For many, the last year of the coronavirus pandemic has felt like the year that was lost to time. With people cooped up indoors, everything from family events, to hobbies, to social occasions was effectively put on hold for an entire year. But as the pandemic forced many indoors, some people saw it as an ideal opportunity to re-evaluate different touchpoints in their lives. Mind you, this isn’t said to minimize the hurt and suffering that many experienced, but to suggest that even for working people—the lack of normally available forms of leisure, social interaction, and general distraction, meant that there was some time to try and achieve personal growth. Whether it was in one’s career, or one’s lifestyle, saving money, or making better dietary decisions, many saw COVID-19 as one of the rare moments to enact meaningful, lifelong change.
I was no different. And as much as wearing masks, working at home, and social distancing represented a mixed bag of positive and negative experiences that were a part of “the new normal,” so was being health conscious—and acting on my consciousness. Now, with vaccines being distributed, masks slowly coming off, and businesses eventuating themselves towards full capacity, we are on the cusp of life going “back to normal.” When it comes to certain aspects of my personal life, however, I don’t want to go back to normal. After all, why commit the time, resources, and sheer trial and error towards something like changing one’s eating habits if it all is for naught when the pandemic ends? So these are the food habits I’m keeping after COVID-19:
Whether it’s New York strip steaks, fried tilapia, tortellini with pesto, or teriyaki chicken, my stovetop gets a lot of use. In the year of COVID-19, however, I got to experience the joys of crockpot cooking. Anyone that spends regular amounts of time in the kitchen knows this: cooking is a distinctly “hands-on” experience. Whether you are prepping, searing, sautéing, or even cleaning, there is always something to do while cooking that is a part of the greater kitchen workflow. What I love about crockpots by compare, is that it is quality “hands-off” cooking: You prep your ingredients, place them in the crockpot, set your timer, and go about your regular life. And at the end of the day, you have a meal. Though my crockpot adventures began with classics such as beef stew, I have quickly evolved to creating my own recipes for Asian-inspired shredded ginger beef, and have successfully adapted my favorite stovetop dishes, such as Jamaican chicken curry, to crockpot sensations.
PLANNING FOR LEFTOVERS
While leftovers aren’t for everybody, I love them… And if I am being completely honest, planning for leftovers was a pre-pandemic habit as well. But doing it over the course of the last year played a significant role in making my day-to-day pandemic life much easier. Now, if you are one of those people that grew up hating leftovers—and just can’t stomach the idea of using them to pad out your meal routines—sometimes picking the right dish can help. For instance, while pasta and meat fillets are not usually the best for throwing in the oven or microwave, I have learned that saucier foods not only favor leftover creation—but also get better with time! Whether it was Jamaican chicken curry, my sweet and spicy chili, or another sauce-heavy recipe, almost always the leftovers would come out tasting better than the dish on the night it was made. The same even applied with pasta sauce when I stored it separately. Though I do not claim to be a scientist, my theory for why this is the case is that meat fillets such as steaks, chicken breasts, and fish, dry out when introduced to heat after cold storage. The same applies to starches such as pasta and rice. Sure, you can cheat around this by introducing a few drops of water to the dish before throwing it in the microwave, but for most people, reheating meat and pasta are terrible because of how it dries out on the second night of eating. Saucy dishes work best for leftovers because the meat and vegetables that were cooked in the sauce on night one continue to marinate while it is being stored. So, with each night, the dish will continue to get better, and new flavor profiles become more pronounced. For dishes that involve a starch component, serving your leftover sauce on freshly-cooked rice or pasta can trick your brain into thinking that the dish was made fresh.
ELIMINATING FAST FOOD DEPENDENCY
I think most fast-food eaters tend to fall into one of two camps., The first group of people thinks that fast food is delicious, while the other group likes that it’s convenient. My relationship with this category of sustenance has been touch and go: There have been times when it felt like I ate nothing but fast food, and times when I have not touched it at all. Getting older, naturally, the desire to not touch fast food at all has gradually increased as I have begun to take my health into greater consideration. This was disrupted, however, when I went back to school and had to successfully balance the time I spent finishing my education with the time I spent at work. Sure, while there was a small degree of satisfaction that I would get from eating fast food, I ate lots of it before the pandemic primarily because it was the most convenient thing I could find on my way to class. After the start of the pandemic—and a graduation that seemed nothing short of perfectly timed—the temporary closure of many fast-food businesses forced me to start making all of my meals at home. At first, my choices were categorically indulgent: Jimmy Dean biscuits, microwaveable pancakes, pork sandwiches, potato chips, candy, and pints of ice cream in between. Eventually, however, I moved on to better products once I had effectively grown tired of all the crummy ones: I replaced pork sandwiches for chicken sandwiches, substituted potato chips for wheat crackers, and eliminated candy. As far as ice cream? Ahhh… I still buy ice cream every now and again.
INCORPORATING FRUIT INTO MY MEALS
A large part of my eating considerations involved not being able to healthily address cravings for both savory and sweet foods. On the savory end, I was accustomed to eating lots of pork and red meat. On the sweet end, I was accustomed to eating lots of sweet foods for breakfast, such as pancakes and waffles, as well as lots of candy in my post-lunch hours… and I was feeling terrible! Then I came to a realization: if I like sweets, why not account for that in my efforts to enhance my health? And that is how I came to value the importance of fruit in my diet. For someone with a sweet tooth, fruit is nature’s candy: Not only does it taste wonderful, but it can be more easily incorporated into meals than, say, syrup or a bag of Skittles. Though most of my fruit purchases over the course of the pandemic were fresh fruit options, something I also learned was the value of going frozen over fresh.
While fresh produce is nice because you can see the product, and easily start eating it when you get home, something that I began to notice while regularly buying fresh food was its short shelf life. I noticed my fruit would start to get mushy after just a few days in my produce crisper at home. While mushy produce is still edible, it’s the first sign that it’s starting to go bad, and I found that I’d have to eat most—or all—of my fruit within 3-5 days before it went to waste. Therefore, the problem with fresh produce is that freshness, in and of itself, is a control on how much volume people can purchase—it’s not really something that the average individual can buy in bulk. It’s not that people don’t want lots of fruit, or do not have a use for lots of fruit, but on a practical level: there simply isn’t enough time to eat it all. For people like myself who eat fruit every day, this ultimately corresponds to more trips to the grocery store—which can be inconvenient. As you might suspect, this is one of the main reasons I recommend Seal the Seasons’ frozen fruit and vegetables. While bringing our frozen products into your home promotes sustainable agriculture and supports local business, on a practical level it is the best way to keep nutritious produce on-hand year-round. So, if rotting ingredients have deterred you from incorporating fruit into your diet, then maybe now is the time to go frozen!
While the coronavirus pandemic will go down for many as a time of consternation, uncertainty, and emptiness, it will also go down as a period of personal development and growth. Most of all, however, it will be remembered as a period of contempt for the new normal: for masks, social distancing, business shutdowns, as well as a general pause to all non-essential economic functions. All the same, however, these changes to my eating habits are my new normal—and ones that I don’t want to give up. At the end of the day, not all changes are bad changes. For those of you interested in learning more about Seal the Seasons’ frozen fruit and vegetable options, be sure to take a look at our products page to see what is offered in your region, as well as our store locator to see who carries us in stock in your community.