As the novel coronavirus continues to spread and residents consider the possibility of self-quarantine, one can’t help but wonder: Am I really going to eat all the protein bars I hoarded at Costco?
Not if you’re stuck at home for two weeks, potentially unwell or taking care of someone who is unwell. You did the right thing by stocking up on toilet paper, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. But, remember: This isn’t an earthquake stash. Should there be a quarantine — government or self-issued — you will likely have refrigeration, electricity and a lot of time on your hands to nourish yourself and the ones you love.
In other words, you’ll want to cook.
“From my standpoint, there’s no reason to live on snack bars and meal replacement drinks,” said Los Gatos’ Marlene Koch, a registered dietitian nutritionist and New York Times best-selling cookbook author. “With a quick stock of your freezer and pantry, you can have the ingredients it takes to not only feed someone who is not feeling well but to feed the whole family.”
But what are those ingredients, and how much do you buy? Koch, who pens the health-focused “Eat What You Love” cookbook series, said you should start with simple family favorites — say, slow-cooker pulled pork or sheet pan chicken — keeping protein as a top priority.
Because “protein needs vary widely between men and women, or young kids and teenagers, it’s hard to say how much to buy,” Koch said. In general, she recommends 4 ounces of protein per person per day. The USDA recommends 5½ ounces of lean meat — the equivalent of 1¼ cups cooked beans — for a 2,000-calorie daily diet.
“I would stock the freezer with a variety of 2- to 3-pound bags of lean ground beef or turkey, chicken tenders, or even shrimp,” she said. “Remember, your quarantine may be for weeks but your bounty will last for months. If they buy too much, these are ingredients that people can be grilling outside come summer.”
Also in that freezer: Tortillas, microwaveable rice or quinoa, frozen fruit for smoothies and frozen vegetables to stir into soups, grain bowls and easy pasta dishes. Not all frozen veggies are created equal — she prefers corn and peas over, say, frozen broccoli — but as long as you get some greens into your meals you’re eating well. “It may also be comforting to know that frozen veggies have the same beneficial nutrient qualities as fresh,” Koch added.
Canned and dry goods, too, are no-brainers when it comes to making healthful meals without access to a grocery store. Think outside the cupboard when it comes to this category. Sure, you should have on hand your favorite pasta or grain, nut butter, canned tuna or sardines, diced tomatoes, and, of course, beans. But using dried mushrooms instead of fresh mushrooms can yield a divine Instant Pot risotto.
And don’t even get Koch started on beans. Pinto, black, garbanzo, kidney or cannelli — you can make meals to last well beyond two weeks, from a hearty black bean chili or a chicken taco soup. Here’s an even easier one, courtesy of Koch: “Puree a can of black beans with salsa, chicken or vegetable broth and cumin,” she said.
Cumin is among her shaker staples because it is used in many cuisines. Other spices to pep up dishes, or in lieu of the fresh version: Smoked paprika, chile flakes, garlic powder, ground ginger and dried herbs, especially thyme and oregano, which can easily substitute for the real thing when making, say, a roast chicken with the former or spaghetti sauce with the latter.
Here are a few other Koch tricks: Combine canned tuna with a low-sodium cream soup, like cream of broccoli, mushroom or celery, and add jarred artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes for a new-age casserole. Leftover potato chips? Crumble on top to add a crunchy topping, she said. If a recipe calls for milk or cream, she uses oat milk. “Swirl it into coffee, oatmeal, soups,” she said. “Unlike almond milk it is actually creamy and mimics the texture of dairy milk.”
For a simple yet satisfying plant-based dish, Koch adds a can of chickpeas to fresh-cooked pasta and throws in a few handfuls of spinach or kale, garlic and broth. Craving spice and have some frozen sausage? Try a spicy chickpea and chorizo stew, substituting frozen diced red and yellow bell peppers if you don’t have the fresh in your fridge.
But not everyone is looking for the quick and easy cook when they’re on lockdown. If you’re stuck at home and find cooking or baking therapeutic, then, by all means, stock accordingly and throw yourself into Guittard’s chocolate cake, knead your worries away with an artisan free-form loaf or use that can of pumpkin left over from the fall to make America’s Test Kitchen’s ultimate pumpkin bread.
And don’t forget the one fruit that you’ll want to overripen in the event you’re marooned at home: bananas. When the world is amiss, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as mashing near-black bananas into a recipe for warm, comforting banana bread, especially when it’s studded with those chocolate chips you keep trying not to snack on. It’s time — snack on.