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food for thought

Eating well is always important. A nutritious diet supports your immune system, fuels and nourishes your body, and benefits your mood and mental health.

In theory, following a healthy diet should be easy when you’re at home. There’s no office sweets to tempt you, and you have more time to prepare home-cooked meals.

The reality, though, is that staying on track can be a challenge. The lack of structure, taking care of young children or feeling isolated can turn your regimented meal plan into a free-for-all.

With the refrigerator only steps away, it’s too easy to tackle boredom, soothe stress or procrastinate work by reaching for snacks throughout the day.

What to eat to maintain an immune system-friendly diet

Over time, consistent overeating can lead to unwanted weight gain. In the immediate term, it can make you feel sluggish and bloated and dampen your mood.

The good news: Working from home doesn’t have to derail your diet. The following strategies can help you stay – or get back – on your healthy eating path.

These are unprecedented times to adapt to, though, so don’t beat yourself up if it takes a little longer than expected to find your rhythm.

Establish a schedule – and stick to it

Set your eating schedule just as you would for a regular work day. Stick to a consistent time to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner.

If you have young kids, consider eating together according to their schedule. If you need one, plan a short afternoon break for a healthy snack.

Maintaining structure around meal and snack times will prompt you to eat when it’s time to eat, not whenever you feel like it. Eat away from your desk to practice mindful eating.

Plan meals in advance

To minimize trips to the grocery store while social distancing, make a weekly meal plan and grocery list. Although you might need to restock fresh produce midweek, try to buy all the essentials once weekly.

As you plan meals, think about how you can cook once and make two or more meals out of it. Leftover roasted chicken, for example, can be made into salads, wraps and tacos.

The point is that making a plan and having the right foods on hand will help prevent a “whatever’s in the fridge” approach to meals, or ordering take-out.

Preportion meals

If you usually pack your lunch for the office, do the same while working from home. Portion out your lunch (and snacks) ahead of time in to-go containers.

Knowing that lunch is waiting for you will discourage you from making less healthy choices or grazing your way through the afternoon.

Stock healthy snacks

Eating the right snack, at the right time, can help manage hunger, increase energy and boost nutrition.

Nutritious snacks, for adults and kids, include celery with peanut butter, sliced apples with almond butter, sliced pear and cheese, homemade trail mix, fruit smoothies, banana “ice cream” (frozen ripe banana pulsed and then blended in a food processor), mini pitas with hummus and olives, homemade popcorn, baked sweet potato fries, steamed edamame and raw vegetables with guacamole.

Identify your triggers

Overcoming the urge to constantly snack can be a challenge. Before you reach for a snack ask yourself if you are really hungry. Or, do you want to eat because you feel anxious or bored or you’re procrastinating a task?

If you’re not truly hungry, take a short break to do something that distracts you, such as a short walk outside or meditating for 10 minutes.

Consider, too, your home office space. If it’s very close to, or in, the kitchen, the fridge can be a major distraction.

Substitute healthier indulgences

It’s common to turn to comfort foods in stressful times. Doing so is thought to blunt the body’s stress response by causing the release of dopamine, a feel-good brain chemical.

Nutritious alternatives to high-fat, high-calorie comfort meals include turkey chili, shepherd’s pie topped with mashed cauliflower and mini vegetable pizzas made on whole wheat tortillas.

Try satisfying a sweet tooth with frozen grapes, a fruit smoothie, banana “ice cream," homemade apple crisp or a square of dark chocolate.

Mind your alcohol, coffee

Drinking a glass of wine or a cocktail may seem like a tempting way to cope with stress. Limit alcoholic beverages to the weekend. One or two drinks can impair your sleep and reduce your resolve to eat healthfully.

Limit how much caffeinated coffee you drink, too. Curbing your coffee habit to one or two small cups in the morning can help manage stress by helping you sleep better at night.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian.

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