Healthy Meal Plan and Preparation for COVID-19 Isolation
* UPDATE 3/23
It's time to stock up. Now is the time to #stayhome so we can get through this madness. It's going to take everyone's cooperation. Please do your part.
Written 3/13: In the next several weeks, we can all expect to see people beginning to stock up on grocery store staples, as a means of avoiding as much human contact as possible because of Coronavirus, or COVID-19. That’s if it hasn’t already started happening in your area.
And as much as I try not to be an alarmist or buy into pandemonium, I will say that to minimize exposure to COVID-19, avoiding the grocery store for a few weeks is probably a [very] good idea.
So I’ve put together a series of posts, starting with this stock-up list. PLEASE NOTE I did not say "stockpile list". Be respectful of others who may be in need of the things you're buying and don't go crazy.
This stock up list is my resource for cooks who feel comfortable enough putting together some kind of meal out of whatever they have. If that’s not you, don’t worry. In the next post, you’ll find pre-done healthy meal plans for being in isolation from the virus. Finally, in a third post, I’ll share my best food-related, immune-boosting, first lines of defense against sickness. Because every little bit helps.
First, it’s not lost on me that stocking up can be expensive.
Your first thought here may have been “how am I going to afford to buy enough food for three weeks?” Here’s how I suggest you tackle it.
This is where your emergency fund should come in. This counts. You may automatically think of emergency funds as money you save for a car breaking down. But this totally counts, too. If you have an emergency fund, budget around $300 to stock up in one fell swoop.
If you don’t have an emergency fund, then you can take money from another area of the budget and add it to your grocery budget to start stocking up. I think the entertainment category would be perfect for this. There's literally nothing open anymore to go do for fun, so you're not likely spending "entertainment" money anyway.
I’ve taken care to make the foods and meals you’ll find in these posts as economical as possible, while still maintaining as much nutritional value as possible, through whole foods.
What you will not see in this list are extra frills like fresh herbs, truffle oil... These are great, healthy, delicious, crowd pleasing meals because we are still living real lives with humans and it’s not doomsday. BUT. We’re not planning 7 foodie dinners out of Bon Appetit magazine every week until isolation ends, either.
We’re focusing on two things, here:
1. Fueling our bodies with good food we actually want to eat, and will still want to eat when there’s some leftover after isolation.
2. Not treating this like an apocalypse. You still have electricity, so there’s no need to turn into a doomsday prepper and buy 20 lbs of jarred pasta sauce and canned meat.
Don’t be afraid of fresh food. It’ll stay good for at least the first whole week. Lots of times, our fresh food can stay good much longer, if it is stored properly. Before you head to the store, please read up on how to store the foods you plan to buy for the most longevity. You can find all the info you need at savethefood.org. This incredible resource will tell you how to keep your fresh foods FRESH, longer, in the refrigerator, and what you can do with them if they start looking a little sad. You’ve made an investment in the food you’re stocking up on, so don’t put your groceries away until you know you’re storing them right.
Anything fresh that does start to go bad can be turned into soup. Just because it’s Spring, doesn’t mean soup isn’t still a great dinner option. The cooked soup will extend the life of your fresh veggies by several days.
One final piece of advice before we get to the list. Remember that what you do buy will get used after isolation as long as you remember to resume your normal shopping, cooking, and eating cycle by starting with inventory (need help getting started? Grab my free training here). This is why it’s so important to buy foods you’d actually want to eat even after isolation from Coronavirus.
If you’re wondering what it might look like to shop for three weeks in advance, here’s how I imagine a three-week stint without grocery shopping would go down.
COVID-19 3-week Isolation food timeline (if stocking up all at once)
Week 1 - Buy your groceries for a normal week (need help with what steps to take to create your own meal plan? Grab this getting started guide). Also, buy your stock-up essentials from the list below. Eat normally, and focus on using the most perishable foods first. This is when you may purchase any non-essential foods that you can live without (like fresh parsley, scallions, ginger, etc) that can carry over into the following weeks, for as long as they stay good.
Week 2 - Eat normally, minus any food "frills" that have gone bad, and begin incorporating more frozen foods, especially towards the end of the week.
Week 3 - Cook meals with more pantry and frozen foods than you normally do but don’t sacrifice flavor.
Okay, let’s get to the list.
COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Isolation Food Stock-up List
The amounts listed below are for a family of 4. If you have a larger family, you can adjust by thinking about how much of the following your own family normally goes through per week and multiplying by 4. You need to buy more than you would because kids will be home from school, you may be working from or staying home, and we all tend to eat more when we're home.
If you don't normally like or eat any of the items on the list, DON'T BUY THEM! If you hate salmon patties and you would never eat them, don't purchase canned salmon. This is a guide to help spark thought, not a definitive list.
