Eating during the pandemic has been a continual struggle.

Since I live alone, before the pandemic I would normally do meal prep once a week, cooking 2 meals with 6-7 servings a piece that can be lunch and dinner, and then I can make eggs or have something easy on-hand for breakfast.

This stopped working in quarantine.

I think part of the issue was that I was trying to do curbside pick up of groceries on payday, which means I would have to submit my order the week before to secure a spot, and be buying two weeks worth of groceries. It turns out I am not good at predicting what I might want to eat in three weeks.

So many times I will spend time preparing a meal, eat 1 or 2 servings, and then a switch flips in my brain which categorizes it as “not food.” The best way to describe it is when you’re sick and you open the fridge and nothing sounds good. Only every day. A lot of opening the fridge, staring at everything, closing it, and sighing.

I’ve had to get creative, figuring out what to keep on hand. Sometimes it’s chicken nuggets. Or cheese puffs. Sometimes it is potatoes. Sometimes it is an apple. Or a package of seaweed. Other times I want banana pudding or chocolate milk. It feels a lot like trying to feed a picky child, and I try to think of it as re-parenting myself around my relationship to food.

Which is hard as a fat person. When you’re fat, it’s hard to feel like every food choice isn’t being scrutinized. I have also eaten my share of salad kits, or sliced veggies with ranch dressing. I try to make sure there is some kind of vegetable in every meal, even if I am eating chips and salsa to do it.

I also did my annual physical earlier this year, and went to a doctor who was recommended as being good with fat people. But I got a lecture about my weight, and reminded to focus on portion control and eat vegetables. As if I don’t. As if being fat must be the result of poor choices I am making, rather than just how my body is (I have been fat since childhood, and my weight is stable).

This lecture sent me into a tailspin for months, constantly aware of every “bad” choice I was making. It’s only been in the last couple weeks that I feel like I can finally put that voice behind me again, and just try to give my body what it needs.

I’ve been ordering delivery at least a couple times a month throughout the pandemic, but that gets expensive. Now that I am fully vaccinated, I finally feel like I can actually pop into the grocery store, which is refreshing.

So I have made a deal with myself. If I get a craving for something, and feel the urge to order takeout, I will go to the grocery store instead. I will get what I am craving, but also a few other groceries that I might want to eat.

Last week, I was craving a breakfast sandwich, so I got some bacon and biscuits from the bakery, as well as salad, fresh strawberries, and some potatoes. Today, I was craving doughnuts, so I bought some. But I also got another salad kit and a cucumber, and also stuffed mushrooms and buffalo cauliflower from the premade section.

I have been coming to terms with my neurodivergence in quarantine, and food issues are often a part of that. In the peer support Facebook groups I’m in, autistic and ADHD individuals have actually come up with the term “safefoods” in response. Safefoods are foods that you can reliably eat, whatever executive functioning or sensory issues might be happening.

For a long time, I’ve had my list of pantry staples – components that it is easy to mix and match to make a meal if necessary. Brown rice, pasta, diced tomatoes, garlic, onions, chicken broth, canned beans, etc.

Now I am trying to compile a list of safefoods, knowing it may ebb and flow, or shift over time. It’s a process of trial and error, but every time I choose to give myself the thing that feels like food today, it helps. It’s so much better than being hungry and frustrated and hating myself for ordering a pizza. And even if I spend more on groceries than I might have in the past, because I am buying more prepared foods, I believe it will even out because I am avoiding delivery fees and tips.

So far, eggs and chicken are safefoods. Oddly pickles more often than not. Bread is generally a safefood, as are tortilla chips and wheat crackers. Milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese are safe. So are most varieties of cheese. Bologna was a recent safefood, and if I make a sandwich, I can usually add lettuce and tomato safely. Salad can be a safefood depending on the dressing I have at the time.

So for example this week I make a cheesy pasta bake with wheat rotini, onions, broccoli, and a cheese sauce with a roux plus vegetable broth, milk, spices, nutritional yeast, and some cheddar cheese. A bit of crumpled bacon on top.

I’m trying to unlearn a lot of “supposed-tos” when it comes to food. My mom worked part time and cooked dinner every night, so in my head I am “supposed to” cook my meals from scratch, and I’m lazy if I don’t. I’m also “supposed to” eat healthy, whatever that means. I’m definitely NOT supposed to waste food. I’ve given away a LOT of food from my freezer during the pandemic that had ceased being food for me.

Today I had a doughnut and a small glass of milk and some fresh strawberries as a snack. I’m trying to remind myself that I don’t have to always eat the most healthy possible option in every moment.

Whatever you need to feed yourself to survive this pandemic, it’s okay.

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