With many adapting to new routines and ways of living during the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, the nutrition team at the Centre for Public Health Nutrition Research and students from the School of Medicine have co-created the following guide to living well during this difficult time.

The University of Dundee coronavirus pages will give you up-to-date information and guidance.

 

Living well

When we juggle studies, work, childcare, finances, and now social distancing measures, it is easy to forget about looking after ourselves. Given the current situation, it is important that we use this time to focus on self-care activities like eating well and being active.

How we go about our day-to-day lives has changed but we can still continue with simple routines. Think positively about the things you can do and feel good about what you have achieved in your day. Everyone recognises these are strange and unprecedented times so be kind on yourself.

  • Set your alarm, wake up at a time you normally would for university or work.
  • Start your day off with a morning stroll – return refreshed and focused for work. Plan a daily routine, write a to-do list and set goals for the day.
  • If space permits, set up a separate work corner
  • Keep your meal routines – they will help to structure the day and make things feel more normal
  • Screen time can keep us occupied throughout the day and night. Try having regular breaks away from your phone, laptop and television - remember to keep moving and break up sitting time by doing stretches, dance-breaks, taking 500 steps, or doing a quick online workout. You could try setting your own ‘lockdown’ times for taking breaks from phone apps and social media saturation.
  • Sitting all day starts to take its toll on our necks and backs. Create your own standing desk by placing your computer on boxes, books or the ironing board. Try to have your laptop or monitor at eye level to help encourage good posture.

Exercising well

Many people are missing the gym or their usual exercise regime. Exercise is great for both mind and body as it reduces stress and anxiety while improving sleep quality, all of which are vital at this time. Make the best use of your allocated time out of doors and take advantage of the fitness-promoting resources available.

Some of the excellent online workouts suitable for all fitness levels include the 9-minute Strength Workout, Plank workout app and the At Home Program. If you have children, try exercising alongside them as part of their physical education. P.E with Joe is very popular with both children and adults. The Couch to 5K plan and podcast is a great free resource to start jogging.

Yoga and pilates can be relaxing, even for as little as 10 to 15 minutes a day. Free and guided daily yoga videos can be found online that are suitable for beginners. Practicing mindfulness eases tension and helps you connect and appreciate the good things around you. Apps such as headspace give guided meditation for beginners.

Socialising well

Social distancing prevents us from gathering together but we can take things online. One side benefit of online dinner parties is that guests bring their own food and drink and you don’t have to wash all the dishes afterwards! Try playing games or making your own quizzes for your friends and family online. Make video calls when you take breaks from work or study. Houseparty is a free app that combines video-calling and games in one.

Enjoy prolonged social media and news-free periods. Read and listen when you are ready and as you would in your normal day.

Sleeping well

You are certainly not alone if you have trouble nodding off. Try setting a wind-down route – and stick to it. Writing down tasks and activities that you can do the next day may help clear your mind of distractions. Try taking a warm bath or shower (or a footbath) before bed or do some simple and light stretches to relieve tension in your upper back, shoulders and neck. Alter your smartphone settings to reduce screen brightness in the evenings and try limiting screen time an hour before bed. The NHS Apps Library has useful resources for helping you to fall off to sleep. 

Eating well

Good nutritional intake is important for supporting good immune function1 and overall health but shopping restrictions may cause dietary considerations to fall down people’s list of priorities at this time, especially if familiar foods have disappeared from supermarket shelves. The important thing is to eat and drink regularly, even if our meals and snacks look somewhat different, and focus on caring for ourselves, families and neighbours.

  • Keep meals simple. Base them on starchy carbohydrates (wholegrain where possible), vegetables, and a source of protein. Try to have as much variety as you can with what is available
  • Avoid bulk buying where possible as this can lead to short term food shortages and waste
  • Try batch-cooking meals and storing them in the fridge or freezer for a speedy lunch or dinner the next day

The sun is not yet strong enough to help our bodies make enough vitamin D. Since we are not outside for long periods of time, it would be an idea to take a vitamin D supplement. The Scottish Government recommends that we all take a 10μg/d supplement daily. Look out for vitamin D3 supplements in supermarkets or pharmacies and take alongside a main meal.

