So you think you’re in a pandemic? You are. And as someone who grew up learning how to plan for things like this, the Cool Mom Eats team asked me to put together a helpful guide to keeping the family fed (and possibly entertained) during a potential quarantine.
So let’s jump right in.
To panic-shop or not panic-shop. That is the question.
You don’t need to fill your entire garage with toilet paper, although I truly commend you on preparation, should you be on an extreme high-fiber diet.
There are some items you should keep stocked though — but not just for times of home quarantine. As a recovering prepper, I found my “apocalypse pantry” a life saver after a tumultuous divorce, for example. And hey, who doesn’t want bragging rights at being able to fashion an Apple Brown Betty or chocolate chip cookie bars while the world freaks out? Just me?
(It’s just me, isn’t it.)
In seriousness though, I want to focus on the items you really need. But first, let’s get the pantry you already have, organized and ready for stocking.
While this is not a comprehensive list of absolutely everything you’ll need in your pantry/kitchen to feed your family, I assure you it’s a very workable list for you to get started. And if this all blows over faster than we thought, hey, you just saved yourself trips to the market in April and May.
Pantry prep: Start with a thorough purge
Before you load up the minivan with instant soup mix, there are a few things you’ll want to do first.
– First, know that this is not about Pinterest. If you are stacking items on top of each other, or making the use of every crevice of a small pantry, do it! Your food does not have to be arranged by color to make a beautiful ombre rainbow.
You are feeding your family, not entering a Instagram competition.
–Clean your shelves. If it’s been a while, can’t hurt to take everything out, give those shelves a good wipe down, and start fresh.
–Search for expired jars of food. Botulism can be a real problem here, and that twist-off can of pickled beets from 2016 isn’t sparking joy. Toss. (Of course keep in mind expiration and use-by dates aren’t always 100% accurate. As for those almost-expired pickles or that box of healthy cereal you hopped your kids would eat but they never did…that’s up to you. First, read this helpful article on food and expiration dates from Consumer Reports.
I’m not a gambler, so my instinct is generally to toss, but CR reminds us that “Nonperishable items like grains and dried and canned goods can still be used well past their label dates.”
–Organize items with the oldest in front. New items go behind existing food. Rotation is the key to a successful apocalypse pantry! Note: I’m currently living in a small apartment and by following the precepts below and being diligent with keeping track of and using my storage, have a four-month supply for me and my teenage son and our pets. It’s doable, it just requires a little forethought and organization
And hey, face those labels out. Not for Pinterest — for you.
– Group food in a sensical way. If you’re used to just shoving the microwave popcorn in front of the soup cans, in front of the flour container, maybe reconsider that. Grouping your foods by category (baking, breakfast, snacks, and so on) makes it easier to know whaat you have and what you need.
Now let’s go shopping!
The staples you want to stock
Here are my recos:
–Rice, dried beans, cereals, sugar, all-purpose flour and pasta last forever and are top of my list. Cereals are not just breakfast food. Same goes for dried oats and/or grits. Pasta is the real workhorse here, because of one simple reason: calories. If you need to stretch pantry items for multiple meals, you want foods that can get you to your calorie requirements with as little volume as possible, and here pasta is the waist-thickener you want. If you end up with sick people in your house, they’ll need calories to fight their way back to health.
–Biscuit/pancake mix is terrific for all meals, and don’t believe the old wive’s tale of it turning deadly after expiration, unless you have a highly rare mold allergy. Just keep it tightly sealed.
–As far as protein, it’s good to have frozen meats, poultry, fish… more on that below.
– I’d also grab those big jars of peanut butter if you can have nut butters in your home. (I’ll leave it between your family members to come down on the chunky/creamy side.) Protein sources are needed, and not everyone can tolerate (or want) beans, beans, the magical fruit multiple meals a week.
A good selection of protein-packed snacks
– More protein ideas: Don’t overlook options like canned tuna, sardines, jerky, and if all else fails, protein powder.
