The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is officially a pandemic, and depending on where you live, you are either close to some burgeoning centers of disease or are anticipating cases emerging in the coming days. Although Texas is a little behind the likes of NY, as of Friday evening (3/20) Gov. Abbot is closing some non-essential businesses – not grocery stores, don’t panic – and advising people stay at home as much as possible.
As this happens, and things continue to change every day, I thought it might be a good time to talk about some basic pantry staples you should actually stock up on if you’ll be making that grocery run in the next few days.
First and foremost, it’s important to make a distinction between panic shopping and being prepared. Yes, you should have enough food and supplies (including medications) on hand to last two weeks in case of quarantine.
No, you do not need to be hoarding toilet paper (and certainly not fighting people for it in Costco). Preparing for a possible coronavirus quarantine comes down to this: smartly stocking and organizing your fridge, freezer, and pantry to keep everyone at home fed and well in the event you need to spend a few weeks inside.
But what you buy is just as important as how much of it you buy. While it is tempting to load your pantry full of guilty pleasure treats like SpaghettiOs and marshmallow fluff, (and if those foods bring you a certain amount of emotional comfort in an uncertain world, feel free to indulge responsibly), but try to focus on a certain basic amount of nutritional value in your choices. A healthier you means a healthier immune system.
Here are some suggestions that nutrionists and doctors appprove of:
Dried or Canned Beans
Beans and legumes are shelf-stable and pack protein and fiber, which keep you full. Fill your cart with canned beans like black beans, chickpeas, and kidney beans, which you can use to make a bean salad, chili, or vegetable quesadillas.
Dried beans require only an overnight soak, and then can be used for everything from puréed dips to soups or stews. Store dried beans in airtight containers in a cool, dry pantry for up to a year. Get recipes for dried beans and legumes.
Rice and Grains
Rice and whole grains — like quinoa, farro, barley, wheatberries, or bulgur — can be cooked in bulk and used throughout the week in salads and soups,
Food cultures for centuries have relied on the magical combination of rice and beans to provide complete protein, dietary fiber, and an inexpensive way to keep bellies full. Rice and whole grains can be stored in airtight containers in a cool, dry pantry for up to 6 months or in the freezer for up to a year. Whole grains that are ground will deteriorate more quickly and can be stored 1 to 3 months in a cool pantry or up to 6 months in the freezer.
Garlic and Onions
Be sure to buy some aromatics like onions, garlic, ginger, and chili peppers to help amp up flavor — all will last a long time in your fridge or in a cool spot in your home, and all are the building blocks of flavor.
Any simple preparation will be much improved with the addition of one or more of these intensely flavored additions. Onions and garlic can be stored in a cool, dry, dark spot with good ventilation. Do not store them in plastic bags as the humidity will cause them to mold or rot.
Root Vegetables and Hardy Vegetables
In addition to those frozen options, certain root and hardy vegetables can last a long time and will give you much needed roughage.
Good choices include potatoes of all varieties, whole carrots (baby carrots do not have the same shelf life), whole squash, whole heads of cabbage, whole heads of celery, Brussels sprouts and other sturdy vegetables.
Potatoes and other root vegetables can be stored in a cool, dry, dark spot with good ventilation. Carrots with green tops removed and stored in an open plastic bag can last in the fridge for a couple of weeks. Wrap heads of celery in aluminum foil and store them in the fridge; Brussels sprouts on their stems will last longer than loose sprouts, and should be stored in a plastic bag in the fridge. Get vegetable recipes.
Stocks and Broths
These are usually available in several different forms; cans or cartons, or space-saving bouillon pastes or cubes. Look for low-sodium versions, since you can adjust the salt and other flavoring to your own taste. Use them to make soups, stews, and risottos, or as a flavor booster for sauces.
Canned or Jarred Fish
You may not have access to fresh meat and chicken, so look for alternative proteins like canned fish. Canned tuna and canned salmon can turn into salads and croquettes, and sardines pack a flavorful punch as an appetizer on crackers, or even as an ingredient in pasta sauces or rice dishes. It is a great source of zinc, which is known to boost your immunity and can be a good addition to a heart-healthy diet.
Corn and peas are always great canned vegetables to have on hand, but canned tomatoes are the hero of your pantry, no matter what the circumstance. Often more flavorful and tender than fresh tomatoes, even in season, they are the start to everything from soups to pasta sauces.
Buy a variety of tomatoes: diced, crushed, and whole. An easy dish is a can of diced tomatoes sautéed with some onion, garlic and peppers with eggs poached in it for a simple take on a shashuka.
It is a great idea to have some canned soups on hand for quick and easy meals. Condensed soups will save pantry room, but ready-to-eat soups mean you don’t have to add water you might want to keep for another purpose.
Jarred Pasta Sauce
A jar of pasta sauce is just some cooked pasta or rice away from a meal, but is also a perfectly seasoned base for other recipes. Add chicken stock and chopped vegetables to make a minestrone, cook rice in it for a rich tomato rice side dish, or use as a topper for baked potatoes.
Dried pasta is one of the best things you can keep on hand for helping to maintain a healthy and varied diet. It is shelf-stable, comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, and there is a version for every diet, including gluten free and vegan.
