Real People Share How Their Food Habits Have Changed During Quarantine

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
Remember way back in the early days of quarantine when we were all baking banana bread, tending to our sourdough starters, and stretching pantry staples in new and creative ways? Yeah, me neither. At this point, that all feels like another lifetime ago.
The pandemic has prompted changes in nearly every aspect of our daily lives, and that, of course, includes our food habits. At the start of all this, many of us turned to cooking as a means to cope, but over five months in, how many have stayed committed to that hobby? And, just as the concept of time has lost all meaning for many, so have the distinctions of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That's why we asked real people to share details of how their cooking and eating habits have changed throughout the past few months. If you've been spending a lot more cash to treat yourself at the grocery store, or finding yourself eating tuna straight from the can, or randomly having dinner at 10pm, or whatever it is, just know that you're not alone.
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Willa, 24

Has the amount of time you've devoted to cooking and/or baking changed?
Yes — I spend a *lot* less time meal prepping than I normally would. On weekends, when I would normally find it fun to go out to eat with a friend, I find myself looking for a recipe to tackle — whether it be sweet or savoury. During the week, though, I find myself with less energy to cook than pre-quarantine and end up eating a lot of simple salads, sandwiches, smoothies, stir-fries, and scrambles.

Have you been spending more, less, or the same amount of money on food?
More money at the grocery store, but almost no money at cafés and restaurants.

Has the amount that you cook versus order out shifted?
Yes — I have been ordering food *maybe* once every two weeks in quarantine. Normally, I would go out for a meal or at least for drinks and an appetiser with a friend or two once or twice a week, pre-quarantine. I enjoy takeout far less than going to a restaurant (the atmosphere is half the fun!), so I've been less tempted to get takeout and end up just cooking instead.

Have you diversified how and where you shop for groceries?
Not really, although early in quarantine, I got major decision fatigue and tried out some meal kit delivery services so that I wouldn't have to go to the grocery store or decide what to cook.

Is there a food product that you have started to keep stocked in your kitchen?
Seltzer! I got sick of drinking plain water all day long while working from home, and having a fun beverage was a treat. I've also started making my own kombucha.

Is there a kitchen tool that you purchased that you now use regularly?
I bought a matcha whisk from Matchaful so that I could make my own matcha at home. I bought it fairly early in quarantine because going out for matcha was one of my favourite treats and recreating that ritual at home gave me a major sense of comfort and joy on a regular basis.

Have you been eating at different times of the day?
Yes — I eat every meal significantly later. I have no grasp on time.

Have you changed what you regularly eat for certain meals?
I eat a larger variety of meals since I'm not relying on meal prep during the week, and I'm not batch cooking in the same way I did before.

Have your comfort snacks changed?
I'm snacking less, but eating more substantial meals. I definitely have been keeping dark chocolate around for comfort snacking/desserting, but that's not anything new!
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Rachel, 27

Has the amount of time you've devoted to cooking and/or baking changed?
Many things have changed for me throughout quarantine, all of which have affected my approach to food and eating. In March, I was sharing an apartment with my boyfriend of five years. Now, I no longer have that boyfriend, and I live alone in a studio with my large dog. (It's fine, we're thriving, and her dad and I are still good friends.) At the start of quarantine, I was trying to drown out the stressful dregs of my relationship with parmesan-encrusted chicken breasts and Earl Grey-infused muffins. Now I cook and bake (or don't cook and don't bake) whatever the fuck I want!

Have you been spending more, less, or the same amount of money on food?

I think I'm actually spending less. I'm no longer shopping and cooking for two, I order in much less frequently, and I also moved a five-minute walk from the supermarket, which has been a game-changer.

Has the amount that you cook versus order out shifted?

My ex and I were ordering takeaway most nights at the start of quarantine. Now, I'll order it once a week tops and cook the rest of the time. By "cook," I mean heat up frozen Indian food in the microwave or throw together a salad.

Have you diversified how and where you shop for groceries?

I used to live directly across from a Key Food shop and — with the exception of the first few weeks of quarantine, during which I simply did not leave the house at all — went there pretty much daily to grab whatever I needed to make dinner that night. Now, I go to Trader Joe's once a week to stock up, and if there's anything else I need in the meantime, I'll go to a nearby, very overpriced Key Food or order on FoodKick/Fresh Direct Express. I do the $9.99 (£7.99) monthly membership for no delivery fees, which is worth it for me.

