What to Buy and How to Use It!
With the fear of Coronavirus causing runs on grocery stores, food supplies being low, store shelves emptying minutes after they are restocked, enormous lines at Costco and other big retailers, chances are you are thinking a lot about what foods you should have on hand.
What if you need to quarantine? How will you feed your family if your kids are out of school for several weeks, and still get other stuff done? What if you have limited space to store food?
I am hearing your concerns, and have been taking all of your questions, concerns, and feedback into consideration, and have put this post together to share my tips with you for what foods to stock up on, and the most practical and economical ways to feed your family for an extended period of time at home.
This post contains tips for:
- What food to stock up on for Coronavirus. Even if you have limited space to store food. Including what to skip.
- Low cost options so your out of pocket expenses are not crazy, and you can afford to stock up!
- How to reduce waste by focusing on items with long shelf lives, so if you do not need them right away they will keep.
- Ideas for using your pantry staples to feed your family.
- How to get kids involved in cooking and using what you stock up on, making social distancing easier and productive.
What food to stock up on for Coronavirus quarantine
Before I want to give you an exact list of what you should be stocking, you should take time to make your own list of what your family likes to eat, what foods you couldn’t live without, and what items are nice, but unnecessary. For example, if you need coffee in the morning to survive, that would be on your list of “can’t live without”. But if you prefer fresh fruit to canned, this is an area that can be negotiated in order to stock up in a way that is sensible and cost effective.
A complete list of recommended foods can be found here: What Foods To Stock
Stocking up, for me, means having what you need, not hoarding, being greedy or selfish, or taking everything there is and leaving none for others. Keep in mind when shopping that other families and individuals also need to stock their cupboards, and be courteous. None of us planned for the ripple effect the coronavirus has had on our lives, and we can all do our part in the community to take care of ourselves without taking away from others.
So whether you agree with stocking up on food or not, it is important to think about what you and your family will need for the foreseeable future, and plan for the possibility of limited supply, or quarantine.
In order to help you gain peace of mind, I am sharing what I have learned are the best foods to buy in bulk, and stock up on, and how to make pantry staples taste great with limited ingredients.
The NUMBER ONE TIP I can offer is: Look for items you already enjoy, that offer long shelf life (meaning they can be frozen, or kept in a pantry), and buy those!
What if I have a limited budget?
For many, finances are a concern, you may not have the extra money to go and buy a bunch of extra, especially if you aren’t working or your income has been impacted by Coronavirus.
My advice is to be smart about what you stock up on.
Chances are if you were to be quarantined, or the supplies were to run low, you would be more inconvenienced than actually starve. And you would need to get creative with how you get a meal on the table. Having pantry staples that can be used in many ways is cost effective and convenient.
If cost is an issue, buy the items that are low cost and have a high nutritional impact, (beans, lentils, etc.) BUT are things you will still want to eat.
Do not waste money on food you do not know how to prepare, or won’t eat.
- Dried beans, and lentils for example, are far more cost effective than canned beans, and can easily be prepared in an instant pot, or by soaking and boiling. They are high in fiber, protein, and more. They make an excellent low cost way of creating meals, and you can be really creative with beans. From classics like chili, to vegetarian burritos, and amazing soups.
- Pastas are another low cost option that are versatile, and filling. Pair those with canned tomatoes, and some spices, and the possibilities are endless. And this is far more cost effective than pre-made meals, expensive cheeses etc. Try pasta in Sloppy Joe Casserole, Baked Spaghetti, Baked Ziti, or with a Homemade Spaghetti Sauce. Don’t be fussy about what type of pasta the recipe calls for, just use what you have.
- Rice is not just a great side, for rice pilaf, or risotto. You can use it many ways for complete meals: use odds and ends veggies to make fried rice, or add it to egg roll wrappers for a fun dinner, or to soups like this wild rice and chicken, to make them more filling.
- Flour is another great thing to have, as it can be made into pasta, bread, cookies, etc. Again, far cheaper than buying any of those things on their own.
- Oats are an excellent option to store as they can be used for breakfast as they are, in granola, muffins, in cookies, and other desserts etc. Plus they are super healthy.
