How to Responsibly Stock Your Pantry, According to Philly Nutritionists

A guide for what and how much to buy at the grocery store, plus how to maintain proper nutrition in case of quarantine.

stock your pantry

Here’s how to stock your pantry — responsibly. Photograph by Denis Tevekov/Getty Imaged

This post has been updated.

Grocery shopping in the time of coronavirus has been … a whirlwind to say the least. There’s been an increase in what people are calling “panic buying,” which basically means folks are stockpiling food and supplies. Despite this, grocery stores are doing their best to keep in-demand items on shelves, with some even closing overnight to allow for restocking time.

To help you stock your kitchen pantry more practically, we turned to Philly nutritionists for their tips on responsible food buying and storing, so that you’re not overbuying or letting food go to waste. Plus, they offer advice for what you should be eating if you do fall ill, so that you can return to healthy as quickly as possible.

Remember the major food groups

When you’re drafting your grocery list, it’s important to keep in mind the five food groups: protein, fruit, vegetables, grains, and dairy. Our nutritionists recommend buying a mix of fresh, frozen, and nonperishables in each category. For nonperishables in particular, Liz McMahon suggests the following: canned or dried beans and lentils; shelf-stable or condensed milk; chickpea or lentil pasta; canned fish like tuna, salmon or sardines; canned chicken; grains like quinoa and brown rice; nuts and nut butters; olive oil; canned veggies; and dried fruit. These long-lasting pantry items are high in nutrients, which is especially good in times of sickness.

Additionally, you can consider buying some flavoring agents like shelf-stable salsa and sauces or seasoning packets to “jazz up your meals” in case you end up eating the same types of foods every day, according to Kelly Bakes of Wayne Nutrition. Also, the majority of our experts recommend buying low-sugar protein bars like RXBAR to supplement your protein-intake.

Think about quantity

Don’t know how much to buy? OnPoint Nutrition’s Zoe Fienman says the best strategy is to plan according to your normal daily routine. If you eat eggs every morning for breakfast, it’s a good idea to buy at least two dozen eggs. “[Then] if you plan three days in detail, you can multiply this amount of food by five to ensure you have everything covered,” Fienman says.

If you’re a two-person household, Bakes says to plan on going through at least one frozen veggie steam bag per day and stock your freezer with bags of frozen fish, chicken, veggies, and berries. If you’re a four-or-more household, McMahon suggests investing in beans and quinoa, as they are nutritionally-dense and nonperishable, and “make a decent portion from a small amount — a cup of dry quinoa ends up making three cups cooked.”

Don’t forget about water, either. The CDC suggests storing at least one gallon of water per day for each person and each pet in your household as a part of general emergency preparedness.

Eat according to shelf-life

To avoid food waste, a basic rule of thumb is fresh (and leftovers) first, frozen second, nonperishables last. For example, if you are a sandwich person, you can eat turkey deli meat during the first week, then switch to air-sealed meat (that you wait to open until the turkey is gone), according to Beth Auguste. Auguste also reminds us that you can still eat some produce past the two-week mark, including cherry tomatoes, citrus fruits, whole carrots, cabbage, and onions. Additionally, Fienman recommends freezing some meal-prepped dishes, like soups, chilis, and casseroles as they hold up well in the freezer.

Theresa Shank of Philly Dietitian offers this protein smoothie recipe made from shelf-stable foods, yet will taste super fresh: Blend together one cup frozen berries (your choice), a handful of frozen spinach, one scoop of preferred protein powder, one tablespoon nut butter, and one cup of unsweetened almond milk.

Eat these foods, especially when sick

In case you do get sick, make sure you’re drinking plenty of fluids, especially water. While there’s no food that actually prevents contracting the virus, you can act to support your immune system by incorporating natural immunity-boosting foods, such as citrus fruits, veggies, green tea, broth, and honey. Melissa Green Henkin recommends probiotic-rich foods (i.e. low-sugar yogurts, pickled veggies, kombucha), berries, which are a great source of antioxidants, and bell peppers (even the frozen kind!), as they are high in vitamin C. Shank encourages you to add fresh or powdered ginger to warm water, stir fries, or smoothies because it has antiviral and antibacterial properties.

To help increase protein intake and reduce the chances of losing muscle mass when sick, McMahon suggests eating pureed beans, low-sodium chicken noodle soup, toast topped with peanut butter, or unflavored collagen protein powder in tea.

Cut back on these foods, especially when sick

All of our experts agree that you should try to eat as normally and nutritionally-balanced as possible when sick so you get the nutrients your body needs to get back to healthy. Similar to any time you aren’t feeling well, though, Bakes and Green Henkin advises to cut back on foods high in artificial sugar, like juices, soda, and candy, as they might cause inflammation. As the CDC has made known that a potential symptom of the coronavirus is shortness of breath, Shank says you might want to avoid mucus-producing foods such as dairy milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream.

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