Is there a food product that you have started to keep stocked in your kitchen?

V. random, but I am truly captivated by Village Farms Maverick Mix, described as "a radical pack containing a mix of four to six different flavourful plump varieties" of small tomato. I found them at Trader Joe's (where else?) and now keep at least two radical packs in my fridge at all times. They are so, so good, and best eaten straight out of the box while standing up in the kitchen.

Is there a kitchen tool that you purchased that you now use regularly?

A microwave!!!!! I haven't had one since I lived with my parents. It is an amazing innovation and I didn't realise how much I was missing out on.

Have you been eating at different times of the day?

I used to not eat breakfast, eat lunch around 11.30am, then eat dinner around 8.30pm, snacking in between. Now, left to my own devices, I eat breakfast at 9am and dinner by 8pm. I'm busy during the workday so I eat lunch whenever the mood strikes, which could be anywhere from 1 to 4 pm.

Have you changed what you regularly eat for certain meals?

Yes, I've become a real creature of habit, and I feel unmoored if I don't eat a toasted English muffin with raw almond butter and berry preserves every morning.

Have your comfort snacks changed?

I used to eat roughly half a bag of Tate's cookies per day at the start of quarantine. Now, I eat tons and tons of fruit, so I'm still getting my sugar fix but... in a healthier way? Maybe?
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Alyssa, 30

Has the amount of time you've devoted to cooking and/or baking changed?
Yes — in my industry, we [were] hosting lunches and dinners frequently for clients, which means I [did] not cook as much. I would say I cooked dinner maybe three to four times a week before quarantine. I now am cooking dinner and lunches five to six days a week.

Have you been spending more, less, or the same amount of money on food?

I think less as I haven't been eating out as much or doing delivery/takeout services. I took a massive pay cut and have been much more cognisant as to what I am spending. While I am spending more money on groceries, it goes a lot further than buying $15 (£12) to $20 (£16) worth of takeaway for each meal.

Has the amount that you cook versus order out shifted?

Yes — at the beginning, I was ordering out a bit more. Maybe a month into quarantine is when I took a pay cut. It made me focus on cooking more meals for myself at home to save money.

Have you diversified how and where you shop for groceries?

I am high risk so I did lean on Instacart when it was available. At first, slots were difficult to come by so I also started using Imperfect Foods as a way to deliver some produce to me and hold me over until I could get a time slot on Instacart.

Is there a food product that you have started to keep stocked in your kitchen?

Cereal and pancake mix. I hadn't eaten cereal in years, but between its shelf life and quickness, I have eaten it a lot during quarantine.

Is there a kitchen tool that you purchased that you now use regularly?

I purchased a cast iron skillet, which I use all the time. I was wanting to make steak for myself and thought this would be better than just using a traditional pan. I now use it to make the majority of my proteins, such as fish and even cheeseburgers.

Have you been eating at different times of the day?

Not really — I keep to traditional meal hours.

Have you changed what you regularly eat for certain meals?

I typically eat breakfast foods for lunch, so instead of regular sandwiches or salads at lunch, I have been making breakfast sandwiches at like 12.30pm or even eat pancakes at that hour.

Have your comfort snacks changed?

Not really — instead of buying salsa though for chips and salsa, I started making my own.
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Brendan, 33

Has the amount of time you've devoted to cooking and/or baking changed?

The amount of time I spent cooking went up exponentially at first and then I got lazy. Before quarantine, most of my meals were to-go or takeout of some variety. During quarantine, I started trying to meal prep, but that fell aside in favour of Freshly and other quick meals. Freshly is amazing.

Have you been spending more, less, or the same amount of money on food?

Since quarantine started, I actually spend less on food. Grubhub and other orders cost a lot and getting on a meal plan with Freshly saved me a bunch.

Has the amount that you cook versus order out shifted?

I basically don't order out anymore. It's all cooked at home or I go to the grocery store.

Have you diversified how and where you shop for groceries?

I bought vegetables for the first time since I can remember when quarantine started. That has to count for something, right? I mostly shop at Key Food.

Is there a food product that you have started to keep stocked in your kitchen?

Rice. Lots and lots of rice. Also, steel oats are now my go-to breakfast.

Is there a kitchen tool that you purchased that you now use regularly?

A colander and a rice cooker. Bought them on Amazon.

Have you been eating at different times of the day?

