How to prepare a “pandemic pantry” in the middle of COVID-19

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TORONTO –
As Canadians take refuge in their homes to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, some may find themselves spending more time in the kitchen than in any other room.

Although storage is not necessary, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) says Canadians should have at least 14 days of food not only when sick, but also to limit their trips to the grocery store .

But preparing a “pandemic pantry” to last for those two weeks can be a daunting task for novice cooks and those looking to maintain healthy eating habits.

What if you forget to buy an ingredient? Should you stop buying treats? What if people have already bought all the food from your shopping list?

CTVNews.ca spoke with food experts for advice on how to properly prepare a pantry in the event of a pandemic.

PLAN AHEAD AND SAVE THE STAPLES IN THE POCKET

Certified food nutritionist Trudy Stone says Canadians should plan what they will need at the grocery store before they get there.

“When we go to the grocery store, we really should have a game plan of the foods that will provide the most nutrition and the foods that will support your immune health,” Stone said in a telephone interview with CTVNews.ca. .

However, she says it is important to be flexible with your meal plan, as grocery stores may not have all the ingredients you need during the pandemic.

“When developing your meal plan, make sure you have backup recipes on hand or even for these recipes, have backup substitutes for some of these more popular ingredients that may not be in stock Said Stone.

She said make sure to keep staple foods like cooking oils, spices, sauces, broth and the like.

Toronto chef Sydney Mazurek told CTVNews.ca that she doesn’t plan all meals but keeps the basic ingredients in the kitchen to help her create dishes.

“It’s good to have a few basics and staples in your cupboard and freezer from which you can prepare meals. I keep things like brown rice, cereal, lentils and beans … Then I get an assortment of vegetables from the grocery store that I can prepare with each dish, “said Mazurek by phone.

Kitchen expert and chef Mary Berg stressed that storage is not necessary and said Canadians should only buy what they need.

“At times like this, when you spend two weeks or more without going to the grocery store, you have to be realistic about what you are actually going to eat and what you will really need,” Berg said on the phone. interview with CTVNews.ca.

Berg recommends retaining products that can spoil quickly, such as avocados and berries, and instead buying products with longevity that can be used for multiple purposes, including carrots, bananas, squash, sweet potatoes , kale and cabbage.

FROZEN AND CANNED IS OK

Despite concerns that canned or frozen foods might be less healthy, certified nutritionist Lianne Phillipson said that eating fresh foods and storing them in this way can help products last longer.

“Don’t bypass all the fresh food – you can still get your greens, spinach, salads, bock choy, herbs – and when you get them at home, freeze some so you don’t waste them,” Phillipson said in a telephone interview with CTVNews.ca. “It’s all about browsing through a lot of the foods you have so you don’t waste anything. “

“Think of it as camping,” added Phillipson. “Use all of your fresh produce first and then you can buy everything you bought as canned food. “

Stone said that “virtually all fruits and vegetables” can be frozen, except those that are richer in water, such as celery and cucumber, which can come out soggy after being thawed.

“Properly stored vegetables can last up to a year when placed in the freezer,” said Stone. She added that certain measures can be taken to ensure that the products last as long as possible.

“When you come home from the store, you want to take the greens or herbs out of the bag and rinse them very well. After that, you will want to dry them with a cloth and then you can simply wrap them in towel paper and place them in the refrigerator, “said Stone. She said it doubles the shelf life of the products by reducing the amount of moisture absorbed.

Stone said buying canned foods like tomatoes, beans, chickpeas, pumpkin and fish is also an option if fresh foods spoil too quickly.

“There is nothing wrong with canned food, it is just what we do with canned food,” said Stone. “A lot of people are buying canned beans right now, so when we open a can of beans, we want to make sure to rinse them well to remove the sodium and make sure they’re healthier. “

Phillipson said pantry items should be kept out of direct sunlight and at room temperature to ensure they don’t spoil. She also recommends keeping garlic and onion handy to add flavor to any frozen or canned food.

REPLACEMENT SNACKS FOR HEALTHY ALTERNATIVES

Since you spend more time at home, trips to the kitchen may occur more frequently than before. But food experts say that does not mean that a healthy diet cannot be maintained.

Stone says Canadians shouldn’t worry about overeating if there are healthy snacks in the cupboard.

“We should really try to minimize processed and packaged foods as much as possible. I don’t mean eliminating them completely, because it’s really difficult to do, but we certainly want to start crowding out some of these ready meals like cookies and pastries, and replace them with healthier items, “said Stone .

