In the wake of school closures, movement restrictions and social distancing to help stop the spread of COVID-19, families have significantly adapted their daily schedules to manage work, school work and health, fitness and play, all while staying at home. In this blog post, we talk to Paula Geraghty, nutritionist and wife of champion jockey Barry Geraghty, about how she is managing at home during these unprecedented times.
Can you tell us a little bit about you, Barry and your family?
We have three kids, Siofra 14, Orla eight and Rian who is four and a (very important!) half. I trained in Naturopathy, Acupuncture and Nutrition and I try to bring all these elements into my practice. My passion would be to teach children and teenagers simple ways to support their own physical, emotional and mental health. I have trained in a fantastic seven step programme for children and young adults to help them find ways they can be the best that they can be. It’s all about greater self-awareness, finding your individual strengths, movement, affirmations and meditation.
What was a typical weekday for your family before COVID-19 and how have you adjusted?
Like so many others before COVID-19, our life was a busy one. We have three different school drop-offs and lots of after school activities. Barry would generally be racing or riding in England four days a week and maybe home Saturday night or Sunday night for racing in Ireland. He also has a farm here with young horses to look after. I would work part-time in a clinic in Dunshaughlin and like so many, we struggle to get the balance right between running around and enjoying some down time.
Again, like everyone else, we are finding this a challenging time for so many reasons. It probably took Barry longer to adjust than me because his job involves high adrenaline levels so he can sometimes find it harder to switch off. We are trying to stay grounded in ourselves and hopefully the kids will take a lead from us.
How are you dealing with home school and work from home? Do you find it important to include structure in the children's daily lives?
Well Barry is kept busy with farming work and young horses at home. I am not seeing new clients but I have contact with some old and current clients. At the minute stress and fear bring up a lot of digestive complaints for people. With regards to structure and home schooling, we are keeping a loose structure, being mindful that we don't put any extra pressure on ourselves or the children at this time. I think a lot of children nowadays struggle to entertain themselves as there is never a dull moment in their lives, so I don't think we should try and fill every hour of this time that they are off. This is a good time for them to really dig deep and see what brings them joy in their lives without all the coming and going. Maybe find joy in reading, cooking, colouring, music. This of course applies to adults too.
As a nutritionist, you know healthy food is paramount at a time like this. What are your recommendations for families?
Choose foods that support you right now, both your energy levels and your mental health. Planning is the best way to succeed at this. Take ten minutes before you shop to sit and plan your three meals and snacks each day for the week. Also watch your language when it comes to food; don't beat yourself up for not sticking to the plan and don't say things like I was bad at the weekend or I was bad today because I had a slice of cake or maybe the whole cake - that still doesn't make you a bad person. Words are powerful and one I like to use is choose: “I choose to eat this beautiful meal full of colour that will nourish and support my body” rather than “I have to eat this way”. Also remember to hydrate. Being slightly dehydrated can increase cortisol, our stress hormone, in the body so it is so important to drink water throughout the day to stay calm and feel good.
What is your family daily food diary?
Breakfast: Before breakfast we would take Revive Active every morning along with some probiotics for gut health. Our breakfast would generally be protein based for Barry, such as poached eggs, rashers, spinach, avocado and porridge bread. Then it varies between porridge, fruit, chia seeds, overnight oats or pancakes and fruit at the weekends.
Lunch: Mainly wholemeal wraps or pittas filled with salad and hummus, or chicken salads, soups and leftover dinners.
Dinner: We aim for vegetables at every meal. Dinner is very varied from curries, stir fry, fish and vegetables, bolognese and homemade pizzas which the kids love to make and eat.
How do you stay fit and healthy at home while social distancing?
We try and walk most days within our 2km area. The kids will ride their bikes and sometimes ponies. Both Barry and I are loving all the classes online at the minute. Our local yoga teacher Deborah Ruddy has very kindly continued our class twice a week on Zoom, so that has been brilliant. We are also trying out Qi Gong with Joanne Faulkner some mornings at 8:30 and are loving her class too. We are taking ten minutes to meditate daily with apps like Insight Timer which is free and brilliant to start with, or doing a live meditation class with a fantastic practitioner called Joanne Callan who is offering a morning class with the proceeds going to women’s aid. There are so many amazing therapists and teachers doing great things to help people stay calm and feel safe through this difficult time.
Has Barry's training regime and calendar had to change dramatically?
Yes, racing has been cancelled for now.
Would you and your family have travelled with Barry to all race meets?
As Barry would ride mainly in England, we wouldn't get to travel over that often. We were all in Cheltenham for the November meeting and were due to bring the kids to Aintree for the Grand National this year which didn't go ahead. Of course, we love going to all the big festivals in Ireland and love traveling with Barry during the summer months. If the kids don’t have a basketball or football match on a Sunday, we try and go racing with him to a local track during the winter.
What is your favourite race meet, and have you a key memory of one of his fantastic victories that stands out?
It’s too hard to pick one race meet! For Barry of course it would be Cheltenham and I do love the excitement of that week too. The people in Aintree are fabulous, and I love Listowel for my local home meeting, Thurles racecourse for great racing and that unique family run atmosphere, Killarney and Galway for that summer party feel, Navan for facilities for the kids and Fairyhouse at Easter where we love meeting friends and is beside where we live. The list could go on and on.
Special victories are definitely days we had the kids with us. The day Barry won the Irish Grand National, the two girls were there to celebrate it. The day of Siofra’s confirmation, Barry was riding at Aintree, so I brought the kids from the church in Dunshaughlin to Liverpool for the race. Luckily everything went on time and we were there for the Grand National where Barry finished fourth. It was a great day and one the kids won't forget!
How did you celebrate Easter? Do you miss the larger family celebrations and what will you look forward to when all this passes?
We had a very quiet Easter, no racing so it was an Easter egg hunt in the morning, mass on Facebook from our local church, a walk after that, then Sunday lunch before crashing on the couch to watch Peter Rabbit with a lot of chocolate!!! I heard a butcher saying the Sunday roast is making a comeback and that is certainly true in our house. Yes, we miss the larger family celebrations and I think that's what we look forward to most when this passes. I am from Kerry so being able to go home and see my mother and family, and simply walk on the beach, are the things I'm really looking forward to most.
What are your recommendations for people?
The best advice I have been given and like to share with clients is to attend to your own oxygen mask first before attending to others. There are so many people working in stressful situations at this time both in and outside the home, that it has never been more important to make time for yourself first before giving to others. When we don't, that's when we run into problems. We need to find those ten minutes at least every day to do something that puts a smile on our face. Even if it means getting up earlier, it’s worth it.
Is there anything in your life that has changed for the better as a result of the current situation?
Thankfully we have not been directly affected. We are very mindful and thankful to those working on the front line, are thinking of people who have lost friends and family at this difficult time, and of those people who are sick and very fearful right now. In our lives, we are lucky that we are enjoying the slower pace of life again, the calmness and togetherness of family right now. Sunday was always a very busy day in our house but now is a day of rest again, like it was when we were children. I am very hopeful that people will look at their health and immunity differently after all this. I know a lot of friends who are asking for advice on taking supplements that before would not have been that way inclined. I hope that people will feel and see the need to support their physical, mental and emotional health better during and after this crisis.