which helps prevent hunger in the evening.

My changes

How did my habits change?  I’ve been eating drastically more sourdough bread.  I’d say I went from 0 to 100 on the sourdough scale.  

I’ve always been a big bread baker, but I always made yeast bread.  Back in mid-March, panic buyers wiped out the yeast supply at my grocery store. I was shocked.  How would I bake bread?!

Fortunately, a popular and highly-regarded local bakery was handing out free sourdough starter, so we scored a tiny 20 gram sample. It turned into the “perfect storm” for my husband to embark on a journey into the world of sourdough.  The tiny 20 grams of starter quickly grew, and was transformed into crusty bread, sourdough pizza, cinnamon buns, naan, focaccia, fougasse and dangerously addictive sourdough crackers.  I haven’t baked with yeast for over 3 months now.

Lots of people claim that sourdough is more digestible than “regular” bread.  I’m not going to argue with that, although the definition of “regular” bread is probably commercial bread full of dough conditioners, not homemade bread.  Nevertheless, I’m curious to learn more about the digestive aspects of sourdough.  

The Take Away

Honestly I’m just so impressed by these stories. Who would have thought so many positive changes would result from a quarantine. Yet women report less impulsive food purchases, more planning, better shopping choices and more mindful eating. Here are the common themes:

  1. The non-cooks used more take out
  2. More mindfulness about quality, quantity and timing of food. This is so impressive. It’s something nutritionists have been recommending for years.
  3. Less food waste
  4. Less shopping, more planning ahead. When forced to shop less, people ended up making more deliberate and healthful choices. Impulse buying decreased.
  5. Fewer processed foods
  6. More protein.
  7. People taking up cooking, experimenting with new recipes. And husbands cooking more.
  8. Daily walking

Interestingly, this group of women noted that they were eating less overall. On the other hand, not everyone responded to my inquiry about food habits.  Perhaps the non-responders would have reported different experiences.  I saw an acquaintance recently who admitted to gaining the Quarantine 30 (well maybe she exaggerates).  But that’s a distressing outcome.

Despite our initial fears about food, the quarantine gave people a chance to make positive changes. Some of the best changes to adopt include:

  • Make fewer shopping trips and more planning ahead on meals
  • Eat less processed food
  • Do more cooking (by husbands!)
  • Create less food waste
  • Cut back/cut out impulsive food consumption.

Overall, the lock down made people more mindful about their food choices and shopping habits. And that might be the best outcome of all.