Eat, Drink and Be Healthy

Have a plan before the next snowstorm

Think about whole meals when you shop before a snowstorm.
Think about whole meals when you shop before a snowstorm. (Bigstockphoto)
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By Jennifer LaRue Huget
Thursday, February 18, 2010

When you and everyone else in the Washington area rushed to the grocery store last week to stock up before yet another snowstorm, what exactly did you put in your shopping cart?

As Food section editor Joe Yonan noted recently in the All We Can Eat blog, the traditional eggs-milk-bread trio you likely grabbed has limited utility. How much French toast can a person eat, anyway? Plus, that familiar delicacy is not the most nutritious meal you could assemble.

Still, having bread, eggs and milk serves you better than the instant cocoa one of my editors grabbed in a recent mini-spree. It wasn't until well into the storm that she realized she was hungry for something besides hot chocolate.

Before the next big blizzard hits (which we hope will be a long, long time from now), take time to plan your purchases. With a little forethought, your food haul can help you weather the storm.

I asked Baltimore-based licensed nutritionist and Nutrition Data ( blogger Monica Reinagel for advice on shopping up a storm. I caught her at a good time, right between her snow shoveling and grocery-store run. Here are some of her tips, plus one from me: Clip this column and save it for the next big emergency.

Plan for meals. Just as the best way to shop for your weekly groceries is to plan your menu and buy the ingredients, you should think in terms of full meals, not just individual foods you think might come in handy.

"Sometimes people come home from the store with 10 bags of groceries and no meals," Reinagel says. If you're not that organized, at least take a pad of paper to the store. If you get inspired by, say, some onions in the produce section, jot down the items you'll need from other parts of the store to make a pot of chili.

Consider cooking. One advantage of being snowed in at home is having extra time to cook. "I stock up on ingredients for a little kitchen project because I can really cook, even make bread," on a snow day, Reinagel says. "This is your chance to roast a chicken, and then you have the bones to make chicken soup. So buy a whole chicken."

If the grocery store runs low on meats, as many in the D.C. area did last week, that's a chance to get creative with vegetable-based dishes instead, Reinagel says. And if you're not a great cook, you can still make a mean bean soup using a prepackaged mix of dried beans and seasonings. Just add water and follow the directions.

Think quick and nutritious. Of course, you won't go all-out for every meal. You'll want your favorite sandwich bread plus peanut butter and jelly, canned tuna and maybe some canned beans for a three-bean salad. Be sure to have fruits and vegetables, and don't overlook the frozen varieties, which are just as nutritious, Reinagel says.

Other ideas for quick, nutritious meals that will fuel you through your snow shoveling: high-protein pastas with sauce, refried beans with tortillas and shredded cheese, and a fried-egg burrito.

Buy the best snacks. Instead of loading up on salty chips (cold weather is dehydrating), buy good-quality popcorn kernels (the cheap stuff doesn't pop up as well, Reinagel notes) and pop it in the microwave in a brown paper lunch bag (on the "popcorn" setting -- and stay close by so you can pull it out as soon as the popping slows). Drizzle with just enough extra-virgin olive oil to make a little salt stick. If the power's out, pop your corn on a gas range in olive oil for added flavor and heart-healthy fat.

Rethink tradition. One of the go-to meals on a snow day is a grilled cheese sandwich with a bowl of canned tomato soup. But there's lots of fat and salt in that pairing. How about a nice bowl of bean soup (full of protein and fiber) and a cheese quesadilla instead? You cut fat by warming the tortilla in a nonstick pan, maybe with nonstick cooking spray.

What about all the food you already had on hand? Nutrition and fitness coach Pamela Peeke told me that when the power goes off in a snowstorm, she sticks food from her fridge and freezer in garbage bags and buries them in snowbanks. Great idea, Reinagel says. But if you want your food cold, not frozen, stick it in a picnic cooler and put it outside, she suggests. The cooler's insulation should keep the freeze away during the day, though you might want to bring it in at night.

If you've been told the power will be out for just a few hours, though, keep everything where it is, but don't open the fridge or freezer doors. If you must get in there, Reinagel suggests you "mentally rehearse" where everything is that you need to retrieve and make a "targeted strike."

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