How the COVID-19 Lockdown Has Affected Our Eating Habits

Ask anyone what they did during quarantine and they’ll probably say ‘eat’. Food got us through some difficult times in lockdown, whether it was late night snacking or elaborate meals we finally had time to make. Food was where we reconnected with our families and where we found entertainment when things got really boring. There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 lockdown had a profound effect on our everyday eating habits. And, thanks to a new study, we now know exactly what kind of changes we’ve been making. 

The study reviewed the findings of different research papers that examined the impact of COVID-19 on our diets. The authors compiled results from 23 different studies and summarised how our eating habits were affected by quarantine. Let’s see what their findings had to say about our eating habits during COVID-19. 

We’re snacking more – especially at night 

Is anybody surprised? Nine of the reviewed studies showed a significant change in our snacking behaviours and how often people snacked during lockdown. In one study, 44% of participants said they have been snacking more at night. Three other papers backed this up, finding that people tended to snack more after their last meal of the day. Because what else are you going to do when you can’t go out?

Of course, most of the snacks we’ve been reaching for in quarantine are energy-dense and lacking in nutrients. One study conducted in Italy found that more than 40% of participants had been eating more ‘comfort foods’ like chocolate, ice cream, and desserts. Another study showed a 50% increase in the number of sweets we ate during lockdown. As to be expected, the general conclusion of the studies was that people used snacking as a coping mechanism to deal with heightened anxiety during lockdown. 

We’ve been eating more in general

Overall, six of the studies showed an increase in the number of meals we ate during lockdown. On top of that, it seems that the foods we’ve cooked haven’t been too healthy either. One of the studies showed that participants chose foods that were ready-to-eat or had a low prep time. Another found that although we ate more, the diversity of our diet and fresh produce had decreased. Don’t worry, though, this wasn’t always the case. Three of the studies that were reviewed didn’t mention an increase in food consumption at all. One even reported that almost 42% of participants skipped breakfast during lockdown, indicating less food consumption. 

Kids have been eating more fruits & veg 

Here’s some good news. We may have upped our intake of comfort foods during quarantine, but we’ve also been eating more fruit & veg than usual. One study showed that children and adolescents had increased their fruit and vegetable consumption during lockdown. Four other studies reported an overall increase in fruit intake – go us! The papers attributed this to increased home cooking during quarantine, and the idea that eating more fruits & vegetables may help the body fight the virus. 

We’re cooking at home more 

One of the major themes throughout lockdown was a return to home cooking.  We’ve loved seeing people embrace home-cooked food during lockdown! People have been baking fresh bread, pickling and preserving, and making viral TikTok recipes. Food has been reconnecting the family around the dinner table. Overall, the studies showed a significant increase in home cooking, especially making homemade pizza and bread (we all remember that sourdough trend!) The reasons why more of us were cooking at home were plentiful: access to more time, a lack of places to eat out, family bonding time, COVID safety, sheer boredom… 

We ate less fast food 

We may have been stuffing ourselves with more ice cream and cake than usual, but the studies showed a decrease in fast food consumption during lockdown. It’s all about balance, right? 82.2% of participants in one study said they hadn’t consumed any fast food during lockdown at all. This trend even continued post-lockdown. Of course, one big reason why people haven’t been eating fast food is that many restaurants around the world are closed. 

We drank less alcohol

One of the biggest changes to our diets during quarantine was a reduction in binge drinking. There are several reasons why we seemed to be getting drunk less. One being limited access to alcohol, and the other major factor being little to no social interaction with others. In Italy, there was a recorded 36.8% reduction in alcohol consumption. A similar trend was shown in a study conducted in Spain. On the other hand, one survey in China found that 10.6% of participants intentionally increased their alcohol consumption during lockdown. 

We ate less fresh produce  

It sounds contradictory, considering other studies showed us eating more fruit than usual. But overall, the papers showed a reduction in the consumption of fresh produce during quarantine. In one study, 27.4% of participants said they were buying less fruit & veg. This was mainly because access to produce shops was difficult. Another study echoed this sentiment, with 27% of participants saying they had issues buying foods like veggies and meat during lockdown. Besides lack of access, another reason why people ate less fresh produce was an increase in price. One study in Zimbabwe reported a whopping 94.8% of participants saw an increase in food prices that made fresh fruit & veg less affordable. 

If you’re really keen on the specifics, you’re in luck. One of the papers found these results in regards to fresh produce intake during COVID-19: 

  • Fruit – Decreased by 4.2% in men and 5% in women, 
  • Salad – Decreased by 5.9% in men and 6.5% in women, 
  • Veggies – Decreased by 4.7% in men and 6.3% in women, 
  • Lean protein – Decreased by 3.6% in men and 3.9% in women. 

We ate more comfort foods 

Who didn’t expect to see this one on the list? We’re not to blame, comfort food is the go-to when you’re stuck at home all day due to a global pandemic. The surveys not only found an increase in comfort foods, but we also dug in pretty quickly. One study showed that just 3 weeks after lockdown, we started eating more unhealthy foods like chips, red meat, and sugary drinks. Two other papers showed that adolescents were reaching for more fried foods and sweets. Interestingly, the papers found that people who ate their meals in front of the TV were more likely to eat more sweet & fried foods. Of course, we had reason to reach for those chocolates and chips. The papers attributed our embracing of unhealthy foods to be due to lack of motivation, anxiety, and boredom. 

We took more supplements 

One of our first tactics when COVID-19 broke out was reaching for the vitamins, supplements, herbs, and ginger. One of the studies showed that 37.7% of participants had intentionally eaten certain foods, supplements, or Chinese herbs that they thought might help protect them against COVID-19. No surprise, but Vitamin C was found to be the most popular supplement taken during lockdown.  Interestingly, the same study found that these people also had a higher household dietary diversity score. This suggests that they were more ‘in tune’ with their health. The most popular supplement

Here’s to reconnecting around the dinner table

One thing is obvious: food has been one of the biggest themes of COVID-19 lockdown. More home dining, more experimentation, and more interest in elaborate recipes. We want to treat ourselves, infuse some excitement in our days, and distract ourselves with amazing tastes and sensations. And after a hard year, we deserve it! 

We would love to be a part of your at-home dining experience during lockdown. Our private chefs will transform your home into a fine dining restaurant where you can indulge in an exquisite feast. Sit down with your loved ones and enjoy a 3-course, 5-course, or even 14-course meal in the comfort of your own home. If you miss the excitement of travelling, let us take your taste buds on a journey with our Taste of the World food experiences. Each of our talented private chefs brings something new to the table – you can discover new recipes, hear stories, and learn about different ingredients and foods. Have a look at our chef’s page to learn more about each of our chefs and their unique cooking styles. And if you’d like a taste of fine dining in your home, click here to make a booking.