Interesting times call for interesting measures... we're all having to a get a little more creative in the kitchen lately... Ever since COVID-19 shelter in place orders went into effect each day feels sort like some twisted reality quarantine cooking show where I have to come up with dinner using limited ingredients while simultaneously entertaining two small children.
You can tune in daily on my Instagram... Joking, but really... I'm cooking much more on there these days to share what I'm doing day to day so if you're not following, come join me on IG. And turn on notifications too so you don't miss any tips and tricks.
For real tho, this quarantine cooking life is not for the faint of heart... and I've found the most helpful thing above all has been maintaining a sense of humor....
Giving myself all the grace...
and the kids more PB&Js....
Since we're all in this what feels like very tiny kitchen quarantine cooking together, I want to use today's post to share with you some shopping, pantry stocking and cooking strategy tips especially for this time of quarantine.
First an observation...
What Would Grandma Do?
I find myself thinking of mine a lot these days... Nana, I called her.
And I can't help but think the way we're living right now: kids home, cooking all our meals, a whole lot less going on general...
I imagine it's a lot like what life was like in the 50s...
Before all the kids went to pre-school... before there was soccer practice and ballet or something of the sort every afternoon... before there were meal kits and Favor...
So what did our grandmas do?
I'll tell you this much, they cooked a heck of a lot differently than we do today.
They didn't have Pinterest, a zillion cookbooks or cooking shows on 24/7.
In all the years eating pot roast and potatoes at my grandparents I never remember seeing a recipe...
Yet Nana cooked all. the. time.
Lesson 1: Keep it simple.
Stick to simple recipes (like the ones here) - the kind you can make a few times and you know them by heart.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, the last thing any of us need on a Wednesday night, after a long day, is to come home and have to cook some 12 step recipe that takes 45 minutes to make.
Ain't nobody got time for that!
That is why at the end of a long day, we end up calling out for takeout.
Our expectations have been all outta whack.
What If This Quarantine Is a Reset?
In a lot of ways it seems this quarantine way of life is forcing a return to simpler ways...
A lot less to do...
A lot less to need... to want...
Fewer places to go...
Fewer trips to the store...
We're going back to the essentials. The basics. And re-learning how to live this simpler life...
And in so many ways that's a beautiful thing, don't you think?
I see it happening in the kitchen.
And I can't help but hope that this is inspiring folks to cook in a whole new way... and for that new way to stick around long after this quarantine cooking season has passed.
OK, enough thinking and dreaming... time for something you can really use... let's get into action, shall we...
Below I've compiled some of the thing I do - my own shopping, planning and cooking strategies both pre and post quarantine life that I think are most helpful right now...
Shopping List Stapes
With fewer trips to the store these days (for us we're down to once a week/week and a half) I'm trying to maximize the shelf life of my produce and make sure I stock up on items that are going to last to the end of the week and beyond.
This way I can be sure I'll still have fresh produce by the end of week and even into the second week if needed.
Here are some of the longer lasting produce items that are on my list most weeks...
- potatoes/sweet potatoes
- bell peppers
Random tips to make things last longer...
- Remove produce from plastic and store in open air or in crisper drawer, or loosely wrap in paper towel
- Store potatoes and onions separate and away from each other (onions make potatoes sprout)
- Store apples and bananas away from each other (apples release a gas that causes other fruits to ripen) (Note: to speed ripening, place fruit you wish to ripen and an apple in a closed up paper bag)
- Dried beans (black, aduki, garbanzo, navy, etc.)
- Whole grains (brown rice, black rice, white rice, etc.)
- Lentils (green, red, beluga)
- Pastas (lentil, bean or quinoa)
- Tomato products (marinara sauce, strained/stewed tomatoes) - preferably in glass jars
- Coconut milk (canned)
- Canned beans (black, garbanzo, white, etc.)
- Cooking oils (extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, virgin coconut oil) - start with EVOO, add gradually
- Spices (thyme, oregano, curry powder, cumin, etc.) - start with the basics, add gradually
- Tamari or coconut aminos
- Apple cider vinegar
- Vegetables (broccoli, riced cauliflower, mixed veggies, stir fry veggies, etc.)
