How to eat healthily when you’re self-isolating

Niamh Hennessy
Lead Dietitian, Cromwell Hospital
25 March 2020
Next review due March 2023

Whether you’re working from home, looking after children or self-isolating, most of us will be staying at home over the coming weeks in a bid to stay safe and well. If you can’t get to the supermarket or you’re feeling stressed or anxious, you may be tempted to turn to comfort or convenience food during this time. What’s more, without your usual commute to work, gym membership or sports clubs, you might not be burning as many calories as normal.

But eating a healthy diet and being mindful of your portion sizes can help you to maintain a healthy weight. It can also support your mental health, keep your immune system healthy and your energy levels up during your time indoors.

While there’s no need to buy more food than you need, there are lots of ingredients in your cupboards to help create a nutritious meal. What’s more, cooking and baking are great activities that can help pass the time and take your mind off things.


Wholegrain carbohydrates are a great source of fibre, B vitamins, folic acid, antioxidants and micronutrients. They release their energy slowly, helping you to feel fuller for longer. They can also help you to maintain a healthy weight and may reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer.

Examples include wholemeal and wholegrain bread, brown rice, wholewheat pasta, wholegrain breakfast cereals, oats and potatoes with the skin left on. Bags of wholegrains like these won’t go off easily and will go a long way when making a meal. You could try making a pot of wholemeal pasta with chickpeas and tinned tomatoes or preparing a hearty bowl of porridge oats with dried fruit and a sprinkling of cinnamon.

Other wholegrain foods like rice cakes, oat cakes and plain popcorn will also store in your cupboard for weeks and are great to have on hand as a healthy snack.

Beans, peas and lentils

Pulses such as beans, peas and lentils are a great source of plant-based protein, fibre and other nutrients. These are important to keep your muscles and bones healthy. You can get pulses either dried or tinned and they’ll live in your kitchen cupboards for years. Tinned pulses are great for convenience and can be easily added to your cooking. But packets of dried pulses are much cheaper and will go even further in your cooking than tins.

There’s a huge variety to choose from, including puy lentils, split peas, butter beans, chickpeas, haricot beans, kidney beans and black beans. You can use them to make dips like houmous, homemade curries and dhals, and add them to soups, stews, pasta and salads.

Fruit and vegetables

Fruit and vegetables are a great source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre that help to protect your body from disease. It’s recommended to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day if you can. Fresh, frozen, tinned, dried and juiced varieties all count towards a healthy diet.

Vegetables like sweet potatoes, pumpkin, butternut squash, beetroot and onions will stay fresh for longer than other varieties – so make good use of these. If you can’t get fresh fruit and vegetables, it’s a good idea to use frozen varieties instead. So try using frozen fruit to make smoothies and add frozen vegetables like spinach, garden peas and sweetcorn to soups, stews, curries and casseroles.

Boiling vegetables can cause them to lose some of their nutrients. To get the most out of your veg, try steaming, microwaving, roasting or poaching them instead. You could even try using this time to start a vegetable patch in your garden and learn how to grow your own herbs and vegetables.

Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are a good source of protein and healthy fats. Fats provide your body with energy and some vitamins. They’ll also last for years in your cupboards without going off. Try adding a tablespoon of mixed nuts and seeds to your breakfast cereal, snacking on a handful or using them in soups and salads.

Nut butters such as peanut, almond and cashew are a great source of protein and good fats that will stay fresh for a long time. Try adding a tablespoon of these to your smoothies or porridge. Need a snack? Spread nut butter and sliced banana on wholegrain toast, or have a cut up apple with a dollop of peanut butter.

Spices and seasoning

See what herbs and spices are hiding among your spice rack and use them to pack your meals with flavour. Try:

  • using ground ginger, garlic powder and onion powder if you can’t get fresh
  • sprinkling ground cinnamon and nutmeg over your morning oats
  • using dried herbs such as oregano, coriander and basil in pasta dishes
  • adding spices like ground turmeric, garam masala, paprika, cumin and chilli powder to curries
  • cutting down on salt by using pepper instead

Tinned foods

Some of the tinned foods gathering dust in the back of your cupboard might be more nutritious than you think. Try using up old tins of:

  • lentils, beans and chickpeas
  • vegetable soups
  • tomatoes
  • coconut milk
  • fruit
  • vegetables
  • fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna
  • baked beans
  • mushy peas

Tinned fruit, vegetables and pulses will stay fresh for longer and still count towards your five-a-day. Try to choose those that are lower in salt and sugar. When looking at tinned fruit in particular, choose those in fruit juice rather than syrup. And be sure to check the expiry date first!

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps your body to absorb calcium and keep your bones, muscles and teeth healthy. It’s found in oily fish, eggs, meat, milk, margarine and fortified breakfast cereals and yoghurts.

But it’s difficult to get all the vitamin D your body needs from food alone. This is because your body makes most of its vitamin D from sunlight during the summer months. If you’re staying indoors, it’s a good idea to take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms to ensure you’re getting all the vitamin D you need.

If you have a poor appetite…

If you’re feeling lonely or isolated, it might cause you to lose your appetite. Try to eat something rather than nothing to keep yourself healthy and choose nutritious foods if you can. If you don’t fancy a big meal, try eating smaller meals more often instead. Stay in touch with family and friends using electronic devices. Perhaps video call a loved one during mealtimes so you can virtually have dinner together.

Niamh Hennessy
Niamh Hennessy
Lead Dietitian, Cromwell Hospital

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    • Vitamin D: Food fact sheet. The Association of UK Dietitians., reviewed August 2019
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