- Eggs are a low cost protein option, and they stay good in the fridge for a few weeks, plus you can freeze them! They are great for a stand alone meal, like egg cups, or as a way to add protein to any meal or snack, in soup, in baking, etc. This is an item I would definitely recommend having a good supply of.
- Spices help things taste better and are usually low cost for big impact. Make sure you have your favorites on hand.
What if I have limited space to stock food?
During the Coronavirus, water supplies have not been threatened, which means, you can buy things like dry beans, stock powders or bouillon cubes, rather than boxes or cartons of stock. Not only does this often save you money, but tons and tons of space.
- Powdered milk instead of fresh milk, one average sized bag is usually equivalent to about 40 quarts, and takes up WAY less room.
- Dried beans instead of canned
- Bouillon cubes, pastes, or powder instead of cartons of liquid stock. Better Than Bouillon is my favorite brand.
- Concentrates for things like juices, tomatoes, etc.
How to Substitute:
- Dry Beans for Canned: Make your dry beans and reconstitute them, then swap them equally. Plan on 1/2 cup dry beans = 1 can (15 ounces) of canned beans.
- Stock Cubes or Powder for Liquid Broth: Dissolve 1 cube or 1 tsp of powder in 1 cup boiling water = 1 cup liquid stock. Find Chicken Powder here. And Beef Stock Powder here.
Your freezer space should be used for items that can’t be canned or dried. Like meats. I mean, I guess they can be both canned and dried, but most people MUCH prefer them fresh or frozen.
Plan your freezer space with forethought, putting the everyday items close to the front, and the items you may not need immediately toward the back. For example, if your kids love Frozen Chicken Nuggets, and you know you will be making those on the daily, don’t bury them behind a roast.
Speaking of roasts, when buying meats, skip the larger cuts for now, and instead buy the already cut down pieces, like legs and thighs versus a whole chicken. It takes up less space and can feed the same amount of people.
If your frozen items come in a bag and a box, get rid of the box. It isn’t needed, and will give you more freezer space for additional food.
When stocking a freezer with limited space, leave it for things that can’t be made from scratch. For example, don’t fill it with frozen burritos and toaster waffles, instead make your toaster waffles from shelf stable ingredients, and leave the freezer for the meats.
How to Reduce Food Waste
“But I don’t want to stock up and then waste a bunch of food later.” I have been hearing this a lot from you guys, and I want to say, I am not promoting food waste, and would never encourage you to stock up on food items that you can’t use, or that will spoil before you get them used.
As of right now, authorities are telling us to plan on 2 weeks of quarantine time, possibly longer. After speaking with the managers of my local grocery stores, they have assured me that their supply is not currently at risk, their issues have been keeping the shelves stocked, and trucks on time with the huge rise in demand.
This means that you do not need a year supply of groceries. I would plan on 3 weeks of food on average. This will help you have peace of mind if you are quarantined, or if your stores are slow to restock on the necessities.
Do not over-buy perishable items. Instead, look for the shelf-stable, or freezer-friendly versions of these items. Or learn how to properly freeze and preserve the fresh items you buy.
The next thing to keep in mind, is you may need to be a little flexible when cooking. For example, if you are making this One Bowl Banana Bread, but don’t have enough fresh bananas, you can substitute some applesauce. Find creative ways to use what you have, and make substitutions on your favorite recipes.
Best tips for Reducing Waste:
- Only buy foods you like and eat already.
- Start with a 2-3 week supply. Not more.
- Be flexible with your ingredients so you use what you have, even if it is not a perfect match for the recipe.
Ideas for using your pantry staples
Ok, now let’s talk about what to do with the food you stock:
- Milk: Besides the obvious of drinking, cereal, etc. Milk is a great way to make dishes creamier. And powdered milk can be easily substituted in recipes like this amazing Baked Potato Soup.
- Cream: Cream is a lovely thing to have on hand for recipes, but also for adding to coffee, hot chocolate, and even soda or tea. It is a great way to make a soup rich and creamy, and we especially love it in this baked creamed corn which uses pantry staples like canned corn and eggs, garlic powder, and onion powder.
- Butter: Lemon Butter ChickenWhat isn’t butter good for is a better question? We love it on everything, especially this . But use it to sauté vegetables, in baking recipes and more.
