The cashier at the Safeway in Georgetown said he’s “never seen anything like it.” By “it” he meant the long lines of people bringing overstuffed grocery carts to his register. We’ve been advised to put some “distance” between ourselves and large crowds due to the coronavirus, but first we all had to stock up.
Gathering food for home cooking is a big part of most people’s preparation. Here at The Washington Post, we pulled together our best advice and recipes and then turned to our Voraciously readers for more tips on how to stock our pantries and freezers as everyone settles in to work and just be at home during the pandemic.
And our readers came through, posting useful comments in response to our call. Maybe everyone had such good ideas because all this preparation is giving us a sense of deja vu. We’re drawing on other experiences that have caused us to shop and plan.
I grew up in New Orleans, so for me stocking up for possible quarantine calls to mind hurricane season preparation. Many readers say the shopping trips for food and supplies make them think of “snow days,” when they are stuck at home.
And then there are readers like the one who uses the screen name kielhwl, who says, “I sort of looked at this like when I plan for a camping trip — and I do a lot of real camping. Since my ‘fridge’ is about 18–inch cube — huge fan of shelf stable items.”
Here’s how Padma Lakshmi and other expert cooks say you should stock your pantry for a coronavirus quarantine
Below are other key takeaways from readers:
Don’t forget the freezer
Unlike weather-related emergencies, which can result in power outages that make the freezer iffy, this is mostly about “social distancing.” So stocking the freezer could be a key strategy.
Reader JMA2Y recalled that before they had surgery several years ago, they stocked up and cooked ahead. “Since then, I’ve kept up the practice of making meals and stocking the freezer for weeks at a time. I roast chicken, beef, ham, turkey; cook hamburgers; make pasta dishes and soups. And all can be easily thawed and easily mixed with other ingredients to make different meals. In the pantry, we have tuna, pasta, beans, tomatoes; in the freezer we have vegetables and pizza along with the other meats that are already cooked.”
Think like a kid
Some readers, such as anyn123, offered quick and easy recipes, like this one for nachos, that call to mind after-school snacks that a child could make.
“Nachos: Put tortilla chips in a square or rectangular baking pan. Top with a can of beans or refried beans. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake at 350 or put under broiler until cheese melts. Serve with bottled salsa. This is a kid favorite.”
Give canned goods a little goose
Packaged foods are ready to eat, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready to eat. SuzyGee noted that a few months ago, they pulled a few cans of “soon-to-expire canned goods out of the cabinet — beef stew, chili …” They ate them, but to fight “food fatigue,” offered this advice: “Keep lots of spices and flavor enhancers on hand (a dollop of red wine kicks canned beef stew up a notch).” Use your imagination. Sometimes a splash of sriracha or a spoonful of gochujang paste can add a bit of umami to anemic foods. And consider all the things you could do with a can of tuna, tomatoes or black beans elevated with frozen vegetables, jarred condiments, pickled vegetables and dry seasoning.
Revisit pantry-friendly favorites
We scoured readers’ comments, as well as our social media accounts on Twitter (@wapofood) and Instagram (@eatvoraciously), and noticed popular trends or ideas. Here are a four recipes that feed into the most popular suggestions or plans. We hope they help you eat and rest more easily at home — now or anytime.
Reader tip: “Soup. Definitely soup,” mechboots says. “Doesn’t have to be fancy in order to be good. Right now, it’s a basic chicken soup: chicken breasts, onions, carrots, celery, a little minced garlic (mushrooms if you like). To stretch it out, ramen noodles, or some pasta made ahead of time. Also, rice. I’m adding wild rice I made yesterday.”
Why Roasted Carrot and Cashew Soup is pantry-friendly: Carrots keep for what seems like forever in the refrigerator, and shallots have a long shelf life as well.
Reader tip: Many folks who suggested simple pasta recipes, including DCQ11. “My go-to meal when I’m hungry but lazy is spinach pasta. Boil salted water, drop in frozen spinach and then the pasta of your choice and cook pasta to your preferred doneness. Drain the pot, then toss in some olive oil, garlic powder and Parmesan while still hot.”
Why Bread Crumb Spaghetti is pantry-friendly: This recipe draws heavily from the pantry but calls for fresh spinach. Many types of frozen greens or vegetables could be substituted.
Reader comment: Versatile chickpeas can be used to make soups, salads, casseroles. Mary_M says, “My go-to pantry staple is something I call Cheatin‘ Chana. I use a jar of medium or hot salsa + can of chickpeas + chana masala spice box. Instapot for 20 min. Done.”
Why Curried Chickpea Salad Sandwiches are pantry-friendly: Like most egg or tuna salads, this chickpea salad can be adjusted to suit whatever you have on hand. Add a sprinkle of dried parsley or another herb instead of fresh. No avocado? Sub in mayonnaise. And just go without the spinach when serving.
Reader comment: “Eggs keep much longer than people realize,” says Becca2. “Eggs are a great basis for burritos for any meal — add cheese, beans, whatever. And I still love a good quiche — eggs and cheese and whatever vegetable you want to add (mushrooms, spinach and/or broccoli preferred).”
Why Spanish Eggs and Potatoes are pantry-friendly: Eggs will stay fresh for up to three weeks in the refrigerator, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Onions and potatoes last awhile, too. If you don’t have fresh herbs for the herby mayo, make it with dried.
More freezer- and pantry-friendly recipes from Voraciously: