Ever since the coronavirus has come creeping in and taken over our world, long gone is the luxury of not planning ahead or making last-minute trips to the grocery store. For the last five weeks we have been in isolation, lock-down, quarantine, not even sure what to call it anymore, and if we want to stay safe and healthy, we need to abide to social distancing measures and that includes limiting grocery trips to no more than once a week, ideally even longer. Yet we find ourselves at home, cooking 3 meals a day, 7 days a week!
For many years, health experts such as us registered dietitians have stretched the importance of eating home cooked meals more often for better health. In fact, not only is it better for your health, but also cheaper than eating out, a great way to help us connect with our family and invite our kids into the kitchen. Could this be one of the silver linings of this coronavirus? Is it teaching us to rediscover the importance of cooking and eating at home in fostering better family and food habits?
In this time of crisis healthy eating is more important than ever and having a well stocked kitchen is fundamental. Consequently, it is imperative to have healthful, nutrient-rich, but also versatile foods on hand that can last for an extended period of time. Here are some of my best tips for keeping a well stocked kitchen during this time, and always! As you will see below, your pantry and freezer should be your best friends. I haven’t included ingredients like seasonings, baking and cooking essentials, the focus here is more ingredients that can be the base for preparing the many meals, snacks and other goodies you may be concocting for yourself and your family in order to stay healthy and well nourished during this pandemic.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables contain essential and immunity boosting vitamins and minerals, as well as disease-fighting antioxidants. Don’t be fearful of buying and eating fresh produce, but you will want to load up on the longer lasting and hardier perishables when buying fresh.
Bananas, apples, citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits, clementines), even mangoes keep well and for longer periods of time than most fruits. I even buy my mangoes and bananas a little less ripened than I normally would so that I can enjoy them for longer.
Carrots, celery, bell peppers, beets, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, avocados, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, leeks, squash, cabbage, these vegetables all have longer shelf lives and many don’t even need to be stored in the fridge.
Research has proven that frozen fruits and vegetables can have just as many, if not more, vitamins and minerals than their fresh counterparts and they are often less expensive.
Frozen berries, peaches, pineapple and other fruits can be used to make smoothies, a quick healthy sauce to serve on top of pancakes or French bread, pureed into a healthy frozen dessert or “nice” cream, as a topping for plain yogurt or oatmeal, or used for baking recipe activity with the kids.
I also always have a bag of mixed frozen vegetables on hand and use them when I don’t feel like cutting, cleaning and preparing my fresh veggies and I want to whip up a quick meal, or when my fresh vegetables have run out. You can add some to a pan, straight from the freezer and let them warm up with a little oil or butter and seasonings and serve them as a side dish, or simply add some to any dish to liven it up or give it a nutritional boost. I often use these when preparing a quick lunch, I’ll add some to my broth, sauce, omelet or any grain dish.
Of course, canned tomatoes are a must, but even though I always prone making things yourself, a good quality jarred tomato sauce can definitely come in handy when making 3 meals a day, everyday! Add it to your list for good measure, you will thank me later.
Here you want to emphasize on whole grains as they help maintain the health of our digestive system, reduce inflammation in the body and boost our immune system.
Pasta is a great go-to, you can use it as a main meal or side dish, and nowadays there are so many different types of pasta on the market that all of our different needs can easily be met. For maximum nutrition I like add whole grain and legume-based pasta options to my list. The legume-based ones are a great choice because they provide fiber, protein and other essential nutrients all in one ingredient. They’re also the perfect solution on days when I feel less in the mood for cooking. All I need to do is boil some chickpea or lentil pasta, toss in a quick tomato sauce and I have a quick and easy balanced meal. I also love having whole grain options around, along with regular pasta for my more conventional dishes.
Other whole grains like oats and quinoa are versatile and can be used in sweet or savory recipes. They are great for breakfast, as a snack (overnight oats or quinoa puddings), for baking, as a side dish, to make homemade granola, and even to process quickly into flour when regular flour runs out, and believe me it will! And oats can even be easily used to make oat milk!
