As Americans are told to stay home to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, many grocery stores are having a hard time keeping some foods and supplies stocked. In a culture where we’re accustomed to having what we want, when we want it, this new (yet hopefully temporary) way of living has many of us stocking up on as many staples as possible. This sounds good in theory, but many of us are going to get bored quickly eating the same thing over and over. No one I know wants to eat tuna on crackers and rice every day. And there’s only so much peanut butter or oatmeal one can consume.
Read on. I’m covering ways to get creative and mix up family mealtime. But before I dive in, here is one thing to keep in mind: even if you are under a shelter-in-place order, grocery stores are not closing. Whether your local stores have everything in stock is a totally different issue, but you still will be able to purchase most groceries. Even in Italy where the pandemic is at its height as of this posting, individuals are allowed to buy groceries or have groceries delivered. That said, you do want to have at least 30 days of food on hand--just in case you or someone in your family were to test positive for COVID-19.
Support Local Businesses When Possible
Before you become your family’s personal chef, consider supporting your local restaurants. Whether you use the restaurant's takeout service, drive-up service, or a restaurant delivery service such as DoorDash or Uber Eats, supporting local businesses gives you a break from cooking and helps others in the community. Most delivery apps now offer “no contact” deliveries to protect you and the driver. Similarly, grocery delivery services, such as Instacart, are also now offering a “leave at my door” option, so consumers do not have any contact with the delivery person.
But those services can be pricey. You don’t want to spend a fortune ordering takeout or delivery, which is where the following ideas will come in handy.
Learn to Make Bread
If you have ventured out to find essentials, you’ve likely discovered empty bread shelves. Instead of searching in vain for bread, now is the perfect time to learn how to make it. Not only is baking bread from scratch a great family activity, but it’s also a skill that will benefit you (and your kids) for years to come. If you have a bread machine that’s collecting dust, it’s time to pull it out and put it to work. If you don’t have one, or if you want to involve the kids in the baking fun, all you need is flour, active dry yeast, sugar, and vegetable oil and, voila, you have a fresh loaf in the making! A quick YouTube search pulls up dozens of no-machine recipes for beginners, as well as several slow cooker bread recipes.
Here is a simple recipe from Taste of Home.
Ingredients you need:
- 1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
- 2-1/4 cups warm water (110° to 115°)
- 3 tablespoons sugar plus 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 6-1/4 to 6-3/4 cups bread flour
- In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1/2 teaspoon sugar in warm water; let stand until bubbles form on the surface. Whisk together remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, salt, and 3 cups flour. Stir oil into yeast mixture; pour into flour mixture and beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, to form a soft dough.
- Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, 8-10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.
- Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; divide dough in half. Shape each into a loaf. Place in 2 greased 9x5-in. loaf pans. Cover and let rise until doubled, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
- Bake at 375° until golden brown and bread sounds hollow when tapped or has reached an internal temperature of 200°, 30-35 minutes. Remove from pans to wire racks to cool.
Depending on the ingredients you have on hand or have access to, branch out and try sweet breads, like cherry almond sweet bread or banana bread. Plus, you can also use extra ingredients from other meals to add some flavoring to your bread, like zucchini, bacon, or cheese.To best store homemade bread so it stays fresh, keep in a bread box or plastic bag. You can also freeze it. Simply wrap it in plastic, and it will last a few months.
Purchase Meat Directly
Hunters and fishers are not feeling nearly as stressed as those struggling to find meat at their local grocery stores. With freezers stocked with venison and fish, they are prepared to eat well. If you’re not as lucky, rather than heading to the grocery store, consider other options, such as local butcher shops and farms.
Or call and see if local restaurants are selling off their meat surplus. In South Carolina, where restaurants are only allowed to serve takeout or delivery, some restaurants have started selling the meat they would have sold to dining room guests. This is a way to support your local businesses and stock your fridge. It’s a win-win for everyone!
Extend the Life of Produce
To create healthy and immune-boosting meals, you need produce. The problem is that vegetables and fruit have a short shelf life. If you’re not strategic with your meal planning, you’ll wind up having to toss produce that’s gone bad. That’s one of the main reasons people buy frozen vegetables and fruit. Unfortunately, this may also be the reason you find it hard to locate frozen vegetables right now.
Here are some tips to extend the shelf life of veggies and fruits:
- Remove excess moisture before storing in the fridge.
- Remove vegetable tops (such as the green leafy tops of carrots).