Once cooked, it can be served hot or cold, as an ingredient in a bigger dish or as the star of the show and is a chameleon that holds up all sorts of flavors, so you can experiment with everything from classic Italian to pan-Asian cuisines.
Crackers, Crispbreads, Rice Cakes
Essential snacking material. Keep them in airtight containers so they don’t go stale.
Cooking Oil and Condiments
Where would you be without mayonnaise, mustard, relish, vinegar, hot sauce, soy sauce and on and on? Some can be stored in the pantry after opening and some go into the fridge; Be sure to read the labels.
Salt, Pepper, Spices
Figure out what you use most of the time and keep it on hand.
You’ll have some time on your hands to bake, so load up the larder with all-purpose and bread flours, be sure your baking powder and baking soda are up to date, and get some packaged yeast if baking bread is on your to-do list. For long-term storage, keep flour in airtight containers in the freezer. Eggs will be great for both meals and for baking projects, so get plenty, they last a long time in the fridge.
Whether it is a quick boost of protein for a snack, a topper for another dish bringing some crunch and flavor to the party, or an ingredient in baking, having a variety of nuts around will be an important addition to your pantry. Almonds, walnuts, and peanuts are all great choices, but don’t be afraid to go exotic with cashews or hazelnuts. Fresh nuts are loaded with natural oils that deteriorate with time, so store them in the fridge or freezer.
Peanut butter is a natural to have on hand, and is a good source of easy protein, especially for kids. But don’t overlook other nut butters like almond butter, which makes for a great change, or tahini sesame paste, which can be a wonderful addition to homemade hummus or salad dressings.
One thing that can be difficult if you aren’t used to working from home or hosting impromptu homeschooling is the constant access to snacks. In combination with boredom, having lots of sweets and junk foods on hand can create a constant temptation. Pretzels and popcorn are healthier choices than chips for salty snacking, and think about squares of dark chocolate or fruit leathers instead of candy.
Shelf-stable milk, whether true dairy or a plant-based milk, is a good thing to have on hand in place of refrigerated, although once you open a package, you have to refrigerate it. Be sure to read and follow package directions. Evaporated milk in cans can be a good substitute for half and half in your coffee.
If you are a regular at your local coffee or tea house, make sure you have supplies at home for your daily dose.
Frozen Vegetables: Without frequent grocery store access, you can still prepare for a well-rounded diet with plenty of vegetables by taking advantage of the frozen food aisle. From basic frozens like broccoli or peas, to beta-carotene rich carrots and squashes, and homemade staples like frozen chopped onion, having a well-stocked freezer will help ensure that you maintain a diet rich in plants.
Since you will likely be missing fresh lettuces after your first few days, be sure to have a variety of leafy greens as well, like frozen spinach, kale, or collards. Get recipes using frozen vegetables.
Some fruits freeze better than others, but having frozen fruit means you are just a blender away from smoothies; and there is no better time to learn how to make homemade pies and jam than when you are home all day.
The best breads to freeze are whole unsliced loaves of sourdough, loaves with fruit and nuts, and English Muffins or bagels for sandwiches and breakfast. Specialty breads like Ezekiel bread are stored in the freezer anyway.
When properly wrapped, hard and aged cheeses like Parmesan, Cheddar and Swiss will last a good while in your fridge, as will cured meats like ham, bacon, and salami.
Eggs store very well in the fridge and can be used for every meal of the day. From your breakfast scramble, to your lunchtime quiche, to your fried rice at dinnertime, and many baking projects in between. A great source of protein, you can keep some raw for cooking and some hard-boiled for snacks or easy egg salad.
Apples and Citrus
Fresh fruit can be complicated, but apples and citrus both last a long time when refrigerated, and if you need that back-up canned fruit, go for the ones packed in 100% juice and not syrup; or no-sugar-added all-natural apple sauce. Dried fruits are terrific for snacks and fiber.
These dairy protein powerhouses last up to a month in the fridge, and make for great breakfasts or snacks, and can even be used as ingredients in other dishes like pancakes or sauces.
If you are going to be baking and cooking, you do not want to run out of butter! Look for the brands that make half-sticks, and store in the freezer, taking out what you need as you need it.
The Rest of the House
Medicines: Sure, not part of your pantry, but worth reiterating so you don’t forget it. You should ensure that you have a two-week supply of any medications or supplements that you take on a regular basis.
If you have children, stock up on essentials like diapers, formula, and other supplies; including some canned and bottled products like Pediasure and Pedialyte in case they get sick and need easy protein sources or electrolyte replacement. And have your basic preferred flu and cold relief meds on hand in case you get a regular seasonal illness. Keep things organized in a central spot so that they are easy to find.
Finally, recognize that if you do get stuck at home for a couple of weeks, you will probably not be as active as you would normally be, so unless you have at-home exercise equipment, be mindful of your daily intake and be wary of boredom snacking. Try and be sure you are moving as much as you can, walking around, stretching or doing yoga, dancing around the room, or trying an app or online exercise video can help reduce stress and keep you healthy.