Anxiety, stress or boredom can tempt us to reach for sugary, fatty and or salty comfort foods. Eating comfort foods is understandable but it is best to keep an eye on the volume and frequency of what we are eating (and drinking!)

Tips for eating differently

Porridge oats make a great breakfast option and are very versatile. From traditional porridge to overnight oats or simple muesli, oats can be eaten hot or cold. Experiment with flavours by adding different fruits, spices, cocoa powder, nuts, nut butters, and even grated carrot or by using mashed banana to sweeten instead of sugar or honey.

Short on bread? Try Ryvita, crackerbread, pitas, wraps or oatcakes. If flour is available, you could try making simple soda bread, rolls or scones.

Are pasta shelves bare? Rice or noodles make a good alternate and can also be used in soups, stir-fries, curries and stews. One cup of uncooked pasta/rice is enough for one to two people.

Potatoes (and sweet potatoes) have a relatively long shelf life. Microwaved baked potatoes can be almost as quick as pasta to prepare and can be a good main meal if toppings are added, such as low-fat cheese, beans and salads.

No passata, tomato puree or pasta sauces? Try a can of tomato soup for pasta instead. Adding mushrooms and onions to a can of mushroom soup makes a tasty stroganoff-style sauce for pasta or rice.

No milk? Try cow’s milk alternatives like soya, oat, coconut, rice or almond. Try looking on supermarket shelves for long-life UHT milk or skimmed milk powder.

Almost all fresh veg can be turned into salads, soups and casseroles. Try grating fruit and veg such as carrot, apple and cucumber for adding as a side.

If fresh meat options are limited, make use of tinned or dried beans, pulses or lentils as an alternate protein source in your main meals. Make your meat go further by using half meat/half beans/pulses or lentils. Batch cook and freeze a few portions for later use. Thick soups and stews can be tasty comfort foods.

Tinned fish such as tuna, salmon or mackerel are also a versatile alternate to fresh or frozen fish. They can be added to pasta or rice dishes or used to make a good toping for toast or baked potato. Mix a tablespoon of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice for a tasty fish dressing.

Try looking in the international sections in the supermarket for Polish, Chinese and Thai versions of your favourite foods.

Snacking

Fresh, dried, frozen and canned fruit and vegetables all count toward your 5-a-day. Fresh fruit and veg can be chopped and frozen for snacking and cooking. Prepare in advance so that they’re on hand whenever you’re tempted to snack. Be mindful that canned fruit can be high in sugar – it’s always good to read labels. Dried fruit such as apricots make handy snacks anywhere and can be eaten on their own or added to yoghurts or cereal for adding natural sweetness.

Wholegrain cereals and low-salt popcorn make a great bedtime snack, while peanut, almond or cashew butters are a good source of protein and healthy fats that can be enjoyed as a topping on crackers, oatcakes, toast or porridge or as a dip for fruit and vegetable sticks.

A small handful of unsalted nuts or seeds also make a good snack. Unsalted nuts can be a little pricey but they have a relatively long shelf life and are very versatile.  A small handful can be enjoyed once a day with some fruit as a snack, added to breakfast cereal, salads, stir-fries or curries to add some extra flavour and crunch to your meals.

Try putting crisps, biscuits and confectionary into small container boxes to control portion sizes. It’s really easy to keep eating more out of the packet.

Drinking

It can be easy to forget to drink fluids – keep a glass of water next to your desk to keep hydrated.

If you drink alcohol it’s a good idea to try and keep track of how much you’re having. It’s easy to pour bigger measures or drink more without meaning to. Try to stick to the low-risk guidelines of no more than 14 units a week for both men and women. 14 units of alcohol are 6 pints of beer or 6 glasses of wine, based on average strengths. Try to have alcohol-free days and use soda or lemonade to make wine spritzers or buy alcohol-free beer.

