THE NEW NORMAL: 5 HEALTHY EATING TIPS FOR AN AUTUMN SPENT INDOORS

How long will this state of limbo last? ‘The new normal’, it seems, is here to stay, for the remainder of the year at least, and Brits across the country are gearing up for an Autumn and Winter spent largely at home. The temptation for many (see: us) is to fire up the Netflix, invest in a Deliveroo subscription (they do exist, right?), and make sure we’ve got enough loungewear to last us through the season. An adjustable waistline is this season’s must-have, don’t you know?.

However tempting that sounds, we realise this isn’t the way to tackle such a turbulent, anything-but-normal time. If you’re to emerge the other side in something resembling good shape, both physically and mentally, your diet over the coming months is going to play a huge part. We’re here to help with that; here’s how to adjust to the new normal with 5 healthy eating tips for an Autumn spent indoors.

VITAMIN D

A lack of Vitamin D in the darker months is an issue for millions of Brits every year, but in 2020, with lockdown limbo ever present, the problem only looks set to be exacerbated. According to The Conversation, ”humans need vitamin D to keep healthy and to fight infections…in the winter, people have a reduced ability to make vitamin D when they go outside, so amounts of at least 600 IU per day of vitamin D from food or supplements would help maintain vitamin D status at summer levels”. 

Indeed the NHS suggests that due to coronavirus, ”It’s important to take vitamin D as you may have been indoors more than usual this year. You should take 10 micrograms (400 IU) of vitamin D a day between October and early March to keep your bones and muscles healthy”.

It makes sense, then, to ramp up the elements of your diet which can bring that elusive D in the requisite amounts. Here, oily fish is your friend, particularly salmon and trout, but also mackerel, anchovies and sardines, and is the best source of the good stuff. Getting your dose shouldn’t cost you a packet; check out our guide to the best tinned fish recipes for more.

Other excellent sources of vitamin D include liver, egg yolks and mushrooms, and according to this article on staying healthy for the ‘new normal’, ‘’whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, seaweed, mushrooms, and medicinal spices (like turmeric and ginger)’’ are also essential. Hmm, that sounds like a rather nice dinner right there.

AUTUMNAL FRUIT & VEGETABLES

With our connection to the outside world and nature suffering from protracted stints indoors, a poetic, healthy way to keep in tune with the natural world’s passing of time is to eat locally and with the seasons as much as possible. 

Generally speaking, when food is picked in its prime and doesn’t have to travel far, it boasts its maximum potential, nutrient wise. Some have even suggested that produce which is in season boasts particular nutrients that the body needs for that time of year, such as summer fruits and their particularly high fluid and sugar content; ideal for replenishing you in the warmer months.

Bringing a little cheer to an otherwise gloomy season, then, is the fantastic autumnal produce which the UK is rightly proud of. October welcomes the start of wild mushroom season, with every chef’s favourite ceps and chanterelles both plentiful and oh so delicious. Some of the heartier vegetables are beginning to taste their best, too; do seek out for celeriac, beetroot, leeks, turnip and kale right now. 

Some of Britain’s most beloved fruit also finds Autumn to be a purple patch; apples, pears, plums and figs are all begging to be picked and eaten. Phwoar.

And of course, with Halloween around the corner, pumpkin and squash of all shapes and sizes are abundant. Make the most of the glut; there are loads of ways to cook with squash and it’s wonderfully versatile.

GAME SEASON

Speaking of connecting with the food seasons, we’re right now in the midst of British game season. Aside from the wonderful flavour, game meat is seriously healthy; it’s lean, low in fat and cholesterol, and high in protein and iron. If you are going to eat meat, it’s a more ethical choice, too; you can be guaranteed that the animal has lived a life of freedom and frolicking. Proper free range, make no mistake. What’s more, it pairs beautifully with those autumnal fruits and vegetables we mentioned earlier; sometimes, this stuff just writes itself. 

In terms of what’s good right now and despite its current negative associations, grouse is perhaps the pinnacle of Game Season, and the item chefs and diners tend to most savour. If we could be guaranteed our game bird hadn’t come into contact with a Boris acolyte, we’d savour it, too. 

Wild fowl is also delicious and abundant in October, with wild ducks like mallard and teal particularly fine. Finally, you’ll start seeing venison in your local butchers with increasing regularity in the coming months, and it represents a healthy alternative to beef, boasting more protein and less fat per gram than any other red meat. It also tastes wonderful!

To get that sense of the outdoors and the wild from the comfort of home, why not put more game on your plate this Autumn?

FROZEN FOOD 

Yep, we get it; we’ve spent a large chunk of this article extolling the virtues of a ‘fresh is best’ mentality. But to dismiss frozen food entirely is to be potentially wasteful, both with ingredients and your money.

Firstly, let’s think about batch cooking; doubling up recipes or making extra for another time, or bulking out your dinner with more vegetables or a sauce and freezing it…it all makes sense in the colder seasons when sometimes motivation runs low to cook healthy food each night. Having that delicious lasagna or chana masala waiting in the freezer can provide real comfort in these gloomier times, and is so much better than a takeaway, in so many ways.

What’s more, there’s no harm done by stocking up your freezer with vegetables and fruit. Sometimes, it’s actually more nutritious that way; frozen at the point of picking, with all their nutrients intact. Indeed, most professional kitchens swear by frozen peas for this reason, so don’t get snobby about the freezer section in your supermarket!

MAINTAIN A HEALTHY WEIGHT

Colder days and insecure times…who can blame a person for turning to comfort food to nourish the soul? While there’s certainly no harm in the odd takeaway and Netflix binge from time to time, as Autumn and Winter roll around it would be wise to maintain a healthy, varied diet to keep any seasonal ailments at bay.

The temptation is strong to order in with increasing regularity when it’s too gloomy outside to go shopping, but when done excessively, this just isn’t a sustainable approach for your weight or bank balance. Instead, why not organise a weekly supermarket delivery slot to deliver the essentials and dry goods, and another with a local farm, greengrocers or via a vegetable box subscription service? Doing so can be a great motivation and source of inspiration to try out new recipes and generally cook with a healthy approach in mind.

Do remember, though, that this is a really challenging time for everyone, and don’t deny yourself the odd treat. You’re getting by in a global pandemic, and you deserve it! Instead, try to adopt a mindful, sustainable approach to your diet, and you can enjoy the food which gives you pleasure in the healthiest way possible.

Joseph Gann
Chef and food writer, with an interest in mental health and mindfulness

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