Breads can be kept for months in the freezer. I have a few varieties of whole grain breads, bagels, tortillas that I stock up on at all times. I love using the tortillas as a base for making a quick last-minute pizza and they make amazing healthy chips, simply cut them up into triangles, lightly oil and season them, then bake!
Crackers are basic ingredients that come in handy for a quick snack or on busy nights, but also if someone has an upset stomach. Choose whole grain crackers, maybe even some that have seeds or other super ingredients like beets, curcuma, sweet potatoes, they add flavor, color and nutrients. You can use these as is for a healthy snack by pairing a few with hummus, cheese, nut or seed butters, avocado slices or Trinity’s favorite, anchovies. You can also crumble them into a crunchy and nutritious coating for breading fish or chicken.
Popcorn kernels, why not? Much healthier than chips or microwavable popcorn options, they provide fiber and antioxidants, and popping them on the stove then dressing them with your favorite seasonings makes for a fun activity to do alone or with the kids for Netflix binge watching movie nights or afternoons! I love mine drizzled with olive or camelina oil, Parmesan cheese and truffle powder…sooo good!
Having enough protein in our diet not only helps fight fatigue, but is vital in keeping our immune system functioning optimally as it helps build antibodies and fight off viral and bacterial infections. In addition to the meats, poultry and fish that I keep safely and for long-term use in my freezer, I also always make sure to keep these foods on hand.
Always have extra cartons of shelf-stable milk on hand. You are spending more time indoors which may translate to more coffees (I'm feeling you moms and dads), more baking, more snacks, maybe even venturing out into making homemade yogurt? Nowadays anything is possible! Having ultra-pasteurized cow’s, soy, almond, oat or any other milk alternative option on hand is great because you will odds are run out of the fresh one within a few days, especially if you have kids at home too! Make sure to choose the unsweetened versions of the milk alternatives. If you absolutely prefer to buy only fresh milk, know that you can also freeze it and use later. Just make sure to remove it from its original container as the milk will expand upon freezing, and blend well once thawed as the texture will have changed and separated a little.
Fresh eggs last about 3 weeks in the refrigerator, especially if you store them at the back of a shelf rather than in the door. You can also make them last longer by storing them in the freezer: simply crack your eggs and either freeze the yolks and whites separately, or mix well and then freeze. Eggs are an incredible source of high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals and have many uses in the kitchen. They can be boiled, fried, turned into an omelet, pancake, waffle, made into a sauce, mayonnaise, a filling for sandwiches, used for baking, and I love to scramble them into a soup or pasta dish as a quick and healthy source of protein.
Legumes are must in my pantry and should be in yours too. They not only keep incredibly well (dry or canned), but they are incredibly affordable, convenient and versatile. Soups, dips, stews, brownies, burgers, pasta, salads, roasted, you literally can turn legumes into anything! They are filled with fiber, protein, immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory nutrients. Plus, what better time to get into the habit of including more plant-based proteins to our diet than right now! Edamame, tofu and tempeh are also great plant-based options to have in the freezer which can be turned into a healthy dish in no time.
Canned or jarred fish is truly another meal savior! Salmon, sardines, tuna, anchovies are must-have staples in my home. You can add some to a salad, pasta dish, snack platter, in sandwiches, you can even use canned fish to make fish cakes! As I have mentioned in a previous article, omega 3 fats are necessary for healthy immune function, but also have an impact on brain and mental health, which let’s face it, we may need a little help with boosting our mood during this coronavirus situation and quarantine.
Seeds like hemp, chia and flax seeds add protein, fiber and healthy omega fats to your cereal, nut butter or avocado toast, yogurt, salad and baked goods. In fact, chia and flax seeds may also come in handy when you’ve run out of eggs for that banana bread or muffin recipe you’ve been meaning to try!
For more tips on essential kitchen ingredients, cooking quick and healthy meals, and some of my favorite brands click on the link below:
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