Healthy foods to stockpile for a quarantine

By Liz Meszaros
Published March 27, 2020

Key Takeaways

The nationwide shutdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have made us all stop and wonder what we need to do to be prepared. And with many states closing down restaurants, bars, and other nonessential businesses (like fast-food joints), many of us have probably had to rethink our food supply—where and how are we going to eat? The answer is, at home, of course.

The key to surviving this and any other quarantine is to have a well-stocked kitchen and pantry. This doesn’t mean you should go out and buy up all the bread and milk and Hostess HoHos you can find. It means having a kitchen that is stocked with healthy options—in the fridge, freezer, and pantry—that will give you the most flexibility and diversity when you have to eat in with your family.

To do so, it’s important to think healthy when you’re stocking up. Maintaining your health, and your family’s health, is of utmost importance now. With that in mind, here are some of the healthier options you should make sure to keep in your kitchen during these difficult and infectious times.

In the fridge

Eggs are rich in antioxidants, protein, lutein, zeaxanthin, and egg yolks are a primary source of choline. Eggs are important to have on hand as they can be used for any meal of the day and are needed in most baked goods. Hard boiled eggs are also a very healthy snack. Eggs can last in the fridge 3-5 weeks and can even last up to 1 year in the freezer.

Cheeses can be a healthy snack, when eaten in moderation, providing calcium, protein, fatty acids, and other vitamins and minerals. You can also add cheeses to any meal of the day for an extra dollop of protein and flavor. Unopened cheeses can last 2-4 months in the fridge, especially hard, aged cheeses like Parmesan, cheddar, and Swiss. Opened cheeses last about 6 weeks.

Most fruits contain many essential nutrients, including potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin C, and folate. . Stock up on apples, citrus fruits, grapes, and berries when you can and keep them in the fridge, as this adds to their shelf life. (But keep bananas on the counter, not in the fridge.) Berries are the most perishable and will last for about a week, at most. But—an important tip—don’t leave fruits in plastic bags, which can cause moisture to build up on the outside of the fruits and lead to quicker spoilage.

Yogurt and cottage cheese are great sources of calcium and protein and will last up to a month in the fridge. They’re great for anytime snacks, breakfasts, and can be added to other dishes for extra smoothness and tang, especially in sauces.

In the freezer

Frozen vegetables can round out your meal choices and keep your diet rich in plants. Most vegetables are low in calories but high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. In general, freezing vegetables actually helps them retain their nutrient content. However, if they’re stored for more than a year, some nutrients can begin to break down. Another tip: Leafy greens may not be easy to find in the grocery stores, so be sure to keep some frozen spinach, collard greens, and kale on hand, too. 

Frozen fruits are a great source of the essential vitamins, including vitamin C, vitamin K, and some of the B vitamins. They’re are easy to whip up into smoothies, compotes, or to use as a topping for yogurts. Try to have a few varieties on hand as healthy options to salty or sugary snacks. And, since you may be doing some baking, frozen fruits are great in pies and crumbles as well. Remember that they’re frozen at peak ripeness, so they retain all their vitamins, just like fresh fruits. 

Frozen bread is always a good thing to keep on hand.  Most breads are fortified with calcium, protein, vitamins, and other minerals. Look for breads that are rich in fiber, like 100% whole wheat, oat, flax, and 100% sprouted rye bread. You never know when that next grocery run will be, or if there will be any bread left on the shelves. Even bagels and English muffins can be frozen. But, never put them in the fridge, where they’ll get stale. To thaw, leave bread out at room temperature or put it in the oven at the lowest setting. For the best results, try to stick to breads that are not sliced. 

In the pantry

Stocks and broths are popular now. Although broths are lower in calories, stocks contain more nutrients, and collagen, marrow, amino acids, and minerals. Both come in cans or cartons, but the most space-conserving option is bouillon cubes (or paste). Make sure you go for low-sodium and MSG-free stocks and broths, and use them when cooking anything, from soups to sides, for a great boost of flavor. 

Spices, including salt and pepper are full of healthy compounds, and can fight inflammation and reduce oxidative damage because they are all rich in phytochemicals, and are essential for cooking. Make sure to stockpile the spices you use most. It goes without saying that spices can last for a couple of years, so no need to worry about perishability. But you do need to worry about what your cooking will taste like without them, so be sure to stock up. Spices 

Aromatics like garlic, onion, ginger, and chili peppers each boasts its own unique set of health benefits. For example, garlic may reduce the risk of gastric and colorectal cancers, while ginger is rich in antioxidants. All will last a long time in cool, dry places or in your fridge. Aromatics—with their intense flavors—are the building blocks of cooking. Although they’re small, these ingredients all offer many research-proven health benefits. 

Rice and grains are important sources of B vitamins (thiamine, niacin, and riboflavin) and iron, and other nutrients. Both can be stored in a cool, dry pantry for up to 6 months or in the freezer for up to 1 year. So adaptable, rice and whole grains like quinoa, barley, and farro can be used in many ways—as side dishes, main courses, and in soups or salads. Just remember that grains that have been ground will not last as long as whole grains (1-3 months in a cool, dry place or up to 6 months frozen).

Pastas--especially whole-grain pastas--are rich in fiber and micronutrients, manganese, and selenium. Another plus is that manufacturers are now making pasta variations to fit nearly any diet—think gluten free and vegan—as well giving us almost endless choices of supercharged, healthy options, like omega-3 enriched pasta, spinach pasta, chick pea pasta, and so on. Pastas are shelf-stable and make for quick and healthy meals. Hot or cold, pastas are absolutely versatile—they can take just about any flavoring choice you choose, from classic Italian to pan-Asian. 

Snacks will be in big demand with everyone home. Your job is to stock up with healthier choices, like pretzels and popcorn, for example, instead of the standard chips. Always having large quantities of junk food at home can make for constant temptation. Opt for healthier snacking choices.

Here are a few more items to have on hand for your pantry: shelf stable milk, coffee/teas, canned vegetables, canned soups, jarred pasta sauce, crackers, rice cakes, dried/canned beans, canned/jarred fish, root and hardy vegetables, baking supplies, cooking oils, and condiments.

This is when the rubber meets the road, America. Remember, staying healthy is of paramount importance now. Keeping these healthy staples on hand will feed you through the quarantine and keep your body and immune system strong. Also remember: Being well stocked doesn’t mean going out and buying up a whole shelf of bread or multiple gallon jugs of milk. Being well-stocked means your choices are carefully considered and quantities rational. Be prepared, be safe, and be well.

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