As the novel coronavirus continues to spread and the possibility of self-quarantine rises, you can’t help but wonder: What am I going to eat?
Should there be a quarantine — government or self-issued — you will likely have refrigeration, electricity and a lot of time on your hands to cook.
“From my standpoint, there’s no reason to live on snack bars and meal replacement drinks,” says 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.”
Koch, who pens the health-focused “Eat What You Love” cookbook series, says you should start with simple family favorites — 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 says.
In general, she recommends 4 ounces of protein per person per day. The U.S. Department of Agriculture 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 says. “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 put 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, 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 adds.
Canned and dry goods 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.
You should have on hand your favorite pasta or grain, nut butter, canned tuna or sardines, diced tomatoes and beans. Using dried mushrooms instead of fresh mushrooms can yield a divine Instant Pot risotto.
With beans — pinto, black, garbanzo, kidney or cannelli — you can make meals to last well beyond two weeks, from a hearty black bean chili to chicken taco soup. Here’s an even easier one from Koch: “Puree a can of black beans with salsa, chicken or vegetable broth and cumin,” she says.
Cumin is among her spice 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. Crumble potato chips to add a topping. If a recipe calls for milk or cream, she uses oat milk.
“Swirl it into coffee, oatmeal, soups,” she says. “Unlike almond milk, it is actually creamy and mimics the texture of dairy milk.”
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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.
If you’re stuck at home and find cooking or baking therapeutic, then, by all means, stock accordingly and throw yourself into Guittard’s Best Chocolate Cake Ever, knead your worries away with an artisan free-form loaf of bread or use that can of pumpkin left over from the fall to make 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.