3 loaves of Bread (extra can be kept in the freezer)
1 5lb bag of Basmati rice
2-1lb Bags dried or 4 cans garbanzo beans
1-2 cans black beans
1-2 cans pinto beans
1-2 cans cannellini beans
2 bags dried lentils
2-3 boxes of pasta
1 bag quinoa
2 jars of peanut butter
1-2 bottles of raw honey
1-2 large canisters of old fashioned rolled oats
2 Cans salmon
6 Cans tuna
1-2 bottles of olive oil
1 package corn or wheat tortillas (or GF alternative)
3 packages of Wasa crackers or 4 boxes of your favorite healthy crackers
2 jars or cans of your favorite olives
1 jar of popcorn kernels (make it on the stove. So much healthier AND you can season it however you want!)
4-28 oz cans whole peeled tomatoes - I like San Marzano if available
4 boxes organic chicken or veggie stock
1-5lb bag Potatoes or sweet potatoes (or one bag of each)
Green AND yellow bananas. We go through 12+ bananas a week, so I'd buy 3 bunches of yellow bananas, 6 bunches of mostly green bananas, and 6 bunches of very green bananas, if possible. Keep the very green bananas in the fridge until week 2, when you can take them out in time to ripen for eating on week 3.
Almonds, walnuts, pecans, or your favorites for snacking and/or granola
Trail mix or trail mix ingredients (see How to Handle Breakfasts, Lunches, and Snacks During COVID-19 Isolation)
Cereal - I don't normally buy a lot of cereal, but this is an instance where I'd go ahead and grab a family size box of cheerios because I expect my kids to be home from school and needing easy options to throw at them.
Mac n' cheese - the good stuff (if that's even a thing... we buy Daiya cheddar style.) Again, not something we buy every week, but I'm assuming there will be at least one day in there that I'm SO glad I have some on-hand. #feedingkids. Also, you can add frozen peas and cherry tomatoes to it, if your kids will eat it that way (mine wouldn't) and you want to bump up the nutrition.
3 cartons of unsweetened original almond milk (this is just what my family uses. Unopened, it will stay good for the entire time and opened, it still lasts longer than dairy milk)
Milk - If you drink it instead of just cooking with almond milk, like I do. Buy as much as you would need for 3 weeks, keep it at the back of the fridge, and freeze what you don't use by the middle of week 1 (if not sooner... again, check savethefood.org for freezing and thawing instructions.)
3-9 dozen eggs (We buy 3 dozen every week, you may buy less. They can stay good for 5 weeks or so in the fridge and can be eaten for all 3 meals, so estimate high)
3 Bags of apples (again, we go through a LOT of these in a week)
3 Blocks of cheese for snacking and/or shredding into meals
1 wedge of Parmesan for cooking
1 package celery
2 packages carrots (some for snacking)
Celery and carrots can stay crisp for a long time if submerged in water. Snack on them or use them as a base for soups when your produce starts to go south.
2 blocks extra firm tofu (we use this instead of meat in some meals -- it might be a nice change from freezer meat after three weeks!)
An assortment of cured meats for snacking
3 containers of Greek Yogurt - unopened containers will last the entire isolation period
2 bags of lemons - use these in water and in cooking
Creamers, if needed, for coffee
2 Containers each of strawberries, blueberries, or your favorite
6-8 bags broccoli (can be roasted just like fresh)
6-8 bags cauliflower (can also be roasted)
2 bags brussels sprouts (can also be roasted)
1 bag corn
1 bag peas
2 bags spinach
2 bags kale
3 large bags of mixed smoothie fruit OR 2 bags each: raspberries, blueberries, strawberries
Meat: this is such a personal thing, so estimate based on how much you consume in a week. We don't eat meat with every meal, so I would buy 2 family packs frozen tilapia, 2 packages of sausages, 8 large chicken breasts, and 3 lbs of ground turkey or chicken.
DON'T FORGET DRINKS!
Again, estimate based on how much you use in a week, and multiply by 4.
My family goes through a 12-can package of LaCroix per week, so I'd buy 4 of those.
If you don't have a water faucet filter or filtration pitcher, this would be a good time to get one, so you're not relying on bottled water (which could become a shortage).
As always, avoid sugary juices and sodas. We don't need that stuff anyway but in the middle of stocking up, it's an unnecessary expense, and high sugar intake MAY be linked to lowered immune response.
Make sure you check your stock of condiments and cooking staples before you head to the store.
If there's a chance you could run out of anything you use regularly, go ahead and replace it while you're stocking up.
Think about things like:
Kosher salt (just check to make sure you have enough)
Charcoal or propane for the grill