- Fruits (wild blueberries, strawberries, mango, pineapple, pitaya, etc.)
- Meats (wild-caught fish, ground beef, Applegate chicken sausage, etc.)
- Sprouted breads and tortillas (Ezekiel, Food for Life brands)
Batch Cooking Strategy
Batch cooking is a method where you prepare most of your food at the beginning of the week to save time and energy cooking during the week.
You don't have to make everything all at once, the idea is to get a jump on things and have some prepared foods in the fridge ready to go so you're able to assemble meals more easily throughout the week.
If you want to give it a try here are a few things to get started with:
Doing all this at once may take about an hour of cooking time. And you'll be set with the majority of your food for most of your meals for the week.
Here's what dinners might look like...
Monday: Chicken and roasted vegetables
Tuesday: Bean and grain bowls with veggies (add avocado and salsa)
Wednesday: Chicken with potatoes and veggies
Thursday: Grain and bean bowl with potatoes + extra veggies
Friday: Any leftovers or take out night...
Each night you could do a quick veggie sauté or roast another veg or two to add some more food. And you've majorly cut down on the amount of work involved night to night.
Produce Washing Tips
It's always important to wash produce well, especially during a pandemic. Our food has a long transit time, changes hands many times and sits in trucks and on shelves much longer than it did in our grandmas' era.
Our food supply also uses a lot more chemicals in pesticides and herbicides nowadays. No matter if it's conventional or organic, you can be sure some sort of pesticide is there - it's just a question of which and how much.
So, for all of these reasons, it's super important to ALWAYS wash and rinse your fruits and veggies well.
How to Wash...
The most important thing when washing is the rubbing and rinsing part.
Just like washing your hands, the goal is to wash off any bacteria, virus or anything else you wouldn't want to be eating with your food.
If you can wash it off, you don't really have to worry about killing it. And we know that the most effective part of wash is the rubbing and rinsing which helps to remove pathogens.
According to the FDA, rinsing, rubbing and scrubbing your fruits and veggies for 20 seconds is the best way to ensure safety.
If you want to take it up a notch...
You can soak your produce in a large bowl with some sort of produce wash.
You can purchase a produce wash product or you can go the more DIY route (this is what I usually do) and use apple cider vinegar or white vinegar.
Just fill a bowl with water and add a few splashes of vinegar. You want a 10:1 ratio, water to vinegar. Soak for 15 minutes. Then rinse well and dry.
This vinegar soak wash works really well for extending the life and keeping mold away from berries and lemons/oranges that can have bacteria. Key is thorough drying!
And remove pesticides...
A baking soda solution has been shown to be effective in removing many common pesticides.
It's even shown to be able to penetrate and remove pesticides that seep below the skin.
To make, just add 1 tsp of baking soda per 1 liter of water. Stir to make a solution. Then add produce and soak at least 15 minutes.
Rinse well and dry thoroughly.
I am using this one these days on produce that I typically buy organic (like anything on the EWG's Dirty Dozen list) that's not available and I have to buy conventional.
Side note: another strategy to reduce pesticide exposure and save some money is to use the EWG's clean 15 list to know what is safe to buy conventional.
A note about keeping things in perspective...
I realize talking about avoiding pesticides and having to buy conventional produce sounds like #firstworldproblems right now. I am fully aware of this.
Here's the thing though, just because there's a pandemic doesn't mean everything else goes out the window.
The things that were important to you, the things that were health priorities pre-pandemic should absolutely still be important to you today. Perhaps even more so because never has it been more important to prioritize health, strength and resiliency.
All that said, I think most important thing right now is to remember all we can do is the best we can do. So that is what we will do: the best we can. And that is enough.
In fact, it's more than enough. It's freaking amazing.
You are amazing.
You know how I know?
Because you're still reading this and that is proof.
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Sending you so much love and light,
Megan Adams Brown, CHC, helps people take charge of their health and to start listening to themselves over the latest diet trend to optimize their own wellness, happiness and potential. Her family-friendly meal plans help parents take charge in the kitchen, too. This leads to more vegetables, less junk, and happier, healthier kids and parents. Megan shares kid-approved, allergy-friendly recipes on her blog. To learn more click here.