–As for canned fruits and veggies, 20 cans each of canned fruits and vegetables are a great starting point for your apocalypse pantry. They can liven up meals in a big way. Fruit and veggie juices are also great additions, and coconut milk will make that 40-pound bag of rice way more enticing, come mealtime.
–Dried milk comes in handy, for cereal eaters and coffee drinkers alike. Also, get a couple of bulk containers of powdered drink mix like lemonade or fruit punch. The kids can get bored of plain water pretty fast.
–Jarred sauce isn’t a bad idea; get a variety of flavors. If you’re coming down with something and have people depending on you for meals who can’t cook themselves, you don’t want to spend all day at the stove stirring homemade sauce. While you’re at it, check your spice rack and make sure you have all the dried herbs you need to make that sauce more like homemade. (More below)
These are nerve-wracking times demanding thoughtful caution, but that doesn’t mean we have to eat like animals.
Stocking the freezer
Let’s turn some attention to the freezer.
I know we don’t all have massive storage in the kitchen; for what it’s worth, I have a small, apartment-sized fridge and have managed to stock 20 days worth of meat and veggies for myself and my son.
–Fresh berries and veggies like peas can be broken into smaller freezer bags and laid flat to freeze, and they stack wonderfully.
–If you’re a meat eater, load up on things that freeze well like chicken thighs and hearty cuts of beef and pork. Buy in bulk and break into portions to go in freezer bags. Plus, it’s easier to store and stack.
–Lord, be a ghost pepper on that raw chicken! I advise you season your raw meat with a marinade now and save time later. Plus, spices like jerk seasoning and other pepper-based spices are a preservative and inhibit microbial growth! You season your food not to replace proper cooking methodology, but also to enhance the flavor.
(And for the love of your gut, chicken sushi is not a thing, and y’all need to stop it.)
Don’t forget pets!
Should we face weeks or a full month of disruption in stores (remember, I’m an apocalypse planner), you don’t want your pets to suffer. How much do they eat in a day?
Multiply that by 30, and that’s what you need to have on hand. Don’t forget treats, supplements, litter, whatever else they need on a monthly basis.
Next-level pantry prep
These are the things that will make pantry food suck less, so take good notes.
–Stock up on dried spices. Garlic salt is everyone’s friend. Ditto to curry powder, ginger, cinnamon. Tarragon will liven up thawed chicken.
–Coconut milk with rice is another way to perk up bored taste buds.
–Bouillon for soup or as seasoning is always a great idea, and don’t overlook options like mushroom and onion bouillon as an alternative to chicken or beef.
–Items that will enable you to impress your family (or at least keep things interesting) include a variety of cooking oils, shortening for pie crusts, baking items for treats.
-Don’t forget fancy snack ingredients like chocolate chips, shredded coconut, condensed milk, graham crackers and the like.
When the kids are bored on day ten of self-quarantine, making a fresh batch of oatmeal-raisin cookies will eat up a lot of their time, and then while they’re recovering from sugar shock, you can grab the leftovers for yourself.
–Fresh herbs are a huge boon. Liz wrote about that here, including tips for apartment-dweller who may want to start a windowsill herb garden.
–Are you a coffee drinker? Do you like cream in it? You may have to resort to powdered creamer in a pinch, so be sure you have that on hand. Same for tea.
–As for water, please! There’s no need to hoard bottled water. Plus we all should be taking steps to reduce our single-use plastic. If that’s not top-of-mind right now, think about it economically — for the price you’d pay for a month’s worth of bottled water, you could easily buy a 2-gallon water filtration pitcher ($45 from our affiliate Amazon) for your fridge or a faucet-mounted filter.
We don’t have to hasten environmental collapse while coronavirus is going on, after all.
Spices and Seasonings
Teach the kids to play gin rummy
We’ll get through this, and we’ll do it without resorting to MREs and Red Dawn-level terror.
Also, wash your hands!
Laura Stone, a descendant of pioneer polygamists from the early days of the Mormon Church, keeps busy as a Master Gardener, author coach and novelist. While the majority of her family still lives in Utah, she resides in her home state of Texas because it’s where the good tamales are.