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Published on March 31, 2020

Eating well – and safely – in the time of COVID-19

Groceries COVID

As the number of people who test positive for COVID-19 continues to rise in Massachusetts, residents understand that the best practice is to stay home as much as possible. Those who are used to stopping at a store everyday to pick up something for dinner may want to consider planning ahead for one bigger trip to the grocery store less often.

It reduces the risk to store employees and also minimizes the risk that you will be exposed to the coronavirus and then bring it back to your family.

Because some items are out of stock, shopping for a week or two at a time requires a lot of flexibility in the products you choose. That said, it’s very possible to stock up so you can make fewer trips to the store without hoarding certain items. Buying a variety of different foods is the key.

As a professional food writer who is married to a chef, I take grocery shopping pretty seriously. Normally, my husband and I go shopping together. We don’t usually have a detailed plan. We prefer to find inspiration at the store, and shopping in the age of coronavirus hasn’t changed that fact very much.

The first weekend after the outbreak became apparent in our area, the grocery store we visited was out of the obvious things like toilet paper, but it was also out of chicken, potatoes, bananas, garlic, and most of the frozen vegetables. The soup aisle was pretty sparse and the pasta aisle had fairly empty shelves as well.

Since we couldn’t buy chicken, we bought pork tenderloin instead. The package comes with two tenderloins, so we ate one the first week and froze the second one for the following week. Instead of regular potatoes, we bought sweet potatoes and turnips.

The sweet potatoes, in particular, were a good choice according to Amy Rose Sager, a dietitian with the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod.

“Sweet potatoes have a lot of good nutrition and they are very good for our immune system,” she said. “They are a good source of vitamin A too. Hard squashes are another excellent choice.”

Foods like sweet potatoes, turnips, beets, celeriac root and hard squashes all keep really well too. A good strategy we’ve adopted is to eat the more perishable vegetables like salad greens, tomatoes and cucumbers first and save the longer lasting vegetables for later in the cycle.

We eat a salad every single night with dinner, but salads don’t have to just be made with leafy greens. Grated raw beets with a drizzle of homemade dressing are delicious. A family favorite is a salad made with riced cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and scallions tossed with a lemon vinaigrette. Another salad idea is chopped celery, apples, blue cheese and pecans tossed with a little balsamic dressing.

Plan Ahead More Wisely

Sager, who also owns Leap into Wellness, a health and nutrition business, recommends that people plan ahead a bit more than they usually do, but with substitutions in mind in case stores are out of items on their list. Another strategy she suggests is to cook food in bigger batches and freeze leftovers. Soup is a great choice for this.

“It’s a good idea to buy the basics for soup – garlic, onions, celery and carrots,” she said. “You can’t go wrong there.”

If you usually cook for two and buy smaller packages of chicken, try buying a whole chicken instead. You can roast it one night and then use the leftovers for sandwiches and homemade soup that you can either eat within a few days or freeze. If you love seafood, you can easily buy a piece of fresh fish and then freeze it when you get home. Scallops and shrimp have also still been available in the frozen food section.

During times of stress, comfort foods and your family’s favorite recipes can soothe minds as they fill bellies. In our family, things like lasagna, American chopped suey, chicken stew with mashed potatoes, bean soup, clam chowder and homemade bread have all brought comfort. Since we can’t gather to eat meals together, my husband and I have been making up big batches and delivering portions to the front doorsteps of our grown daughters, parents and people in our church who are in need.

If you’ve been wanting to switch to a more plant-based diet, now is a perfect time, said Sager.

“A plant-based diet allows you to stretch food and it’s cheaper, too, because you can make something like chili using beans and you don’t have to worry about putting in the meat because your beans are your protein source,” she said. “There’s also legume pasta like chickpea and lentil pasta. That way you get some extra protein.”

For snacks, she recommends popping popcorn on top of the stove or in an air popper. It’s inexpensive and a jar will last quite a while. It’s also a great source of fiber. Another snack suggestion is to make your own trail mix. Nut butters like peanut butter or almond butter are also good to keep on hand, she said, as are grains like rice, quinoa and old-fashioned oats.

“I think the junk food and the processed food has been going quicker because people think they will last longer,” Sager said. “We’re trying to get people to still eat healthier.”