- Store items that shouldn’t be refrigerated (such as tomatoes, potatoes, onions) in a cool, dry, shaded space.
- If greens, lettuce, or herbs start to wilt, try to shock and revive them by placing them in a bowl of ice water for ten minutes.
- If you want to freeze fresh vegetables, use a method known as blanching. Blanching vegetables allows you to freeze them after you have steamed, cooled, and drained them.
- If you want to freeze fresh fruits, use the flash freeze method. Wash and drain the fruit, dab it dry with a towel, peel and cut the fruit, place it on a tray, and freeze for 1-2 hours. Place frozen fruit into a container or freezer bag and store.
Also, don’t toss fruit or vegetables just because they are starting to go bad. You can use these as ingredients in other recipes, such as banana bread or minestrone soup.
Let Nothing Go to Waste
Start by cooking recipes that go a long way. For example, if you roast a chicken, plan to use the leftover pieces for other meals and the carcass for a broth. Similarly, if a soup requires vegetables, don’t toss the remaining vegetables. Instead, add the vegetables to a pasta dish or casserole.
There are many ways to be strategic when it comes to not wasting your extras. For instance, you can use leftover salad greens in soups or to create pesto sauce. Also, if you have already used the canned tomatoes, you can use the juice as a pan sauce or cooking liquid to add flavor to dishes. Don’t forget about all the bread you are baking! When it starts to go stale, you can turn it into bread crumbs or croutons. During WWII, people used stale bread to make “fairy bread.” The recipe is simple: take thin bread slices and bake them until golden brown and crisp. Similar to crackers, you can store fairy bread for months before it goes bad.
If you are struggling to think of how to use your extras, use an online recipe finder that allows you to list the ingredients you have available to provide a recipe. Think of the food in your pantry and fridge as people did during the Great Depression–nothing edible was ever thrown away or wasted.
Get Creative in the Kitchen
With limited options, now is the perfect time to get creative in the kitchen. Think of a food you have a hankering for and see if you can make something similar. Get the whole family involved in a competition and see who can cook the most creative meal using only the ingredients available.
With the extra time we have now at home, there’s no better time to try your hand at more complicated recipes. Pull out your old cookbooks and challenge yourself to cook something new using the ingredients you already have. You might have to make a few substitutions, but this is the perfect time to learn how to do so–it’s what people did to make meals when food was rationed during WWII. They survived on limited supplies. You will, too!
You can also find inspiration from WWII recipes, such as tomato soup cake (yes, that’s actually a thing!). Originally a Depression-era recipe, it made a comeback during WWII due to rationing and having to get creative with ingredients. While the thought of soup in a cake doesn’t sound very appetizing, supposedly, it’s not bad and tastes like a Spice Cake. Involve the whole family and make a tomato soup cake. Here’s how you do it...
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons butter (or lard)
- 1 can tomato soup
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (if available)
- 1 cup raisins (or 1 large Granny Smith apple chopped)
- 1 cup either chopped pecans or walnuts
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 cups flour
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a Bundt pan.
- Stir the baking soda into the soup, then cream the butter, sugar and tomato soup together.
- Add the remainder of the dry ingredients and mix until combined well.
- Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- Let cool completely - about one hour, then remove from the pan.
Whatever you decide to make, have fun with it. Rather than warming up a frozen pizza, make a homemade pizza. Find the perfect recipe for pizza dough and have a family night that gets everyone involved. Plus, this is another great way to use up those vegetables before they go to waste.
Do Some Stress Baking
It’s never a good idea to overindulge on sweets since they are packed with sugar and devoid of the substances our bodies need. You want to stay healthy during this time, but every now and then, baking can do some good as it’s a great way to alleviate stress. As you go through the steps, your mind is focused on something other than what is causing you anxiety. Then, you have a sweet reward at the end.
Since baking typically involves pantry staples, such as flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, butter, eggs, and milk, you likely already have the ingredients needed on hand. But, if you do not have these items, you may be able to perform some simple ingredient swaps, such as swapping baking soda for baking powder, cornstarch for all-purpose flour, or butter for coconut oil, margarine, or lard.
Look for Ideas from Those Quarantined Abroad
Finally, find kitchen inspiration from those who were quarantined ahead of America. For example, people in Italy are finding ways to continue cooking fabulous Italian dishes without ever leaving home. The Michelin chef Massimo Bottura has even started offering free online cooking classes, called Kitchen Quarantine, from his home in Italy on his Instagram page.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply