May 06, 2020 11:00 AM

For many, the hardship of the coronavirus pandemic means more limited food choices. Grocery store employees are working hard to keep the shelves stocked, but items have been missing. Additionally, taking fewer shopping trips to lower disease risk leaves us with less fresh food at home.

No matter the limitations, you can still nourish yourself and your family with the foods in your pantry. These meals may look different than what you’re used to and that’s okay. During these trying times, you can make the most of what you have. Cooking can also be a great way to lower stress. Here’s how to make the most of the food you have on hand.

Use all produce: fresh, frozen, and canned.

  • Eat fresh fruits and vegetables first so they don’t spoil.
  • Frozen produce is preserved at peak ripeness, which locks in all of the important nutrients. Keep a variety of frozen fruits and vegetables in your freezer.
  • Canned fruits and vegetables have a long shelf life and are a great staple. If you can, rinse these foods before you eat them to lower the sodium added during the canning process.

Have protein at every meal.

  • All meals should include protein to help keep you full and satisfied and to preserve muscle mass. Consider keeping lean proteins available: dry or canned beans; lentils; frozen chicken, fish, and ground turkey; canned tuna; and nut butters.
  • Beans and lentils are low-cost, plant-based proteins full of fiber. They don’t take up much space and are easy to store. Lentils make a great substitute for ground beef in recipe­s—like in this lentil taco. If you’re new to cooking lentils, try swapping them for half of the meat in recipes to start. This will also help your stores of meat last longer.

Eat grains.

  • Grains are a great source of energy for the body and are fairly inexpensive. Try to eat mostly whole grains. These include brown rice, oats, quinoa, and whole wheat pasta.
  • Pair grains with protein and a vegetable to make a balanced meal.

Plan snacks.

  • More time at home can lead to more snacking. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Snacks are a great way to curb your appetite before the next meal, keep your energy levels up, and help balance blood sugar. For people in cancer treatment, eating snacks throughout the day can help you maintain your weight.
  • Plan your snacks to avoid mindless eating. Try pairing a fruit, vegetable, or whole grain with a lean protein:
    • Cottage cheese with tomatoes or fruit
    • Pita pizza (pita, marinara sauce, and cheese)
    • Hummus with vegetables
    • String cheese with air-popped popcorn
    • English muffin with peanut butter
    • Yogurt Banana Pops

Be social and creative.

As we learn to shop and cook in a different way, remember that food is still an important way to come together and connect with family and friends. Here are some ways to celebrate the joy of food:

  • Host a virtual dinner party with family and friends.
  • Plan a 10-minute break to enjoy a snack, coffee, or a tea with a friend—virtually.
  • Get your family into the kitchen to cook together. See what recipes you can invent. The random assortment in your pantry is an opportunity to get creative.

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