On Day 8 of Quarantine and no end in sight, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on how Chad and I are surviving, eating every meal in and avoiding stores and contact with all other people. Food is a number one priority in my household, and, I thought a few of my cooking ideas might be helpful for those of you trying to self-isolate. Below are my top 10 tips for feeding yourself while in quarantine.
1. Shop for groceries based on recipes
Browse the internet to find at least 5 recipes that whet your appetite, shop for those ingredients alone, and cook them in bulk. Ideally, these recipes will be complete or almost complete meals, meaning each will contain a balanced amount of protein, vegetables, and carbohydrates. If you buy ingredients specifically for recipes, your refrigerator will not overflow, and you will waste less food from spoilage.
2. Freeze portions of your recipes for week 2
On Day 1 of our quarantine we cooked a giant chili mac n’ cheese with black beans and ground beef and immediately stored two serving-size Tupperware containers of it in the freezer, labeled with a basic description and the date. While cooking in bulk is practical, you might not want to eat the same meal for 6 days in a row, so, we saved part of what we cooked so we wouldn’t feel obligated to eat it every single day lest it spoil at the end of the week. I have since frozen servings of black bean soup, pork ribs stewed with carrots and potatoes, and about two cups of gravy to be used to flavor impromptu meals in week 2 or 3.
3. Use the scraps to make something delicious
At the start of the week I baked a batch of chicken to use in a chicken salad. I was able to use the leftover bones and the drippings from the baking pan to make a rich bone broth. That bone broth went directly into a black bean soup I whipped up using cans of beans I bought for “just in case we run out of meat” meals, and leftover vegetables and herbs purchased for other recipes. From our Pork Ribs Stew, I reserved about half of the super delicious gravy in a separate container to be used in future recipes, like mashed potatoes, beef stroganoff, or breakfast biscuits.
4. Make the meat stretch further
If you usually make meat the center of your dish, you could benefit from bulking up your recipes with vegetables, lentils, or legumes to help you save meat for recipes in later weeks. I regularly make a mayonnaise-based chicken salad for wraps and sandwiches during the week. When I got to the grocery store, there was only one pack of chicken left, but I wanted to make chicken Pad Thai in week 2. So, I used only half of the chicken my salad recipe calls for, and replaced the other half with two cans of chickpeas, freezing the rest of the chicken for next week. The protein content of the Pad Thai dish can be enhanced with eggs and peanuts. Reducing the amount of meat on each plate and replacing it with vegetables or an alternative source of protein will 1) lower your grocery bill and 2) increase the nutritional profile of your meals.
5. Alternate your homemade recipes with canned or preserved meals
I purchased a handful of shelf-stable meals to keep in the pantry for emergency meals. They tend to have fewer nutrients, less protein, and more salt than any of the meals I made from scratch, however, they are handy in a pinch. But, it occurred to me that there may come a time when I won’t be able to find any chicken at the grocery store, so I want to ty to save as much of my own homemade meals as possible. I don’t want to arrive at week 4 and have nothing left to eat but endless bags of four-cheese risotto. So, once or twice a week, consider replacing one of your healthy, home-made dishes with a pre-made meal from your pantry.
6. Stock your freezer with frozen seafood and veggies
I already keep individually-packed frozen salmon in my freezer the nights on which I have run out of my bulk recipes. Single-servings of fish defrost quickly, cook even more quickly, and can be paired with a heaping serving of rice and frozen veggies, both of which are often dirt-cheap and last seemingly forever in your pantry and freezer. During a pandemic or period of quarantine, it can be helpful to alternate eating from your bulk recipe collection with simple dishes of something like fish and rice, so that, like with the avoidable canned meals scenario described above, you don’t end up running out of everything but a weeks-worth of frozen fish. Rotate and diversify your meals often.
7. Try vegetarian or vegan recipes
If you aren’t vegetarian, I don’t recommend you just simply switch your diet in order to survive quarantine. I do, however, generally find vegetable-focused recipes rich in both flavor and nutrients, in a way that some meat- or dairy-focused recipes are not. For example, I got the idea to swap out half of the chicken in my chicken salad with chickpeas from a vegan chickpea salad recipe. The recipe was already nutritionally complete, so I simply added a small amount of chicken to it so I could continue eating meat with every meal. Because chickpeas don’t have much flavor on their own, the recipe included a host of powerfully flavorful herbs and spices that made the salad taste even better than my own chicken-based recipe. I encourage you to consider adding vegetarian recipes to your diet, or modifying nutritionally-rich vegetarian recipes by adding meat to them, rather than by adding a few bland vegetables to your meat-based recipes.
8. Buy snacks a-plenty
I don’t want to encourage hoarding, but, if you haven’t spent 24 hours a day at home for weeks on end in a while, you might be surprised to learn how much food you go through. In between meals, you’ll get munchy, and you’ll want to be able to reach for snacks without worrying that they might run out. We bought double of everything we usually buy, and a few items we don’t usually buy. For instance, we bought 2 boxes of crackers (instead of our regular 1), and an extra-large jar of peanut butter. We forgot to buy sweet snacks because I never keep them in the house. If you don’t buy sweets, be sure to have pastry-making ingredients on hand, for the inevitable moment someone develops a sweet-tooth. In summary, avoid raiding the stores for every last bag of chips, you won’t have anywhere to put them, and other people might need some, too. Shop reasonably, but buy enough to support you for at least 3 weeks.
9. Buy vegetables that last
I like to bulk up my pasta and rice dishes with vegetables, but not everything lasts in the fridge. If you want fresh veggies in your meals, avoid the leafy greens and stick to root vegetables. Sweet potatoes, carrots, rutabagas, beets, fennel, garlic, onions, celery root, garlic, and radishes, to name a few, will last weeks in your fridge, and add wonderful flavor and add a lot of bulk to your recipes. Rich in nutrients, root vegetables give spinach and kale a run for their money, and will outlast any leafy green in a quarantine.
10. Turn milk into yogurt
If you’re worried about milk spoiling, because maybe you bought too many gallons on impulse, consider converting your extra milk into yogurt, milk’s fermented cousin. Most multi-cookers have a yogurt function, or you can make this easily using nothing buy your oven and a sealed, ovenproof container. All you need is a gallon of milk, and a cup of yogurt to start with. Yogurt lasts longer than fresh milk in the fridge, and is delicious alone, paired with honey, frozen fruit, and granola, or mixed with spices and herbs as a dip in place of sour cream or spinach dip.
These are only some of the ways in which I intend to hunker down over the next few weeks. How are you surviving quarantine? Leave your comments below.
3 thoughts on “10 Tips for Cooking While in Quarantine”
Thanks for these excellent tips! My husband likes to cook a meal that we call, “Chickpea Surprise,” using chickpeas, tomatoes, rice, and a few other ingredients. I had never thought of chickpeas as a partial substitute for chicken. We’ll have to try it!
Thanks! That “surprise” sounds quite good. I wish I could say I had thought of the chickpea substitution myself. Let me know how yours turns out!
Great tips! It’s tough to keep well-stocked with a teen at home. The dry beans and grains help a lot.