Healthy foods to stock in your kitchen during the coronavirus pandemic

As the coronavirus continues to spread and more people are being advised to practice social distancing and to self-isolate and stay home for extended periods of time, it’s important not to panic. However, it has been advised that we all make some preparations for having the essentials on hand, like food and medicine. Here’s how to prepare and stock your kitchen for the coronavirus pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised those at higher risk of getting very sick from coronavirus (COVID-19) to stock up on household items and groceries in preparation for staying at home for an extended period of time. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommends everyone have two weeks’ worth of supplies on hand.  

As a dietitian, I may not be able to help you with the medicine part, but I’m definitely able to assist you with the food part. Here are some tips for how to stock and prepare your kitchen in the event that you’ll have to self-isolate for an extended period of time.

Tips for stocking your kitchen during the coronavirus pandemic

Take inventory

First, take note of what you already have in your kitchen.Most of us probably don’t need to go buy two weeks’ worth of groceries right now because you likely already have some foods in your pantry and freezer.

Use fresh foods first

If you’ve got fresh, perishable food on hand, use it first. Consider incorporating fresh items like produce, yogurt, chicken, etc. into your next meals.

Prioritize Nutritious Foods

As you make your grocery list, prioritize food items that pack a nutritional punch. If you end up having to spend extended periods of time in your home or apartment, it makes sense to assume you’ll probably eat more than you normally do out of boredom. Choose foods with protein and fiber to help fill you up. Consider vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant-rich foods that help support your immune system (read more here).

Make a grocery list with foods you actually eat and like

Make sure the items on your list are foods you actually eat. No need to stock up on ten cans of black beans – a food you don’t even like – just because your neighbor did. It’s likely that at least some of these items will still be on your pantry shelves once this has passed, so you don’t want to be left with a bunch of random food items you’re never going to use.

Choose items with a long shelf-life

Most canned and packaged pantry items will have a long shelf life. Freezer items are also great to stock up on during this time.

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    Healthy Grocery List for Coronavirus Pandemic

    In need of ideas? Here’s a list of nutrient-dense, long-lasting food items to consider adding to your grocery list.

    Frozen Foods

    Frozen foods are often cheaper than fresh and last a lot longer. Although all frozen foods can fit in a balanced diet, some fit a little better than others.

    • Frozen fruit: Frozen fruits and veggies get an underserved, bad reputation. They’re typically as, and in some cases more, nutritious than their fresh counterparts. Bags of frozen mixed fruit, like this Wyman’s Triple Berry Mix, are great for adding to smoothies.
    • Frozen veggies: Frozen vegetables are super nutritious and versatile. Consider a frozen Stir-Fry Blend for an easy stir-fry meal or frozen Riced Cauliflower to make an easy cauliflower fried rice. You can also get frozen chopped spinach or kale to add to your morning smoothie.
    • Frozen proteins: Frozen turkey or chicken burgers can be a great lean-protein source that’s easy to heat up in a skillet, no grill necessary. You can also find frozen turkey and chicken breakfast sausage links and patties to serve as a protein-rich option for breakfast. And don’t forget about frozen seafood. Frozen shrimp are perfect for throwing into a cauliflower fried rice or easy weeknight stir-fry recipe.
    • Toaster waffles: I typically don’t recommend relying on toaster waffles as a breakfast option, as they’re often sugar- and calorie-dense. However, Birch Bender’s Paleo toaster waffles have more protein and fiber than other brands and fit gluten-free dietary needs.
    • Frozen meals: Like frozen produce, ready-made, microwaveable meals often get a bad rap. They used to be notoriously high in sodium and often fat, but now you can find healthy options. Some of my favorites include Healthy Choice Power Bowls (some are now made with cauliflower rice), Amy’s Light & Lean meals, and Sweet Earth Burritos.
    • Frozen pizza: Not all frozen pizzas are created equal. It definitely doesn’t hurt to have a Digiorno in the freezer in case of emergencies. But for a more nutritious frozen pizza option, I opt for Caulipower Pizzas, which are now sold at most grocery stores and even Target.
    • Bread: Bread typically isn’t found in the freezer; however, you can make your bread loaf last longer by storing it there. There is one bread that’s always found in the freezer section, Food for Life Sprouted Bread – it’s one of the most nutrient-dense, added-sugar-free breads out there.
    • Frozen treats: If you’re going to be stuck at home for an extended period of time, it’s important not to deny yourself some treats and sweets! If you’re looking for a lighter treat that still delivers on taste and satisfaction, grab a box of Yasso Frozen Greek Yogurt Bars (which come in a variety of delicious flavors).