- Shredded cheese: You can never have too much cheese, this is a big stock up item because it is amazing in everything. Add it to Broccoli Cheese Soup (full of staples), or Egg Bites, or Casseroles made with dried pasta, or use some chicken stock and flour with the cheese to make a lovely Easy Cheese Sauce Used 4 Ways
- Ground Beef: Ground beef can be a main, a way to add some protein to something else, or even be made into patties for burgers. We love it in Taco Soup. On top of salads. On top of potatoes. In pasta dishes like beef stroganoff or chili mac. It can be used so many fun ways.
- Chicken Breast:When it comes to chicken breast the world is your oyster. You can bread it and bake chicken to add to just about anything. Make your favorite Asian inspired dish like Orange Chicken or Kung Pao Chicken, take it to the Mediterranean with Greek Chicken, or how about something Latin? Mexican Shredded Chicken which is great in burritos, tacos, salads, taquitos, quesadillas, and more.
- Bacon: Such an amazing way to add flavor. Bacon is a staple, not just to grace your breakfast table, but because it can elevate other dishes. Wrap green beans or asparagus in it for a decadent side dish. Add it to a cheese sauce for a great way to dress baked potatoes (which store awesome and should definitely be part of your stock up). Add it to a healthy salad while you use up fresh stuff, add it to canned corn to make a yummy side, or top a creamy soup with it.
- Herbs and Spices:Add to everything.
- Oil: Cook with it, make your own marinades and dressings.
- Vinegar: Great for things likes Salad Dressings but also great for washing fruit, adding flavor, and is awesome in stir fry sauces and the like.
- Dried Pasta, Rice, Etc.:The possibilities are endless. If you love rice noodles you can use them for Stir Fry Rice Noodles with the protein of your choice. Regular semolina pasta, try this great Crockpot Lasagna, or rice, how about this Easy Mexican Rice Skillet.
- Flour: Flour is as universal as butter. You can use it coat meats, when baking chocolate cake (a must have comfort food), to make your own bread, like this Crock Pot Bread or this Honey Whole Wheat Bread, or even this Simple Banana Bread.
- Cornstarch: Cornstarch can be used in sauces, as a thickener. For example, it is a key ingredient in Egg Drop Soup, which has minimal ingredients and can be made in just 10 minutes.
- Sweeteners: Sugar is great for baking, sauces, and even to stir into your coffee, oatmeal etc. Check out this homemade teriyaki sauce, which uses brown sugar!
- Baking powder: Use it in all/most your baking needs
- Baking soda: Use it for baking.
- Yeast: Our favorite way to use yeast are these 1 hour cinnamon rolls, which are full of pantry staples and nothing wild. Plus they are the perfect comfort food for uncertain times. Yeast is also great in pizza dough, breads, rolls, etc.
- Soy Sauce: A staple in cooking any type of Asian themed dish, and a great way to add lots of flavor. We particularly love soy sauce in Chicken Satay, which also has a nice peanut sauce you can make from jarred peanut butter.
- Mirin: This is like the easy to find version of Chinese cooking wine. And it should be used in most asian dishes. It adds great flavor, and a little goes a long way. I especially love it in these Bibimbap bowls, which use fresh stuff, but also a surprising amount of pantry staples.
- Sesame Oil: Do you have a package of chicken drumsticks? Sesame oil! So much flavor. Want an incredible fried rice? Sesame oil. Need a little extra flavor in a marinade? Sesame oil. It is your friend. Just don’t use too much.
- Onions and Garlic: I love both so much! You can add them just about anything for extra flavor. They make the perfect base for just about everything from roasts, soups, stews, chilis, stir fries, sauces, and more. Just use them in everything. Plus garlic is like a natural virus fighter!
- Carrots: Roast your carrots, it is the best and you can do sweet or savory! Or add them to things like Rotisserie Chicken Noodle Soup, or Crock Pot Chicken Pot Pie.
