Stocking Up on Healthy, Flavorful Meals During Coronavirus Quarantine

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March 23, 2020


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As the coronavirus continues to spread, so does the possibility of quarantining in some of the hardest-hit areas by the virus.  If you are stuck at home, it doesn’t mean you don’t have to live on soup and more soup.  A little advance planning (as stores continue to restock) can help keep you and your family eating well for weeks.

The general rule of thumb is to try to stock up (not stockpile) on two weeks of food supplies. You’re going to want to clear out your old food, stock up on the essentials, and make extra meal servings from any items that you have as leftovers.

So first things first: assess what you already have in stock and get rid of the things you don’t need.  When it comes to expiration dates, read carefully and assess whether the food is safe to eat. Check food for visible signs of spoilage; smell it, and even taste a small amount (if need be).  Packaged foods (pasta, crackers, and grains) will be safe past the ‘best by’ date, although they may eventually become stale or develop an “off flavor.” You’ll know when you open the package if the food has lost quality. The exception is canned goods that are damaged, dented, or hiss when you open them.  Those items should be discarded right away.

Next, come up with a game plan. Planning is helpful so that you know what you have and what you’ll be making.  You are going to want to use of whatever fresh foods you have before turning to your reserves of frozen and shelf-stable foods.  The key is to not let anything to go to waste.  But this will also be helpful to know what to buy when you are at the store.

When stocking up, focus on the things that you and your household enjoy eating. But also think about the time and energy that is needed to prepare these meals. Having items on hand to prepare for a more complex meal won’t be helpful if you are feeling sick or just don’t have the energy to cook. Using ready-made items like minute rice is completely okay.

Here is a basic grocery checklist for items to have on hand for your fridge, freezer, and pantry.

Pantry Items

Beans: Canned/dried beans or chickpeas, lentils – Having a variety of beans on-hand is nice because they’re so versatile for recipes from tacos and quesadillas to chili, dips, and even a bean “burger.”

Canned tuna/salmon/sardines: These are a great source of protein that happen to be shelf-stable and quite versatile.  From sandwiches to salads, to pasta and casseroles, the options for including protein at your meals is here.

Canned Produce: Tomatoes are No. 1 on my list. Look for items that have “no added salt” or that have “50 percent less sodium.” And if those are not options, remember you can always rinse before eating and that will remove a little of the sodium.

Fresh Produce: Think of items that have the best longevity (that’s not to say you can’t have your normal greens or berries, but those do tend to spoil easier) – but for that longer period of time you’ll want to have potatoes – sweet and regular, onions, squashes, garlic – on hand and ready to go!  Some fruits that tend to last longer are oranges, apples, and pears.

Nuts/Nut Butters: Nuts are a great go-to for energy when you need it.  Whether you’re grabbing a handful of nuts for a snack or if you’re making a peanut sauce for your meal, or simply having a nut butter toast in the morning. Nuts are a great source of healthy fats, protein, and other nutrients.

Grains: Rice, pasta, oats, and quinoa: Think of your grains as the base for any recipe/meal you’re preparing.  Have some brown rice made for the week, add in your protein and whatever veggie you have on hand, maybe with that peanut sauce as a topping. Healthy, balanced meal. Oats are also nice to have as a breakfast in the morning, you can even turn them into a flour and make pancakes, or even homemade energy bites. Having an assortment of grains on hand allows for you to have some variety and not feel as though you’re eating the same thing over and over.

Vegetable/Chicken Broth: Choose a low-sodium or no added salt option and add this to tomatoes and beans to make a chili or soup. And if you have leftover vegetable scraps you could make a homemade version.  Again, keep in mind to use what you have and only do what you’re able to do.

UHT Milks: Shelf-stable milk is fantastic to have on hand.  Use it in your morning coffee, your oatmeal or even as a beverage to have on hand.

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: Have this heart-healthy fat on hand to cook up almost anything, and even make dips or salad dressings.

Bread: Have a loaf on hand that’s full of satiating fiber.  And even though I have this listed as a pantry item, bread is great to freeze and have on hand when you need it!

Freezer Essentials

Fruits/Vegetables: This may sound obvious, but it is good to have a few of these items on hand.  While the debate is always there, fresh, frozen, or canned, the truth is they’re all nutritious. Here are a few that are great frozen!  Add to your morning oatmeal, or your grain bowl, they’re easy in a pinch.

  • Broccoli, peas, corn, green beans, spinach, mixed vegetables, edamame, kale
  • Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cherries, peaches

Protein: Grocery stores always have protein – chicken, seafood, ground meats – on sale.  And that’s the time to buy extra to freeze.  Protein is great to have at every meal – casseroles, tacos, or even a sheet-pan dinner!  You can also purchase veggie burgers here as a quick-go-to meal and even have some of the alternative plant-based proteins on the market.  Keep in mind, easy-to-use and having a few staple items on hand to have for those “emergency” type meals.

Fridge Essentials

Condiments: These will simply allow you to add flavor to your food and once again allow you to have a bit of variety.  I always have low-sodium soy sauce, miso, ketchup, mustard, and some mayo on hand.

Eggs – talk about a versatile food.  From simply scrambled eggs, to boiled eggs, or even a frittata, eggs are a great source of protein at sometimes a fraction of the cost of other proteins.  Definite one to have on hand…if you can find them!

Hydrate: Last but not least, don’t forget to drink plenty of water. Most experts recommend having a gallon of clean water per day for every person (and pet) in your household.  Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

Keep in mind that the best defense against any virus is to practice thorough hand-washing – which is a great habit to keep up all year long.

About the author:

Amy Kimberlain is a registered dietitian and Certified Diabetes Education and Care Specialist with Community Health at Baptist Health South Florida. Ms. Kimberlain has 20 years of experience in nutrition and dietetics. Active in the community, Amy has contributed her expertise to various public health initiatives, including childhood obesity, diabetes and family health. Ms. Kimberlain is an academy media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. She earned bachelor’s degrees in nutrition and Spanish from Florida State University. She is also an avid runner and registered yoga teacher.

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