Anyone on social media can see how social distancing is impacting the way we eat; with many restaurants closed or limited to takeout-only options, folks took to the kitchen. Stores sold out of flour as people whipped up banana bread and sourdough starters with their newfound time at home. As the weeks pass by and current events weigh heavily on minds and hearts, you may not feel the same zest for spending time in the kitchen or preparing elaborate recipes.

So, what do you eat to take care of yourself when cooking feels overwhelming?

Set expectations: a meal does not have to be elaborate or worthy of an Instagram photo shoot.

Sure, being beautiful appeals to our senses and appetite, but the basic premise for a nutritious meal is having food representation from most or all of the five food groups. Food choices should be tailored to your individual tastes and preferences, cultural background, and budget and within each group you can find options appropriate for all dietary needs including vegetarian and vegan, gluten free, halal, and more. Need help understanding how to make choices to meet your needs? Make an appointment for nutrition counseling in Health Promotion; we are offering telehealth visits and would love to “see” you.

Cook, or don’t: if you don’t feel like cooking, think about no-cook options to keep you out of the kitchen.

At first glance, a sandwich might sound boring, but what about a caprese sandwich with fresh basil, mozzarella, and slices of ripe summer tomatoes on a baguette with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar? Sandwiches and wraps can offer endless variations with minimal time spent on preparation. Summer is a perfect time for a cold pasta salad (this pesto pasta salad won’t disappoint) or crunchy, sliced veggies dipped in store bought or homemade hummus. A quick PBJ smoothie requires few ingredients and is ready in minutes. Try to think outside the box a bit and envision what you’re in the mood for. A salad, sandwich or smoothie might not sound great, but think about the taste or texture of ingredients you can add to increase their appeal.

Prep when you have energy: you don’t have to go into full prep mode.

But doing an hour or so of cooking at once can minimize your time in the kitchen the rest of the week. Batch prepare grains like rice or quinoa; you can bag up what you won’t use and save it for another week. Rinse fruits and veggies with cool water and slice them to store in the fridge. Taking a few steps like these when you are feeling energized will reduce your workload later.

Make it easy: there’s no rule that you have to prepare everything from scratch.

Frozen or prepared foods can be a useful tool to keep yourself nourished when cooking feels overwhelming. Your criteria for choosing a frozen meal will vary with your individual health needs, but a good start is to look for a meal that contains 1-2 servings of vegetables as well as whole grains, and that has less than 600mg of sodium per serving. Frozen wraps or burritos paired with fruit or a side salad can make a satisfying, nutritious meal. Grab a different dip or spread at the store to add to your sandwiches to make them unique. You might also choose a certain day of the week you want to order takeout and support a favorite local restaurant.

Find yourself feeling stuck when it comes to personal health and wellbeing?

Consider signing up for wellness coaching to explore concerns around adjustments, stress or anxiety management, problem solving, and more. The Health Promotion Department at the University of Georgia Health Center is here to support you.

For students in need of additional support resources:

The UGA food pantry is fully stocked and available for students in town. Students should call Student Care and Outreach to set up a time for pick-up (706.542.7774) or contact them via email at SCO@uga.edu with any questions. Information about emergency funding and Graduate Student emergency funding can be found here: Student Affairs emergency fund and Graduate Student emergency fund. Bulldog Basics is also still running for students in town. Students can request basic hygiene items here.

Written by: Beth Kindamo, Nutrition Education Coordinator, UHC Health Promotion