A taste of home

Add some flair to your meals and try out these dinner ideas from some of our international students:

Tuna and Bean Salad: Rinse a can of beans (broad beans, black eyed beans, or ANY beans available), add a tin of tuna, sliced cucumber and lettuce. Finish off with a drizzle of olive oil.

Roasted aubergine and chickpeas: Slice an aubergine in half and carve. Add some chickpeas and drizzle with olive oil. Roast in the oven at 200oC for 15 minutes and serve with some hummus or yoghurt on the side.

Tasty tuna and veg: Boil quinoa or couscous and then drain. Stir fry a chopped onion, peppers and broccoli for 4 minutes, then add a tin of tuna (drained). Serve all together in a bowl with a drizzle of lemon.

Super salad: Add a thinly sliced apple, some walnuts and grilled halloumi cheese (or crumbled feta cheese) to a mixed leaf salad with and drizzle some balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Easy falafels: Add a can of chickpeas to a bowl and mash until smooth. Add chopped spring onions, cumin, lemon zest and a pinch of salt and pepper. Using your hands, form the mixture into six equal-sized balls and flatten slightly. Add 2 teaspoons of olive oil to a frying pan over a low heat and cook until golden brown on each side.

Roasted stuffed peppers: Cut the top off a bell pepper, then scoop out the seeds. Sit the pepper on a plate, cut-side up, and cook in the microwave for 5-6 mins until they have wilted and softened. Fill the pepper with rice, quinoa, cous-cous, or pearl barley (whatever you have!) along with any vegetables that are available (mushrooms, sweetcorn, tomato). Continue to cook for 8-10 minutes.

Spiced chickpea stew with coconut milk: In a large pan fry one chopped onion, garlic and a small piece of finely chopped ginger for 5 minutes. Add your favourite spices. Drain and rinse two cans of chickpeas, add to the pan and cook for around 10 minutes. Crush the chickpeas before adding one can of coconut milk and 500mL vegetable stock. Simmer until stew reaches desired thickness and serve alongside a handful of green leafy veg, pitta, rice or toasted bread.

Coconut popcorn chicken: Heat oven to 200oC/180oC fan/gas 6. Cut raw chicken thigh or breasts into bite-sized pieces and place in a large bowl with lime juice, ½ teaspoon curry powder and ½ teaspoon chilli powder, mix well. Roll each chicken ball in desiccated coconut (2/3 cup) to coat evenly. Place popcorn chicken on a lined baking tray and lightly spray popcorn chicken with olive oil. Bake in oven for 8 -10 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

One-pot lentil dish: In a large pot, cook 1 cup of chopped onion for 3 minutes, then add 1 cup of chopped celery and ½ cup chopped carrot. Add 3 chopped garlic cloves and heat for a further 2 minutes. Stir in 3 cups of water, 1 can of chopped tomatoes and 1 cup brown or green lentils and cook for 20 minutes.

Cauliflower and potato bake: In a bowl, mix together 1 tablespoon of ground cumin, ½ teaspoon ground ginger, ½ teaspoon turmeric and ½ teaspoon of cinnamon. Set aside. Preheat oven to 190oC. In a pan, boil ½ Kg of potatoes (thinly sliced) for 10 minutes. Add in one cauliflower (chopped into small florets) and 1 thinly sliced carrot and simmer for 2 minutes. Drain well (vegetables will still be crisp). Stir in 1 can of chickpeas, 1 can of chopped tomatoes, ½ cup (frozen) peas and spice mix. Spread onto an ovenproof dish. Cover and bake for 45-50 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

 

1Childs et al. Nutrients, 2019;11(8):1933, doi:10.3390/nu11081933

Written by the Centre for Public Health Nutrition Research and students from the School of Medicine