My eating times have become extremely consistent: 9am, 1pm, and 7pm. I think this is just a form of habit because of how WFH functions. I can eat during meetings (with my camera off) as long as I am not presenting.

Have you changed what you regularly eat for certain meals?

My drinking has gone down. I know that's not a meal per se but with fewer social outings, I have fewer chances to drink.

Have your comfort snacks changed?

They have mostly stayed the same (albeit rarer at the beginning of quarantine). Ice cream was hard to come by for a while.
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Hannah, 27

Has the amount of time you've devoted to cooking and/or baking changed?
Yes! I actually make myself lunch every single day, and I've tried a million new recipes. I've definitely slowed in the amount of cooking that I was doing, but I am still cooking more than I was before quarantine.

Have you been spending more, less, or the same amount of money on food?

About equal but I'm spending more on groceries and less on takeout.

Has the amount that you cook versus order out shifted?

Yes! I used to eat lunch out every day and now I make my lunch every day. I get takeout maybe once a week now and before I would eat out more often at night, especially when we could go to restaurants (I miss Faro).

Have you diversified how and where you shop for groceries?

Yep! I never used to Instacart or go to Wegmans, but now I Instacart from Wegmans every two weeks, and I go to my local butcher like every few days.

Is there a food product that you have started to keep stocked in your kitchen?

Oat milk!!!! I used to just drink an espresso in the morning and have most of my coffee at work, but I had to get that Oatly Barista Blend for home. Also sandwich materials like bread, turkey, and cheese.

Is there a kitchen tool that you purchased that you now use regularly?

I've actually used my food processor to make pesto a few times, and it's just been sitting in my kitchen for six months (it was a present). I also started using a milk frother like every day (but it's my parents' that I stole so I didn't buy it).

Have you been eating at different times of the day?

Mmmm, mostly the same, but I do eat breakfast more regularly.

Have you changed what you regularly eat for certain meals?

Yes! I eat a sandwich for lunch basically every day because its easier to make. I used to eat a salad literally every day but I bought it so I didn't have to have all the ingredients.

Have your comfort snacks changed?

I eat Triscuits all day and I never really did that before. Whoops.
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Michelle, 28

Has the amount of time you've devoted to cooking and/or baking changed?

YES — I have to feed myself and safeguard my account in case of layoffs or pandemic-related emergencies. I have had to adjust my food spending and find easy, affordable, multi-purpose recipes (like homemade pesto for pasta, wraps, chicken, etc.)

Have you been spending more, less, or the same amount of money on food?

It was initially more (one month I had four-figure food charges on my credit card — blame Daily Harvest and a really bad cycle. The cravings were unreal), but it has leveled out. It is roughly the same as it was before COVID.

Has the amount that you cook versus order out shifted?

Yes, I ordered out a lot in the beginning to support my local neighbourhood restaurants and because I was still unsure of my cooking skills. With time, my skills have improved and I feel less pressure to order food as a means to keep local restaurants afloat — they can now accept some dine-in patrons, so are somewhat returning to their 'normal' patronage.

Have you diversified how and where you shop for groceries?

I had never used food delivery service or meal kit services — I'm very much not an early adopter of trends. But the pandemic forced my hand. Instacart, AmazonFresh, and Daily Harvest are my allies in this quarantine now.

Is there a food product that you have started to keep stocked in your kitchen?

Peanut butter (great spoon snack when I am stressed), cannellini beans (for my veggie soup!), and pappardelle pasta (for the homemade pesto).

Is there a kitchen tool that you purchased that you now use regularly?

Rubber jar opener!

Have you been eating at different times of the day?

Nope — I'm still a late-night snacker.

Have you changed what you regularly eat for certain meals?

Now that I have a rhythm, it's been the same.

Have your comfort snacks changed?

Cherries are in season and a pretty dope rediscovery.
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Mary Frances, 29

Has the amount of time you've devoted to cooking and/or baking changed?

I cook and eat the same five meals. Apparently.

Have you been spending more, less, or the same amount of money on food?

The same, I'd say. Eating out less but blackout buying more fancy cheese.

Has the amount that you cook versus order out shifted?

I do think my recipes have gotten simpler. I haven't taken comfort in cooking new recipes during quarantine.

Have you diversified how and where you shop for groceries?

Yes! I started going to smaller, independent grocers. I didn't want to be in the big stores with dozens of people. (And what better way to celebrate local business owners?)

Is there a food product that you have started to keep stocked in your kitchen?

