Raise your hand if you’ve ever eaten something unhealthy because you felt stressed. During his trips to the supermarket, Chef Gerard Viverito says he has been shocked to see so many grocery carts overloaded with junk food. “I understand that people are tired and seeking comfort. But tater tots and ice cream won’t help,” he says. “I’ve turned to food to bring me solace. In hindsight, I learned that when you eat poorly, you feel worse so you eat poorly again. After two slices of pie, you might as well eat the whole thing, right? It’s a downward spiral!”
Viverito explains that cleaning up your diet may help you feel better physically and emotionally. If that’s still not enough to motivate you, he reveals his three favorite food categories that he reaches for whenever he’s stressed. “Comfort foods don’t have to be junk. And healthy foods don’t have to be boring,” he says.
Maybe one of these food categories will pique your interest and help you feel less stressed out:
Food with fins.
“Meat prices are skyrocketing and there’s talk about shortages. Meanwhile, there’s been a spike in seafood consumption. But I still hear from people who are afraid to serve fish at home because they don’t know how to prepare it. Really, it’s easy. Just saute it at high heat until it changes color and flakes easily. Total cooking time would be about 8-9 minutes for thick fillets, and 6-7 minutes for thinner filets.”
- Make sure to use the right oil. “Some oils become carcinogenic at high heat. Malaysian palm oil is ideal for fish because it has a neutral, buttery flavor. Plus it’s heart-healthy, nutritious and certified sustainable.”
- Choose sustainable fish. “We’re all attuned to shortages right now. Get into the habit of making responsible choices that help protect our food supplies and our planet. The American seafood industry generally has better sustainability practices than those of other countries.”
Food from the soil.
“There’s no shortage of fruits and vegetables right now. Because they are rich in fiber, you’ll feel fuller so you’re less likely to want to snack. Consider serving plant-based proteins a few times each week instead of animal proteins. You may know that beans and legumes have a lot of protein. But I’ll bet you didn’t know that there’s also protein in whole grains, broccoli and sweet potatoes. So, challenge yourself to create the most colorful plate of food possible.”
- Make sure you’re always eating a variety of foods. “Consider what you ate yesterday, and try not to eat it again today.”
- Opt for fresh or lightly processed. “Many over-processed foods, even those sourced from plants, can contain too much sugar and salt. Even if it’s made from plants, you still need to read the labels.”
Food that’s fun.
“Online schools are ending. Keep the kids from going stir crazy by getting them into the kitchen. Instead of swinging into another drive-through, teach your kids how to choose and prepare foods on their own that will keep them occupied and sharpen their minds. Plant a garden with kid-approved brain foods such as strawberries, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach and broccoli.”
- Encourage them to sample new things. “Have your kids research traditional foods and meals in different parts of the world. Then ask them to share what they’ve learned around the dinner table. It’s a wonderful way to take your family on a culinary adventure while you’re all stuck at home. For instance, my kids know that I only cook with palm oil produced in Malaysia because it is certified sustainable; it’s made without harming wildlife or rain forests.”
- Have enough measuring spoons and measuring cups so that each child can use their own. “That speeds up meal prep time. Kitchen shears are safer for kids to use than knives.”
Viverito concludes, “Feed your family junk food and your health will pay the price. But you don’t have to be a slave to your stove. Do what I’ve done and try eating just fresh foods for a couple weeks. Pay attention to how eating different foods makes you feel … not just in the moment but also the next day. Then slowly introduce processed or sugary foods back into your diet and see how you feel. Once I cleaned up my diet and realized how great I felt, and how much clearer my thinking was, and how less stressed out I felt, it became easier to kick my favorite junk foods to the curb, permanently!”