Healthy Eating

Healthy & Affordable Food Tips For The Days Of Quarantine

Shelter-in-place has forced over 100 million Americans to stay at home for the next few weeks. While inconvenient in many ways, the quarantine is an opportunity to re-evaluate existing food habits, and possibly improve them. This includes budgeting, planning, shopping, cooking, and storing food. Here are some helpful tips to get you through the quarantine:

Use What You Already Have at Home

Before buying anything new, take stock of what’s already laying around in the dark corners of your fridge, freezer, pantry, garage, etc. You may be surprised to find frozen meats or canned food that are still good to go as well as spices, cooking accessories like foil and other goodies. Based off of what you have, there are plenty of dishes that you can prepare without spending a dime. There are many easy recipes that require just 3 to 5 ingredients, so base your meals on food you already have at home.

Plan Ahead

Now that you know what you have, think about the next 2 weeks. Write down the meals you plan on eating and the number of people to prepare for. If you need inspiration, the web is bursting with recipe and meal plan sites. It’s important to be realistic regarding what people in your household will eat. If no one in your family likes broccoli, it will be hard to make them start during a lockdown and don’t forget about adding healthy snacks to your plan (such as apple slices with peanut butter, string cheese, cherry tomatoes, nuts, seeds or trail mix). Now, based on your meal plan, you can start preparing your shopping list.

Shopping List of Essentials

Some foods will last longer than others, so it’s always a good idea to have them around and many of them are affordable staples, especially if purchased in bulk:

  • canned fish (such as tuna, salmon or sardines)
  • canned soups and chilis
  • brown rice
  • lentils and dry beans
  • unsalted nuts and seeds
  • peanut butter
  • oatmeal
  • pet food (don’t forget your fur babies)

Other staples require refrigeration or cool storage, but can last for weeks:

  • potatoes
  • some fresh fruits and vegetables
  • chicken and pork cuts
  • frozen vegetables
  • milk or non-dairy alternative
  • eggs

After making your shopping list, make sure you stick with it. It’s very tempting to buy stuff you see or smell when in the grocery store (one advantage of social distancing is that many people are now shopping online. This should make sticking to your list easier).

The Shopping Trip

If possible, shop in familiar stores. When we are stressed, it makes life easier if you know your way around. Keep the virus from spreading by doing your shopping quickly and staying away from others. If possible, use latex gloves and don’t forget to show your appreciation to the grocery store staff. Sales and discounts are very tempting, but unless a product is on your list, try to resist temptations. If you decide to buy something on sale, make it a replacement for something else you were planning to buy.

Online shopping is viable and worth the extra few dollars if you want to reduce your risk of coming in contact with too many people (the downside is that you can’t pick your own fruits and vegetables). After your shopping, save your list to see how well you did with your plan. It will help you optimize next week’s list.

Minimize Waste

Although it is tempting to stock up in times of uncertainty, make sure you don’t buy things that will go straight from your fridge or pantry to the trash. Try to prepare meals that can be refrigerated or frozen, then reheated (save time and effort by preparing big batches of soups, stews, chilis, pasta dishes). However, don’t make the batches too big. Eating the same meal over and over for more than a few days will eventually lead to tossing out the remaining portions. Also, when fruits get to the over-ripe stage, they may still be a good candidate for smoothies or jams. Vegetables that are beyond their peak may still be good for soups or sauces.

The Advantages of Dry Beans & Legumes

Beans are a great, low cost source of protein that make a wonderful addition to any dish or stand out on their own. Ounce per ounce, beans are one of the healthiest foods out there. They are high in fiber and are the most recommended food for many health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. Buy them dry, soak them overnight (depending on size) and cook them according to package directions. Other legumes, such as lentils and smaller beans can be cooked without soaking. Try mixing beans into pasta dishes, adding them to soups, using them in stir-fry dishes or using them anywhere you might use meat.

Affordable Sources of Fruits & Vegetables

Fresh produce is an important part of any diet, lockdown or not. If you eat seasonally and choose from store specials, you can keep your costs low. Don’t rule out any veggies, like beets or carrots from being the star in your dish. When you see a good price, buy a bit more according to expected lifespan. Vegetables such as sweet potato and onion can last a long time; fruits like oranges can last a week or even two. However, fruits like bananas and apples aren’t good candidates for longer storage and frozen produce contains virtually the same amount of nutrients and can come in handy in the off season.

Oatmeal Every Morning

Oats are one of the healthiest breakfast options out there. You don’t have to buy fancy flavored oats or instant packets. Choose plain oats and dish out portions yourself. Save money by adding your own flavoring such as maple syrup or honey, cinnamon, frozen or fresh berries, banana slices, chopped almonds, flax or chia seeds. Mix it up every day based on what you have on hand. Buying oats from bulk bins will help keep costs down because the oats will be prepared in boiling water or milk, no need to worry about contamination.

Eggs For More Than Just Breakfast

Eggs are a tasty, healthy, and affordable source of protein. They are a great way to start your day but can also find a good place at the dinner table. Try adding hard boiled eggs to salads or mixing some into your stir-fry or bulk up the nutrition of eggs by scrambling them with greens like kale or broccoli.

The Whole Bird

Learn how to utilize a whole chicken (which is often much cheaper than specific parts). Cut up the whole chicken yourself (you can use the bones to make a hearty stock to use for soups) and cook how you would like. Shredded dark meat is great for casseroles while sliced breast is good for sandwiches. No matter how you cook chicken, buying the whole chicken is usually cheaper and is great for multiple meals.

These are definitely uncertain times we are all in, so I hope these tips help you with your food budgeting, planning, shopping, cooking and storing during the quarantine. Just remember, this is temporary (hopefully this will end soon) and we will get through this! I hope you and your family are well and safe and until next time be happy, healthy and beautiful.

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