For healthier options, Stone suggests combining dark chocolate with healthier fats like almonds instead of looking for a chocolate bar. She also recommends snacking on sliced ​​apples with nut butter, vegetables dipped in hummus, and trying dried fruits rich in iron, fiber and antioxidants.

Mazurek says it’s more about what Canadians eat than quantity.

“I wouldn’t want to overemphasize the amount you eat, as much as eating something nutritionally healthy, because it will satisfy you much more than crisps,” said Mazurek. “The most practical options are quite nutritionally empty. “

Phillipson suggests staying away from sweet and refined foods such as cereals that have no nutritional value.

“Just by going past them. They don’t really do any good for anyone in terms of nutrients or support your immune system, ”said Phillipson. “Try to stick to as real food as possible. “

But she warned that people should not stay away from frozen and prepackaged foods. Phillipson suggests adding fresh vegetables to a frozen pizza or treating a frozen pasta dish as a “takeout meal once a week” to balance his diet.

LIMIT TREATMENTS BUT KEEP COOKING

While Canadians May Use Their Free Time to Bake Loaves of Bread and Banana Bread, Centennial College Cooking Teacher Matthew Duffy says that doesn’t mean they have to eat everything they eat. do.

In a telephone interview with CTVNews.ca, Duffy said that people can reach out to neighbors and friends for a “contactless pastry swap” to reduce the amount of candy in the house while continuing to cook.

“It helps people share a moment and lets you connect with someone even if you’re not with them in person, but it’s also a good way to minimize leftovers [baking] around the house, “he said.

Berg suggests dividing the recipes into smaller portions to limit sweets in the house.

“Any recipe that contains an egg can be divided essentially to where the recipe requires an egg,” said Berg. “If a cake recipe needs three eggs, you can divide it into thirds and make just a third of the recipe, it just takes a little bit of calculation. “

If grocery stores are short on flour, Berg said Canadians can try cooking with healthy alternatives like rice flour, coconut flour, or quinoa flour. She added that some bakeries are now selling yeast and other staples to promote local purchases.

TURN ON THE INTERNET IF YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO START

For those who are new to cooking, Duffy recommends that novice cooks keep their recipes simple.

“There is a lot of desire to start in something advanced, but if you start with simpler cooking styles, you can then develop them,” he said. “Maybe don’t try to create this restaurant meal, but try roasting a chicken. “

Duffy said roast chicken is a “great option” for beginners because it is a food that is available year-round, can be served with various side dishes, and usually creates leftovers.

Mazurek suggests turning to YouTube and Instagram for cooking tutorials.

“Many of the chefs I lead and work with have gone to Instagram and YouTube to show very simple ways to fry an egg and cut vegetables or even make a salad,” said Mazurek. “There are a lot of simple tutorials [online] now. “

She said cooking doesn’t have to be a chore because “it can take as long as you want.”

“Many of us are looking for something to do right now and cooking is a great opportunity to develop life skills,” said Mazurek.

While takeout can be a tempting option, Berg says that cooking at home can be more economical during a time that may be financially uncertain for some.

“If you have food in your pantry, start by looking over there, then start experimenting,” she said. “It’s an easy way to put things together and it will cost less. “

Berg said the details are in the finishing touches of a dish. According to her, adding a touch of balsamic vinegar to a pasta sauce, squeezing fresh lemon over fish or adding a pinch of kosher salt can bring out the flavor of a meal.

PLAN TO COOK AND TREAT IT AS “FAMILY TIME”

Phillipson says cooking can be a way to make up for the extra time available to families and can be used as an educational tool for children.

“Because we have so much time now, cooking at home can involve the whole family. Although everyone is isolated and not sure what to do, this is a great time to bring your kids to the kitchen, “said Phillipson.

She suggests that young children help measure the ingredients or cut the soft vegetables with a butter knife so everyone can help prepare the meal.

In the midst of the pandemic, Duffy said that cooking can bring a family together during an otherwise difficult time.

“A lot of people feel like they crossed the daily finish line by sitting on the couch. But I think meal time is something we can celebrate instead, “said Duffy. “You can even use Skype with your friend or neighbor to share food. “

Berg echoed the same sentiment, adding that cooking can “be an escape” for those stressed by the pandemic.

“I think people have a hard time finding something to do to occupy their time and their brain, because it’s hard not to spiral and get nervous right now – but cooking can do it,” said Berg . ” Make [food that] is comfortable for you and makes you feel good physically and in your soul. “

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