Healthy Eating and Cooking During Times of Stress

Usually one of the first things to go during a stressful time is healthy eating habits. We even have a term for food that makes us feel good, food that isn’t generally the healthiest or most nutritious— “comfort food.” Practicing healthy eating during times of stress not only helps to reinforce the practice when it is less stressful, but it also becomes a way of life.

There’s no greater time to practice healthy eating than right now. More than a third of all Americans are not leaving their homes on a daily basis, which means there is more time to cook and prepare healthy meals.

“Nutrition can be tough if it’s not a priority,” said Pope High School Strength Coach Jerad Johnson. “It’s easy to grab what’s most accessible or even worse, to skip a meal. My suggestion is to keep a list going of snacks and meals you would like to eat, can make, and have time to make.”

Coach Johnson’s words of advice are helpful and point out that being intentional takes work.

Business guru Peter Drucker would say it this way: “What gets measured gets managed.” In other words, if it’s important enough for you to keep track of it, it will be important enough for you to make changes when necessary.

While most people don’t intend to be unhealthy in their eating habits, the reality is that eating the easiest and most readily available item usually means eating some form of junk food.

“Junk food is everywhere,” said Kell High School Culinary Arts Chef Mark Maier. “That’s why it’s so easy to snack poorly.”

Although healthy eating doesn’t need to be difficult, it does take some thought and preparation.

“Snacks are the unplanned meal,” Chef Maier said. “But if we plan ahead, we can have some fruit prepped and ready, or some veggies cut up and portioned in a baggie. That way it’s just as easy to reach for the healthy option because it is also an easy and convenient option.”

One of the creative ideas being offered to students and parents are “how-to” cooking videos by Chef Bradley Klink at Pope High School. Each week, Chef Klink has made cooking videos from home to teach his viewers how to make simple and fun dishes like omelets and pancakes.

“These videos are not Food Network quality,” said Chef Klink, “but I do the best I can do with my minimal filming skills. I am planning video lessons on knife skills and maybe a dinner recipe when we get back from spring break.”

Beginning with basics like collecting all necessary ingredients and kitchen tools before cooking, Chef Klink is using his videos to build a foundation and a love for home cooking.

“Cooking is a skill that they will need in life,” he said. “I want the students to see my videos and think to themselves ‘this is something that I can do.’  And it is a lot healthier than what they may get in take-out or from the frozen section in the grocery store.”

Emily Hanlin, Executive Director at Cobb Schools Food and Nutrition Services, has many recommendations for eating and cooking healthy foods. Check out her informative four-page PDF guide here for all sorts of great ideas and health tips to remember during COVID social-distancing.

“You may not be able to prevent transmission of COVID-19 through what you eat,” she writes, “but you can support your body by giving yourself extra protection with nutrient-rich foods and healthy lifestyle behaviors. Proper lifestyle habits such as balanced eating, stress management, and adequate sleep can all help bolster other healthy habits during these times.”

Behaviors gained during this time will become habits that continue well beyond social distancing. Getting the kids involved in the cooking is not only helpful, but it is also building good practices for their long-term eating habits and lifestyle.

“Allowing students to be a part of the food preparation process will encourage students to eat foods they may not have tried before,” Ms. Hanlin advises. “Include bright fruits and vegetables to draw color and eye appeal to food.”

Eating is only half of the health equation though; exercising is the other half. Gathering the family together for a walk through the neighborhood or up and down the street also encourages healthy habits.

Keeping Active While “Sheltering in Place”

“Staying active keeps us mentally healthy in a number of ways,” added Mr. Johnson. “It teaches discipline when the motivation isn’t there. It gives a sense of pride and accomplishment, and it boosts self-esteem, not to mention the physical and health benefits of staying active.”

Keeping everything in a realistic perspective is key. When starting a new habit, it can be tempting to make this new goal the primary focus.

“While routines and plans are great, we need to be flexible with our day and timing,” said Mr. Johnson. “We can’t be so strict that we are frustrated trying to get it all in at a certain time. Sometimes the weather or life intervenes. In times like this, it can be more enjoyable at a different time than planned, and we all win.”

Most productivity experts agree that it only takes 21 days to make a new habit stick. With quarantining and social-distancing requirements now being extended through the end of the school year, that’s more than enough time to create a new healthy habit of eating and exercising in your home.

Give your kids (and yourself) a new healthy habit during this time. You will create memories in the process and they will thank you for it.