As countries are taking stronger measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, self-quarantine and the temporary closing of businesses may affect normal food-related practices. Healthy individuals, as well as those showing acute respiratory disease symptoms, are being requested to stay at home. In some countries, restaurants and take-away offers are being limited and some fresh items are becoming less available.
Good nutrition is crucial for health, particularly in times when the immune system might need to fight back. Limited access to fresh foods may compromise opportunities to continue eating a healthy and varied diet. It can also potentially lead to an increased consumption of highly processed foods, which tend to be high in fats, sugars and salt. Nonetheless, even with few and limited ingredients, one can continue eating a diet that supports good health.
For optimal health, it is also important to remain physically active. To support healthy individuals in staying physically active while at home, WHO/Europe has developed specific guidance for periods of quarantine, including tips and examples of home-based exercises.
In order to support individuals in eating healthy during self-quarantine and isolation, WHO/Europe has prepared a set of general tips, a list of "best food buys" and a few examples of recipes for inspiration.
Multiple cases of over-purchasing have been observed throughout the WHO European Region. Panic buying behaviour may have negative consequences, such as an increase in food prices, overconsumption of food and an unequal distribution of products. It is therefore important to consider your own needs, as well as those of others. Assess what you already have at home and plan your intake. You might feel the need to purchase large amounts of foods, but make sure to consider and utilize what is already in your pantry, as well as foods with shorter shelf life. This way you can avoid food waste and allow others to access the food they need.
Use fresh ingredients and those that have a shorter shelf life first. If fresh products, especially fruits, vegetables and reduced-fat dairy products continue to be available, prioritize these over non-perishables. Frozen fruits and vegetables can also conveniently be used over longer periods of time and often have a similar nutrient profile to fresh foods. To avoid food waste, you may consider freezing any leftovers for another meal.
During regular daily life, many individuals often do not have the time to prepare home-cooked meals. Spending longer periods of time at home may now offer the possibility to make those recipes you previously did not have time to make. Many healthy and delicious recipes can be found online. Take advantage of the wealth of freely available information, and experiment with the ingredients you can access, but remember to keep in mind the principles for healthy eating offered in this guidance. Some examples of healthy recipes with accessible ingredients may also be found below.
Although home-cooked meals should be prioritized, some cities and countries have rather advanced delivery systems for ingredients and ready meals, and many businesses are now starting to offer this service. Some solutions include “contact-less” options, where no human interaction is required, thus supporting self-quarantine and isolation measures. These should be prioritized, particularly from reliable businesses following strict food hygiene requirements. For food delivery and transportation, it is important to keep food at safe temperatures (below 5 °C or above 60 °C). Keeping in mind that these services might be overwhelmed, you might want to consider exploring what is available in your area.
It can be difficult to get portion sizes right, especially when cooking from scratch. Being at home for extended periods, especially without company or with limited activities can also lead to overeating. Seek guidance through your national food-based dietary guidelines on what constitutes healthy portions for adults and be mindful that young children will need smaller portions.