HOT CHEETOS. Period.

Is there a kitchen tool that you purchased that you now use regularly?

I bought a mandolin. I'm afraid of losing my fingertips so it's collecting dust.

Have you been eating at different times of the day?

I'm working from home so I'll usually only have a coffee for breakfast, and eat lunch around 1 or 2pm.

Have you changed what you regularly eat for certain meals?

Nope!

Have your comfort snacks changed?

Hot Cheetos or nada.
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Kathleen, 29

Has the amount of time you've devoted to cooking and/or baking changed?
Yes, it has fluctuated throughout quarantine, sometimes less, sometimes more. I have started cooking breakfast more as I am working from home.

Have you been spending more, less, or the same amount of money on food?

About the same, maybe a bit more?

Has the amount that you cook versus order out shifted?

Yes, it shifts depending on if I have been inspired or if have time to cook more. I have been trying to order from restaurants outside of my immediate neighbourhood, which I hadn't done before quarantine.

Have you diversified how and where you shop for groceries?

No, I have been more limited in where I shop. I just go to the local grocery store within walking distance from my apartment.

Is there a food product that you have started to keep stocked in your kitchen?

Yes, I have gone through some phases of different snacks, such as rice cakes. Some new things I keep stocked now are oat milk for smoothies and loose popcorn to cook on the stove as a snack.

Is there a kitchen tool that you purchased that you now use regularly?

I didn't purchase a new kitchen tool, but our toaster died a few months into quarantine. I happened to find a toaster oven on the curb and was able to clean it up and bring it into our kitchen. We have also been using our electric kettle all of quarantine to make hot tea and iced tea.

Have you been eating at different times of the day?

Overall, my eating times haven't changed too much.

Have you changed what you regularly eat for certain meals?

Yes, I have started cooking more for breakfast, like oatmeal in the spring and smoothies in the summer. I also have been more limited in the ingredients I can get as I am only going to the local grocery store. I haven't been able to go to Trader Joe's or more specialty stores to get different ingredients. In addition, for most of quarantine, I was going to the grocery store once a week at most, so I had to get ingredients that would last, instead of buying more perishable ingredients the day of like I usually do.

Have your comfort snacks changed?

Yes, I have rediscovered popcorn and have learned to cook it on the stove. I have also been adding more flavours to it, such as cinnamon sugar, spices, or hot sauce.
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Sue, 29

Has the amount of time you've devoted to cooking and/or baking changed?

0 to 100, literally! I never cooked before — and now I spend all my free time planning, prepping, and cooking all the recipes I never had time to before. Especially exploring traditional (and non-traditional) Vietnamese recipes from my mom.

Have you been spending more, less, or the same amount of money on food?

I want to say less, but it's definitely the same. I think it's because I buy groceries based on recipes. Since I can't eat at my favourite restaurants or new restaurants, I really want to maintain that quality in my home cooking.

Has the amount that you cook versus order out shifted?

I went from eating out or takeout/delivery for every single meal, every single day to cooking every meal with one delivery or takeout night a week — usually Friday night.

Have you diversified how and where you shop for groceries?

Yes! Before I would pretty much only shop at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's but I've found solace in a local, small Asian-owned market with some great, harder to find ingredients like lemongrass. I've pretty much stopped shopping at Whole Foods/TJ's and now order a majority of ingredients through Food Kick/FreshDirect, meats through Porter Road or Crowd Cow, and some more unique produce through Natoora — which delivers directly from farms.

Is there a food product that you have started to keep stocked in your kitchen?

Coconut milk for super easy curries, fish sauce for all my Vietnamese recipes, big bags of white rice, kale because it lasts SO long, cannelloni beans for easy lunches, and frozen cauliflower pizza crusts for when I just can't do much else.

Is there a kitchen tool that you purchased that you now use regularly?

More baking sheets and pans! And grill sheet for the grill in my backyard. I have been utilising my grill A LOT to batch prep meats and vegetables.

Have you been eating at different times of the day?

I almost never eat breakfast and unfortunately, I'm getting into the habit of eating a big lunch at like 3pm because the days of endless Zoom calls get out of hand.

Have you changed what you regularly eat for certain meals?

I don't eat a Sweetgreen salad four times a week for lunch anymore, and I'm making more grain bowls at home.

Have your comfort snacks changed?

ICE CREAM ALL THE TIME! Ample Hills Ooey Gooey Butter Cake is in my freezer at all times.

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