Before the pandemic hit, you may have a meal prepped for a week or a couple of days at a time. But now, in a time when deliveries from the grocery store may have to be more spaced out, how do you keep food (and healthy food at that) prepped and ready to go for longer periods of time?
This article delves into meal prepping best practices, including how to keep food fresher longer with proper food storage techniques, the must-have items in your pantry and fridge, and some of the healthier meals you can cook and whip up during these days of quarantine, lockdown, and social distancing.
How To Prep Food For A Well-Balanced Diet While In Quarantine
Prepping food during a pandemic requires a little bit of fancy footwork, but not much. In cases of quarantine, it’s important to have enough food and supplies to last you for at least 14 days.1 One of the easiest things you can do is swap some produce items for canned food, as it has a much longer shelf life. For example, canned or frozen vegetables, canned tuna, beans, and more have the ability to last for months at a time, whereas the fresh food will spoil quicker, many times despite proper food storage.
Another helpful and proactive thing you can do is go through your fridge and freezer and toss out anything you don’t need or that’s past its expiration date. This will free up more space for the other necessary items on your grocery list. Remember: When in doubt, frozen food and dried food are always handy food supply items to have in your pantry that make ideal prepper food.
What Does A Meal Prepper’s Pantry Look Like?
You may be wondering which foods you should stock up on for meal prepping that also keep easily when it comes to food storage. High-protein and healthy, high-fat foods should be on the list, as well as whole grains. Here’s a more comprehensive list of ingredient items found across many pantries if you’re looking for ideas to stock your prepper’s pantry with:2
- Tomatoes or tomato sauce
- Canned goods, frozen fruits, and veggies
- Brown rice or quinoa
- Whole wheat pasta
- Olive oil
- Beans (either dried beans or canned are fine)
- Nut butters, like peanut butter, almond butter, etc.
- Various meats, like beef, chicken, pork, etc. (canned meat or fresh is fine)
- Milk or non-dairy milk product alternatives (powdered milk works, too)
- Baking soda (both for cooking/baking and keeping your items fresh while they’re in the fridge/freezer)
- Healthier starches like oats or sweet potato
- Other electrolyte-heavy drinks
- Other dry items like crackers, nuts, veggie chips, etc.
The most important thing to note when choosing these products is to ensure that they can easily be frozen or stored well so that they won’t spoil.
The Importance Of Food Storage
Before you take that fresh produce and stick it in a plastic container, you may want to think again. Not only is a glass container typically a safer food storage container than plastic ones due to fewer chemicals contaminating your food, but it has the ability to keep your food fresher longer, too.3
Glass is generally one of the most airtight meal prep containers, with some particular items able to keep air out for 14 days, or the length of a typical quarantine.4 This can be especially helpful when it comes to holding onto fresh produce that you don’t want to spoil.
Mason jars make great alternative airtight containers if you find yourself short on glassware. Of course, if you have plastic containers, try to put foods in them that may spoil faster, or that you know you’re going to eat in the next few days. That way, proper food storage is ensured while still using items you have already in your home.
Meal Prep Dishes To Try During Quarantine
A good general rule of thumb to follow when meal prepping during quarantine is to cook meals that utilize plenty of ingredients at once that can be stocked up in the fridge for reheating later. (Think: Chilis, pasta dishes, stir fry’s, etc.)
Here are a few dishes that utilize plenty of pantry and fridge items in a delicious medley that can last days at a time with proper food storage techniques, and can even be tweaked for any plant-based or vegetarian diets:
Chicken Taco Chili
- Pantry staples/items needed: black beans, kidney beans, corn, canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, chicken breast
- Why it’s great for quarantine: Chilis make plenty of servings while simultaneously utilizing plenty of items within your pantry that pack a protein punch.5
- Pantry staples/items needed: rice, chicken, bell peppers, snap peas
- Why it’s great for quarantine: Makes plenty of servings and can be adjusted based on your dietary preferences (plant-based, etc.). It also tastes just as good on the third or fourth day as it does on the first with proper food storage.
Loaded Baked Potatoes
- Pantry staples/items needed: potatoes (or sweet potatoes), corn (optional), onion (optional), meat (optional)
- Why it’s great for quarantine: While baked potatoes aren’t the most meal-prep friendly, these are a great, quick, and easy meal alternative if you find yourself tiring of cooking (especially toward the end of your quarantine). It also allows you to get creative with any pantry items you have on hand and is a diet-friendly meal for everyone in your household.6
- Pantry staples/items needed: pasta, meat (optional), tomato sauce/tomatoes, canned meat/tuna (optional), chickpeas (optional)
- Why it’s great for quarantine: Just like with the loaded baked potatoes, there are plenty of options for you to get creative with when it comes to pasta dishes. Head to your pantry and see what items you think may taste good together. This is also another great recipe option that’s diet-friendly for everyone in your household.
- Pantry staples/items needed: stock, beans (any kind), meat (optional), vegetables, cheeses, spices, rice (optional)
- Why it’s great for quarantine: Not only are there plenty of soup options to make out of pantry staples, soups, like chilis, are a great food prep meal because they can be easily stored without spoiling for longer stretches of time with proper food storage techniques. This is also another great recipe option that can be altered based on meat preferences.
Meal Planning In The Time Of Quarantine
One important thing to remember is that not all meal prepping during quarantine has to be “survival food.” Cooking should still be a fun activity, no matter the circumstances. Quarantine may mean that this is a great time to experiment with new recipes to cook during your weekly meal prep.
At the end of the day, there’s not much that can beat a truly delicious, healthy meal in quarantine from your meal plan. Wherever you find yourself during your quarantine journey, grab your aluminum foil and best glass containers for food storage, and get to work on your meal prep.