    Canned Goods

    Canned goods are inexpensive, convenient, and have a very long shelf life. However, they can be loaded with sodium and fat. Be sure to read the nutrition label and choose low-/reduced-sodium or no-salt-added varieties when possible.

    • Plant-based proteins: Now would be a great time to add more plant-based proteins to your diet, since many of them are shelf-stable. Canned black beans, chickpeas, and lentils make for an excellent fiber-rich protein source.
    • Canned seafood: The US Dietary Guidelines recommend that everyone get at least two meals of a variety of seafood each week. Adding canned or pouched fish like tuna or salmon to your grocery list is a great way to meet this recommendation. I recommend choosing varieties that are canned in water instead of oil.
    • Soups: Canned soup is an extremely convenient meal that can be nutrient dense and even hydrating. Chicken soup may offer anti-inflammatory benefits and even alleviate congestion. Choose water- or broth-based soups instead of cream-based ones to lower fat and calorie content. Also, look for reduced-sodium varieties, like this Amy’s Light in Sodium Lentil Vegetable Soup or this Pacific Foods Reduced-Sodium Chicken Noodle Soup.
    • Canned vegetables: Much like frozen vegetables, canned vegetables can have just as much nutritional value as fresh vegetables and can taste just as good, too. Plus, canned vegetables are super convenient and easy to incorporate into any recipes because they don’t necessarily have to be cooked. My favorites are canned diced tomatoes and canned corn (toss with some cooked quinoa and canned black beans for an easy southwest salad). 

    Other Pantry Items

    • Legume-based pastas: These pastas often have (at least) double the protein and fiber of regular pastas because they’re made from legumes, like chickpeas, black beans, lentils, and/or edamame. Try Explore Cuisine’s Black Bean Spaghetti, Tolerant’s Red Lentil Rotini, Barilla’s Chickpea Rotini, and Banza’s Chickpea Mac & Cheese. You can usually find at least one of these brands at your local grocery store.
    • Oats: Oats are a super versatile, fiber- and protein-rich food that can be cooked stovetop (or microwave), or be incorporated into a variety of recipes, like muffins, smoothies, overnight oats, and more.
    • Quinoa: Quinoa is another protein- and fiber-rich grain that serves as an excellent base for a variety of meals, like these burrito bowls. You can combine cooked quinoa with a variety of canned goods, like black beans, corn, and fire-roasted tomatoes, for an easy lunch or dinner. Check out this tutorial for how to make the perfect, fluffy quinoa.
    • Pancake mix: If you end up having to stay home during the week, you’ll likely have more time to make breakfast. Why not whip up a batch of delicious pancakes? My favorite brand is Birch Bender’s Paleo Pancake & Waffle Mix, because it’s got 5 grams fiber, 7 grams protein, and just 140 calories per 2 pancakes. Plus, you only need to add water to make the batter.
    • Jarred foods: Marinara sauce and salsa are great, long-lasting condiments that can be used to spice up any boring meal. Try topping a cooked frozen turkey burger with some salsa or tossing legume-based pasta with marinara sauce for an easy 2-ingredient meal. Be sure to look for unsweetened marinara sauce, like Rao’s or Victoria’s.
    • Nuts & nut butters: Nuts are rich in protein, fiber, and heart-healthy fats. You can eat nuts on their own as a snack or incorporate them into a DIY snack mix (with air-popped popcorn and freeze-dried fruit). As for nut butter, add it to a smoothie, spread it onto a piece of toast, or use it as a dipper for apple slices. Just be sure to choose unsweetened varieties.
    • Snack items: The possibilities for shelf-stable snack items are endless. Air-popped popcorn, jerky, almond flour crackers, and bars are just some of the snack items that will last in your pantry for at least month. Check out this article for more shelf-stable snack ideas.

    Longer-Lasting Perishables

    The items listed above are guaranteed to last the longest; however, there are some perishable items that typically last beyond a couple of weeks.

    • Eggs: Eggs generally last 3 to 5 weeks in the refrigerator. Store them on a shelf in the main body of the refrigerator instead or on the refrigerator door to maintain optimal freshness.
    • String cheese and shredded cheese: String cheese is a convenient and protein-rich snack that often lasts at least a month. Same goes for most shredded cheeses, which last even longer when stored in the freezer.
    • Fruits: Some fresh fruits last longer than others. Apples and citrus fruits, like lemons, limes, and oranges, usually last well beyond two weeks.
    • Vegetables: Potatoes of any kind (white, sweet, etc.), onions, and garlic last well beyond a month when stored correctly. Onions and garlic last longest when stored outside of the fridge, and potatoes last longest when stored at room temperature in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated area.

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