- Sweet Potatoes: Sweet potatoes are an excellent addition to just about anything. Roast them, mash them, add them to stir fry, breakfast hash, burritos, tacos,
- Cabbage: Cabbage is not just for coleslaw and corned beef, it is an amazing addition to any salad, adding crunch. Any stir fry. Soups. It lasts forever in the fridge, and is the perfect way to add crunch to tacos, and more.
- Whatever Fruits You LOVE most: Eat fresh or use in a fruit salad. Our favorite is this Summer Fruit Salad.
- Frozen Peppers: Great for stir fry, omelettes, egg cups, fajitas. You name it, they work great. Anything a fresh pepper can go in, except as a garnish or taco topper, the frozen can too! Our favorite,
- Frozen Peas: We toss these in everything to add a little color. Even Mac and Cheese! Especially Mac and Cheese. But one of our favorite pantry staple foods with frozen peas is Chicken Sausage and Peas Alfredo Pesto Skillet Pasta
- Frozen Ginger: Ginger is a staple in most of my Asian dishes. The sauces and marinades need it. And it lasts forever in the freezer. So buy it in a tube, or grate and freeze it yourself, then toss it in with some veggies, soy sauce, brown sugar, and sesame oil with some protein and you have an amazing stir-fry! This beef stir fry is a great one!
- Frozen Corn: Corn Casserole. I don’t think I need to say more. Hahah Just Kidding. But seriously, it is so good. But you can use frozen corn in anything you want a little sweetness in. Great in soups, great in salads, amazing in salsa! I love corn. This Corn Salad is always a hit over here and would be great for using up odds and ends fresh stuff.
- Frozen Carrots: Frozen carrots are great in things like fried rice and soup. Try them in this Creamy Meatball Soup for a quick and delicious dinner.
- Frozen Broccoli: Throw it in stir-fry, use it for sheet pan beef and broccoli, steam it, roast it, toss it in soups, or pasta dishes. Frozen broccoli is great in Chicken Broccoli Casserole.
- Frozen Spinach: A fantastic addition to soups, stews, pastas, smoothies, and more. Honestly, add it to almost any hot dish, or fruit smoothie for extra iron, and folate.
- Frozen Fruits: Great for adding to oatmeal, smoothies, muffins, quick breads, and sauces/jams.
- Canned Vegetables and Fruit: Sub into any recipe that calls for the fresh thing.
- Dried Fruit: Dried fruits are great for snacking, or using in baking and breads. Put them on an acai bowl or oatmeal for added nutrients.
- Peanut Butter or other Nut Butters: Get for making sandwiches, adding to smoothies and shakes, stirring into oatmeal, dipping apples into, and more! Like No Bake Cookies.
- Oats: Oatmeal is versatile, and delicious. Breakfast, dessert, dinner, you name it, oats can be used to make it. A few canisters can go a long way. We particularly love this recipe for Banana Peanut Butter Oat Muffins.
- Tortillas (Corn and Flour): Use them for a quick and easy meal. Add cheese for a quesadilla, dip it in cinnamon and sugar for a dessert. Add tomato sauce and cheese for a thin crust pizza. Layer it with sauce, cheese, and peppers for a casserole, wrap it around scrambled eggs and meat for a wrap, etc. Or load it with shredded chicken for some amazing chicken tacos.
- Nuts: Make your own nut milk! Or nut butters. Add to salads. Use on a snack board.
- Crackers: They can be eaten as a snack, used for breading meats, as a carrier for dips, a filler for meatloaf, etc. Great to have on hand.
How to get kids involved
Social distancing and quarantine can be especially difficult on kids. Particularly if they are used to spending the day surrounded by their peers at school. Getting them involved in your stock up and using your foods can help to alleviate boredom, teach them new skills, and make for an overall more pleasant experience. This will also help free up some time for you to get things done if you have extra helpers and hands in the kitchen. Maybe.
As someone who has made a huge effort to teach my kids to cook, and involve them in every single meal we have as a family, I have years of experience to help me make some recommendations for how you can get your kids involved:
- If you haven’t stocked up yet, ask for their input about what they would like to see in your food stores. I know my kids were most concerned with having a few fun treats. Like chocolate chips so we could bake Chocolate Chip Cookies. But they also asked for things like Elbow macaroni so we could make Mac and Cheese. Pineapple juice for their morning smoothies. And their favorite kinds of granola bars.
