Stocking Your Pantry, the Smart (Healthy) Way
That doesn’t mean you’ll need to eat only beans and ramen. Here are tips to stock a pantry with shelf-stable and tasty foods.
How many of us have two weeks’ worth of food, water and medical supplies in our homes? The coronavirus pandemic is forcing all of us to consider what they have in the cupboards and medicine cabinets to ride out a potential quarantine.
Clearly, many have already begun to stockpile, as evidenced by empty shelves at the supermarket and long lines to get into neighbourhood grocery stores. COVID-19 has not only altered our lives, it has forced us to think about how we shop and the foods and supplies we buy.
Having a well-stocked pantry is always a good idea, whether you’re looking to throw together pasta with anchovies when there’s nothing in the fridge, or you want to avoid going grocery shopping when the weather is vile.
It’s also true that a well-stocked pantry can provide a sense of safety and control when the news is frightful and the future uncertain. Not only can shelves filled with bags of rice, cans of beans and bins of garlic give us a sense of order, they’re also the beginning of many excellent meals.
The question is, what should you buy? Here are some of our strategies for buying wisely and eating well.
First, you'll want to scan your pantry
Take a quick look at what you already have on hand to make sure you don't overbuy. You don't need to go crazy with purchasing canned goods if you already have the recommended two-weeks' worth. The same goes for cleaning supplies.
Then add non-perishables, long-lasting perishables, frozen fruits and canned vegetables to your grocery list
If you have fresh produce in your home, use that up first to minimize any waste. Then, look for canned, boxed, and shelf-stable items to have on hand. When it comes to canned goods, it's always preferable to look for low-sodium versions, and cans that say they don't have BPA lining, if you can find them. Frozen foods are excellent to have on hand, as well.
When it comes to perishables, don't be afraid to add some fresh produce to your list; just try to choose items that are longer-lasting (we've listed them out for you below) or foods you can freeze. Try to choose whole produce when possible instead of pre-cut (for example, whole mushrooms keep longer than sliced). If you accidentally buy too much fresh produce, know that you can freeze just about any fruit or vegetable (except items like celery, lettuce, and cucumbers that have a high water content and can get very soggy). Bananas another good purchase — if they get too ripe, simply peel and cut them, then freeze and add to smoothies.
Below are some items to use as a starting point for your shopping list, but keep in mind you should be buying foods you would normally eat. And of course, pick up food and drinks you just plain enjoy, such as coffee, tea, and dark chocolate. Also, if you have a baby or toddler in the house, you're going to want to add the essentials they need to your list as well.
Applesauce and other fruit purees
Canned fruit in water
Long-lasting fresh fruit (i.e., apples, oranges, pomegranates, lemons, limes)
· Canned vegetables (i.e., green beans, carrots, peas, diced tomatoes, pumpkin puree), low-sodium if possible
· Canned vegetable-based soups and chilis, low-sodium if possible
· Frozen vegetables (i.e, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus)
· Jarred tomato sauce
· Jarred salsa
· Long-lasting fresh vegetables (i.e., potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash such as spaghetti or butternut, carrots, parsnips, onions, garlic, whole mushrooms)
· Tuna or salmon, canned or in a pouch
· Chicken or turkey, canned or in a pouch
· Frozen fish, such as shrimp or individually portioned pieces of salmon
· Shelf-stable silken tofu
· Lentils, canned or vacuum-sealed
· Eggs and egg beaters
· Nut/seed butter
· Nuts and seeds
· Trail mix
· Dry or canned beans
· Whole wheat pasta or chickpea pasta
· Brown rice
· Ancient grains (i.e., quinoa, farro)
· Instant oatmeal packets/cups
· Whole wheat or seed crackers
· Whole wheat or sprouted bread (can keep in freezer and toast when ready to eat)
· Shelf-stable boxes of milk (shelf-stable varieties are available for regular and non-dairy milks)
· Powdered milk
· Hard cheeses, such as parmesan or pecorino, last the longest
· Olive oil
· Avocado oil
· Flax seeds
· Chia seeds
· Unsalted grassfed butter (store in the freezer)
· Water (if you're unable to or prefer not to drink tap)
· Low-sugar electrolyte drinks
· Pre-made protein-shakes or meal-replacement shakes (in case you get sick and lose your appetite)
· Canned or boxed low-sodium broth
And don't forget about your pets.
Pick up extra animal supplies, including medications and food. Wee-wee absorbent pads can come in handy as well if you can't get out to walk your dog. Remember: Having a pet is like having another human being inside the house — they require just as much care and supplies as any of us do, if not more.
Pasta: It’s nice to have both long, thin pasta (like spaghetti or linguine) and short, textured pasta (like fusilli or orecchiette) on hand. Having both keeps meals from getting repetitive. And if you’re a boxed mac and cheese fan, stocking a couple of those is never a bad idea.
Rice: Brown, white, long-grain, short-grain, I always have them all around, plus Arborio for rice pudding and risotto.
Stocks and Broths: Whether meat- or vegetable-based, boxed broths are essential for soups, stews, and make the base of pan sauces. And they won’t take up valuable freezer space.
Beans: Home-cooked dried beans taste better than canned beans; canned beans are more convenient and faster than the dried kind. It’s always good practice to have both.
Cured Meats: Cured meats keep for weeks in the fridge, and a chunk of smoked ham or salami in your bean pot adds so much flavor. But don’t forget the bacon.
Eggs: They’re a welcome addition to so many dishes — and, of course, stand on their own. Not to mention, they keep for a long time in the fridge.
Frozen Fruits and Veggies: Use the fruit in smoothies, and the vegetables in soups, stir-fries and stews. Frozen spinach, artichokes, kale, corn, peas and lima beans as well. As for fruit: blueberries, mixed berries, peach, mango and cherries. Also throw ripe bananas into the freezer, to extend their lives a little.
Canned Fish: Anchovies, sardines, tuna and salmon are the building blocks of many of meals. Anchovy toast is delicious any time.
Tahini and Peanut Butter: For hummus, for sauces, for salad dressing, for cookies, for sandwiches, for snacking. To mix things up, try using peanut butter in your salad dressings, and tahini on your jam sandwiches. Almond and cashew butters are also great pantry additions, if you prefer.
Parmesan and Other Hard Cheeses: These kinds of cheeses last for months in the fridge if you buy blocks rather than pre-grated. Or store the pre-grated kind in the freezer. You can also buy some cheese sealed in wax, which increases how long you can store them. Cream cheese is also important, for bagels and otherwise.
Olive Oil, Vinegar, Lemons: We can’t cook without them.
Nuts and Dried Fruit: For snacking and baking.
Flour, Sugar, Yeast: For baking projects.
Butter: It will keep for weeks in the fridge and longer in the freezer.
Garlic, Onions and Shallots: No pantry is complete without them.
Root Vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, parsnips, turnips, radishes. Radishes and turnips are excellent in salads and last for weeks in the produce drawer. If they get soft, soak them in a bowl of ice water until they firm up. Consider ginger for stir-fries and making into tea.
Celery: Use the leaves as an herb and the stalks in salads. Or stuff them with peanut butter or tahini for snacks.
Scallions: If you leave the roots on and put scallions in a container of water on the counter, you can cut off the green tops, and they will grow back three or four times.
Spices: If can’t remember when the last time you bought new spices was, consider buying some the next time you’re at the store: Fresh spices have so much more flavor than old ones.