In the face of fears surrounding COVID-19, it's entirely practical (and even recommended) to practice emergency preparedness. That doesn't mean you should run to the nearest supermarket and buy up all the cans available—remember that hoarding food hurts communities! But think of this time as an exercise in smart and practical shopping. That means investing in versatile foods with a long shelf-life that will also nourish you in the most nutritious way possible during the coronavirus quarantine.
You don't have to be concerned that grocery stores are going to run out of stock. But the benefit of keeping a stocked pantry is that it will help you limit the number of times you leave the house. Plus, when you have a pantry full of healthy food items, it can help you maintain a sense of calm and readiness.
What makes a well-stocked pantry? You'll want to include healthy items that pack a nutritional punch, keep well over time, are convenient, provide a good balance of nutrients from a variety of food sources, and are a combination of shelf-stable and fresh, nutrient-dense whole foods.
Here are some healthy foods that Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in weight management and owner of Brooklyn-based Maya Feller Nutrition, recommends adding to your "coronavirus grocery list."
1. Dried or canned beans and legumes
This includes chickpeas, pinto beans, black beans, cannellini beans, black-eyed peas, red kidney beans, split peas, lentils, and lima beans.
When you're building a healthy pantry, it's more convenient to stock plant-based sources of protein than it is animal protein. One of the best picks is dried beans or, for a quicker option, canned beans. Feller says, "beans are a good source of plant based protein and fiber."
Keep in mind that both canned and dried beans have their strengths and weaknesses, and choosing to go one way or another will largely depend on what you're looking for in a bean. Dry beans are usually more cost-effective and tastier, plus there are a lot more varieties to choose from than in the canned goods aisle.
On the other hand, they take some planning ahead, because they need soaking and quite a bit of time to cook. Canned beans are definitely more convenient, but you'll want to watch the sodium levels in the cans you're choosing (we recommend going low-sodium.)
2. Whole grains
This includes brown rice, black rice, red rice, buckwheat, barley, farro, oats, quinoa, amaranth, millet, sorghum, and teff.
Whole grains are a good source of B vitamins, says Feller. B-complex vitamins (a group of eight B vitamins) provide a variety of health benefits. Most notably, they're associated with managing energy levels, relieving stress, and boosting cognitive performance—all great benefits when you're cozying up at home. And let's be real, your lifestyle is about to become a lot more sedentary, so maintaining optimal amounts of fiber in your diet is crucial to keeping your digestion regular.
Another great way to stock up on fiber-rich whole grains is to buy whole-grain bread. It can freeze indefinitely, and nothing beats a good sandwich. Get inspired by our list of best breads and best sandwiches.
This includes regular pasta, gluten-free pasta, whole-grain pasta, and bean-based pasta.
There's no reason to fear carbs, and that especially applies to pasta. You have a variety of different options to choose from, and Feller notes that each can boost your health in its own way.
For example, bean-based pastas are a good source of protein, gluten-free pasta made from corn and quinoa is a good source of antioxidants, and whole grain pastas are a good source of B vitamins.
4. Canned, boxed, or jarred tomatoes
What better to stock alongside your pasta than tomato sauce? Feller says tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a potent antioxidant, and vitamin C. This is a stressful time for everyone, and if you're worried about your immune system, rest assured that vitamin C is the nutrient to ramp up in your diet. The antioxidant vitamin has been shown to help people cope with stressful situations and treat anxiety as well as keep your immune system running smoothly.
And just think about it—you need tomato sauce for pretty much everything, from pasta, soups, stews, shakshuka, baked beans, pizza sauce, and more. Plus, there are some ingenious ways of using leftover sauce, should you have an open jar kicking around your fridge.
5. Winter squash
This includes butternut squash, acorn squash, pumpkin, spaghetti squash, and delicata squash.
"Depending on the type, [winter squash varieties contain] varying amounts of potassium and vitamins A and C," says Feller. If you want to avoid getting cramps from chilling on the couch all day, potassium will be your best friend. The electrolyte will help you and your muscles stay hydrated. A cup of acorn squash serves up to 19 percent of your daily value of the nutrient, while butternut squash contains 12 percent.
It might sound odd to consider squash a solid pantry item, but squash stores surprisingly well. If you keep fresh, uncut squash in a cool, dry, dark place, your squash should last between one to three months.
This includes white potatoes (russet, red, yellow, Yukon Gold) and sweet potatoes.
Potatoes get a bad rap, but they're actually a very healthy pantry (and diet) staple. They are some of the most filling, satisfying foods (which can prevent you from eating too soon after your last meal, causing you to consume more calories than you need).
All varieties of white potato are a good source of B and C vitamins, while sweet potatoes are a good source of A and C vitamins as well as potassium, according to Feller.
If you're stocking up on tubers, make sure you store them properly to prevent them going to waste.
Carrots are one of Feller's pantry staples not only because they're a source of vitamins A and C, but also because they keep for weeks and can be used in a variety of snacks and dishes. Fresh or frozen works equally well for most recipes!
You'll be hard-pressed to find a soup recipe that doesn't call for carrots, but you can also roast them as a vibrant side dish, and even use them in smoothies.
This includes lemons, limes, oranges, mandarins, clementines, and grapefruits.
Citruses are a star-studded cast when it comes to hard-working pantry additions. They're bursting with vitamins and antioxidants, but are also an important culinary staple. Acidity is one of the main flavor components of food, and without it, dishes can end up tasting as bland as if they were unsalted. Use lemon juice in salad dressings, soups, sauces, cakes, and crockpot creations, and even zest it into pasta dishes and vegetables.
Grapefruits and oranges make wonderful salads and juices, too!
9. Fresh fruit with a long shelf life
When fresh leafy greens are limited, Feller recommends looking to fruits, such as apples and pears, as good sources of fiber. Apples and pears are particularly reliable because they can last a while in the fridge before losing their juicy texture. Add them to salads, use them in baking, or make applesauce!
And if you're looking for more shelf-stable options, canned or jarred applesauce is always a vitamin C-rich option.
10. Frozen fruit
Frozen fruits are packed at peak ripeness, meaning they don't lag behind their fresh counterparts when it comes to nutrition. You can easily use antioxidant-packed berries, peaches, and pineapples in smoothies. (Just be sure to add some protein powder, healthy fats, and fiber-rich seeds for a well-rounded meal-replacement smoothie.)
Frozen fruits also make the perfect breakfast item or snack. Simmer some mixed berries on the stovetop with a splash of water and lemon juice to make a jammy syrup for topping plain yogurt, or add some frozen blueberries to your oatmeal before microwaving it—they'll warm up and add some color and sweetness to your breakfast.
Fun fact: If you have fresh bananas, you can cut them up and freeze the chunks on a sheet-pan to use in smoothies for days to come.