Balanced meals do not need to be elaborate, but given the situation, now is the perfect time to get creative with new ingredients and recipes
By LYDIA NATHAN / Pic BLOOMBERG
SO, THE Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) has been extended all the way to June 9, which is the third week of Aidilfitri.
Yes, the restrictions are gradually easing. There are more cars on the roads and increased movements on the streets. Shops, restaurants and various businesses are slowly getting back on track.
It has been quite a ride. During this trying period, those with a good sense of humour share the lighter side of things on various social media platforms with funny memes and videos that show off their creativity.
There is also this common joke about “quarantine diet”, and the concerns that come with it.
There is this fear of becoming fat among those who stay too long at home. On the brighter side, many are also beginning to take a closer look at their food intake with a higher awareness on nutrition.
Of course, we have to bear in mind that Ramadhan has less than two weeks to go, and snacking could be a little limited, especially for Muslims.
Still, for those who are not fasting, there is this fear of having too much in between.
Herbalife Nutrition worldwide nutrition education and training senior director Susan Bowerman said understanding why people eat or snack unhealthily may be a good point to start off with.
Bowerman said being home all day for those working from home means the exposure to food is also heightened.
“Secondly, many things seem uncertain, so we may find ourselves bored or anxious, and we use unhealthy snacks to relieve some of these emotions.
“Bear in mind, the feelings are only ‘stuffed down’ while you are eating. It is likely to return afterward,” she told The Malaysian Reserve in an interview recently.
She said when dealing with these emotions, a better option is to just experience the feeling or try substituting it with another activity such as stretching, making a cup of tea, journaling or calling a friend.
“I’ve also learnt that if the food is not in the house, I won’t be able to eat it. So one of the best things we can do is not to bring food we are trying to avoid into the house, and if there is some, I recommend putting them out of sight to lessen the temptation,” Bowerman said.
According to Bowerman, with the added time on people’s hands, one can think about meal planning, which is the meal pattern for the day.
She said protein is an important element in food, and even snacks should contain a bit of it.
“For breakfast typically, it should contain protein and carbohydrate — like a protein shake made with fruits and some yogurt, or perhaps a veggie omelette.
“Lunch and dinner should both contain additions of healthy fats, so meals could be a stir-fry with tofu and veggies over brown rice, or a mixed green salad with grilled chicken and avocado.
“A healthy snack could be a small serving of yogurt topped with fruits, some edamame, or a sliced hard-cooked egg with some raw vegetables,” she said.
Particularly now, boosting the immunity is a must, and can be sourced from both food and vitamins.
Bowerman said fruits and vegetables provide vitamins A and C that support immunity, so it’s important to include at least one of each in every meal.
“Choosing healthy low-fat plant or animal sources such as fish and shellfish, lean meats, poultry, eggs, low-fat dairy products, soy products such as tofu and tempeh, and protein powder can make a balanced meal.
“Adding fermented foods, such as yogurt, pickled vegetables and tempeh will provide natural probiotics or better known as the good bacteria to populate the digestive tract,” Bowerman added.
Nutrition to Stay Sane
Bowerman said certain nutrients from foods are known to have beneficial effects on one’s mental health, a fact that is discovered from years of studies and experiments.
For instance, the omega-3 fatty acids in seafood are particularly beneficial, which is one reason why people are recommended to eat a few seafood meals per week.
“Others like the B-vitamin group, obtained from dairy products, whole grains and leafy greens, support nervous system function, and since they are not stored by the body, they should be consumed regularly,” she said.
Vitamin D which comes from the sunlight, Bowerman said, is also known to be good for mental health and for those staying indoors. It can be found from fatty fish or supplements.
Bowerman said ordering takeaway food during this period is perfectly fine, but people need to choose carefully.
“Ordering from your favourite restaurants can help you feel more connected to your community or your usual routine. But try to stick with your usual eating patterns and choices, and find food that fits that pattern, rather than using it as an excuse to order in unhealthy food,” she said.
Some restaurants would have nutritional information posted on its menu, which can also help with better decision-making.
She cautioned people to not fall for the “upsize” trick, where a restaurant tries to sell a person more than needed or larger portions for a good deal.
“Sometimes, restaurants try to sell you more food than you want or need. The portions also tend to be quite large, so try to avoid over-ordering,” she said. She added that a good way to enjoy food wholly is to think of how a meal can be made healthier by adding something to it.
“Think of it as a fun addition. Can you steam some extra vegetables to add to your takeout meal? Can you have a piece of fruit for dessert? These are some ways to make your meal more healthy and balanced,” she said.
Creative and Balanced Food
Bowerman said balanced meals do not need to be elaborate, but given the situation, now is the perfect time to get creative with new ingredients and recipes.
“Since we are all home most of the time, why not turn it into a creative activity like picking a fruit or vegetable you’ve never eaten or used, and cook it? You can literally spice up your kitchen by trying a new spice or seasoning. Spices and herbs are plant products, which means they are good sources of natural antioxidants which help build up the body’s antioxidant defence system, which also supports immunity,” she said.
Bowerman said learning to appreciate delicious flavours of foods by adding healthy herbs and spices instead of salt and fats will help a person not only enjoy delicious food, but keep them healthy.
“When you start to appreciate the delicious natural flavours of food, you will start to lose your taste for the highly processed, highly sweet, highly salty food that, unfortunately, is all too common in our food supply,” she said.
From Leftovers to a Variety of Cuisines
Meanwhile, Bowerman said a great piece of advice she often gives is, to cook once but eat twice.
She said cooking a little extra to use in a salad or rice dish can save time, money and effort in the kitchen.
“If you are cooking grilled chicken for tonight’s dinner, make extra to cut up into a salad for lunch tomorrow. If you are cooking a whole grain as a side dish, add some cooked beans or lentils to it, along with some diced vegetables, and toss with a little oil and lemon for a main dish salad.”
“Leftover rice is delicious when stir-fried with some veggies and an egg, while roasted vegetables can be eaten as a side dish or be tossed into pasta,” Bowerman said.
Speaking of healthy cuisines, Bowerman said a Mediterranean dietary pattern is considered one of the healthiest in the world and relies on plenty of green vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains, some seafood and olive oil as the primary sources of fat.
“Eating well is one of the great pleasures in life, and food that is good for you should also be delicious, so learn to appreciate the naturally delicious flavours of foods,” she said.