By letting them be part of the process, they become more invested in the outcome, and more excited about what they get to eat. I let them choose their favorite canned and frozen veggies and fruits.
- Browse for recipes together. One of the best tricks I have up my sleeve is letting my kids pick the recipes. We look through cookbooks, websites, and the piles of hand written family recipes that have been passed down, to select which recipes they want to make. For example, my youngest son regularly makes German Pancakes for breakfast for us, and he loves that he got to pick out the recipe for it. You don’t have to make a whole meal plan, this could be done each day. But meal planning adds structure, and can help kids get used to the idea of what they will be eating, so it feels less foreign to them day of. This is especially important if you are making things they aren’t used to, like homemade bread instead of store bought. Also, when kids get to help choose what recipes you will make, they are more likely to eat it, and get excited about helping to make it.
- Assign age-appropriate tasks to your kids during the preparation. For example, my 7 year old can scoop flour into the measuring cup for classic waffles, while my 15 year old can operate the waffle iron. Giving them something to wash, cut, stir, flip, mix, measure, etc. helps them feel invested in the meal. And teaches them the fundamentals of cooking. Also by assigning only one task, that they are capable of accomplishing, it becomes a win rather than a frustration. Build on that until they have the skill set to complete an entire recipe on their own. A few great places to start are breakfast foods like Crepes, German Pancake Minis, and French Toast.
- Give them their own kitchen tools. Make it special. Once I attended a brand trip, and they gifted me some spatulas and other kitchen gadgets. When I returned home my kids asked if I brought them anything, and since I had never made it to any kind of gift shop, I gave them the various tools. To this day my oldest daughter still won’t let anyone else use her spatula, and always grabs it out when asked to scrape the batter out of a mixing bowl, etc. Having their own tools helps them feel empowered. And it makes it more fun for them, and gives them ownership.
- Let them taste as you go, and offer input on what the recipe needs. Just don’t be surprised if they say “sugar”!
Age Appropriate Cooking Tasks For Kids
2-3 year olds:
- Adding ingredients: With adult supervision, hand them pre-filled and measured ingredients to let them dump them into the mixing bowl.
- Microwaving: They love to push buttons, so get them pushing ones that aren’t yours, by letting them defrost veggies or other frozen items in the microwave.
- Mashing: This is a great job for a tot. Make some banana bread, and put the banana in a plastic bowl and give your toddler a large fork. They will mash it while you measure out the other ingredients. You can do the same thing with an avocado for guacamole. (Tip: Avocados freeze well for things like guacamole)
- Squeezing: Let them squeeze the lemon or lime juice for recipes that need it like marinades.
3-5 year olds:
- Whisking: Whipping up some cookies? Let your little one whisk the dry ingredients together.
- Taste testing: What kid doesn’t want to lick the batter? But kids can do more than eat peanut butter frosting off a whisk. Ask them to taste your next tortellini soup and give their thoughts on the dish, does it need more salt? How about some pepper?
- Cutting shapes: They are too young for knives, but cookie cutters are really fun. They can use them on more than cookies too! How about heart shaped cheese for a grilled cheese sandwich? Or heart shaped bread for that matter!
- Washing: Pop them on a stool in front of the sink and let them wash produce, rinse beans and lentils, and of course wash their hands after tasting.
6-8 year olds:
- Meal planning: Let them look through cook books and websites with you to come up with your weekly meal plan.
- Shopping List: Let them practice their spelling and writing skills by compiling your shopping list.
- Doing the math: Double a recipe and let them do the math.
- Measuring: This age loves to measure anything and everything, so go ahead and make those breadsticks to go with your spaghetti, and let them measure out the flour.
- Stirring: With supervision, especially over a hot stove, let them stir the ingredients in as you add them.
9-11 year olds:
- Any of it: Really, if you have been building their skills, this age of kid can do just about anything in the kitchen with some supervision. Let them chop strawberries, or open cans of vegetables, or brown ground beef, or operate the hand mixer. Just show them how, and let them soar!
Ok, hopefully this will be a big help for you getting through these uncertain times. Stay safe. Help others. And let me know if I can help you with anything else.