In these uncertain times, it’s never been more important to maintain a balanced diet to support your physical and mental wellbeing. We speak to Jenny Tschiesche, nutritional therapist and founder of www.lunchboxdoctor.com, about making the most of your supplies

What should people be putting on their plates? 

“One of the hardest things to get hold of at the moment is fresh fruits and veggies. Do not fear, frozen alternatives and even tinned can still provide you with fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, all of which play an integral role in overall health. Try to include some vegetables in each meal of the day. Fruit can be eaten as a snack or dessert, and integrated into a meal such as in a salad or on porridge. 

“Nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains also pack a wealth of nutrients, including protein, so try and enjoy a portion of one of these each day too. 

“Some good fat is necessary to help you absorb fat soluble nutrients; try to eat some oily fish, some nut or seed oils, some avocado, organic yogurt, organic butter or coconut oil.

“Good quality proteins, and micronutrients including iron will be available from both animal and plant-based products. If you can get hold of good quality meat and poultry that’s great, but if not then tinned fish, lentils, chickpeas, nuts, seeds and even tofu or tempeh can be fine alternatives.” 

What causes boredom snacking? 

“During this period when those with compromised immunity are completely housebound and those without are confined to one form of exercise a day, many of us will experience cravings or pangs for food we do not need. For many, the hunger for food is actually a need to fill the boredom gap or a need for some form of distraction. Furthermore, a lack of daylight can mean a lack of vitamin D – that, associated with stress at this time, means we tend to want to eat sweet foods as a quick fix for low mood and low blood sugar.” 

How can you overcome boredom snacking? 

“The best way to address this is to eat proper meals and to stick to meal times. Try and focus meals on good quality proteins such as tinned fish, eggs (if you can find some), tofu, legumes and lots of vegetables - either fresh, frozen or from tins if needs be. These protein-based meals will keep you fuller for longer. Furthermore, there are particular foods that can help boost levels of the happy hormone serotonin, such as fish, nuts, dark green vegetables, seeds, oats, yoghurt, eggs and poultry. Try and ensure you are eating these foods regularly too. 

“If you do feel like snacking then ask yourself if you are ‘mouth hungry’ or ‘stomach hungry’. Mouth hungry is likely to be boredom hunger. Stomach hungry is based on a physical need for food. If you could eat a chicken breast and vegetables or a salad with hummus or cheese right now, then that’s more likely to be stomach hunger. If you could eat a couple of biscuits or a bag of crisps, that’s more likely to be mouth hunger. 

“Address the mouth hunger with movement and water; get up and stretch; move around the house a little and remember to think “thirst first”. Drink some water or even a cup of tea and see whether the hunger is genuine after 10-20 minutes.” 

How can we get the most out of the food we buy? 

“Right now you need to try and keep to simple recipes but be flexible. If a recipe calls for carrots and you have sweet potato, butternut squash or even swede, just go with that instead. If you are lucky enough to have quite a bit of food but want to make sure you do not waste it, keep a record of what you have and the use by date to plan use of that ingredient into your meal plan. This is especially important where food is being kept in the fridge.” 

Can you recommend any good substitutes for items that are difficult to get hold of, such as tinned fish, eggs, rice and pasta? 

“Grains are fairly interchangeable. For example, quinoa seems to be available where rice is not. Quinoa can be served with curries, in soups and with chillies. If you are able to find some mud-covered potatoes (the mud helps them last for longer), these can be used in place of pasta dishes or rice as well. 

“Tinned fish stocks may be running out but dried and tinned pulses seem to be available in many places. Dry pulses (with the exception of lentils) need to be soaked before cooking but all need rinsing. Cook according to packet instructions. They’re a good source of plant-based protein. 

“Whilst tinned fish is a good source of omega-3 fats, so are seed oils, walnuts and ground flaxseeds. These could be added to pulse-based dishes. 

“Eggs are hard to substitute in egg-based dishes but tofu can be used to make a scrambled egg alternative and in plant-based quiche. In baking, ground flaxseeds come to the rescue again with one tablespoon of ground flaxseeds soaked in three tablespoons of warm water for 10 minutes as an alternative to one egg.” 

Are there any potential deficiencies people might be at risk of? 

“You may be experiencing some food shortages right now and this could leave you nutrient-deficient in some areas. In particular, watch out for vitamin D, omega 3 and vitamin B12 deficiencies. Try and ensure that your one piece of exercise each day is carried out in the sunshine but also try to eat eggs, liver, oily fish and dairy produce. As these items are harder to come by, now may be the time to purchase some vitamin D supplements online*. Omega-3 fats can be found in oily fish, seed oils, nut oils, as well as walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds. Try and incorporate these into your diet if possible. Again, supplementation during this time may be necessary. Vitamin B12 comes from animal products. If you are unable to get these then nutritional yeast flakes are available online. These can be sprinkled on your meals for added B12.” 

*Consult a GP or nutritional therapist before supplementing with vitamin D

Jenny’s lockdown shopping list

  • Tinned foods: fish (salmon, sardines, and mackerel), soup (look for those without added sugar), vegetables (sweetcorn, tomatoes, and spinach), fruit (prunes, pineapple, figs, apples, peaches and apricots - all in juice only), pulses (lentils, pinto beans, chickpeas and kidney beans) and coconut milk. 
  • Jars: olives, artichokes, pesto, low-sugar jam, raw honey, nut butters and passata. 
  • Fresh food that can last outside the fridge: onions, shallots, garlic, ginger, potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, parsnips, beetroot, apples, pears, avocadoes, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli , kale and spinach 
  • Eggs 
  • Pantry Items: brown rice, some white rice, wholegrain pasta, oats, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, desiccated coconut, wholegrain flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and some vanilla extract. 
  • Longer lasting foods to be stored in the fridge: milk, yoghurt, vacuum packed cheeses (feta, halloumi, and parmesan), butter, chorizo and hummus.

Remember – buy what you need, and don’t stock pile.