April 22 is Earth Day and we will never forget that one single threat, the coronavirus, sent the whole world reeling in 2020. The frantic pursuit of toilet paper and paper towels these past several weeks might represent our visceral reaction to a sudden crisis. We felt unprepared and it frightened us. So, now what?
The Mormons have a long-held tradition of maintaining pantry supplies of one year or longer. Does it matter? If the COVID-19 pandemic represents a mere glitch, two weeks is probably fine. If this threat represents a paradigm shift, particularly if you believe in global warming, then perhaps we have something to learn from our friends who learned to push through adversity and place a premium on self-reliance.
But where to start? Either way, there is a sense of urgency at a practical level. With many of us self-isolating at home, we need to execute a plan to simplify our daily lives, maintain our pantries, promote our overall health, and prevent illness so we don’t need to seek outside medical attention. In this climate-precarious world to which we’re adapting, many of us are also trying to shop in more sustainable ways: Selecting Sustainable Seafood; Wild Idea Buffalo; Polyface Farms
This is a tall order for many of us, who grew up thinking that self-reliance meant holding down a job so we could plan for our children’s education and our own retirement. And if we did this, all of our essential needs would be readily available to us. For now, that has changed. Once the COVID-19 threat passes we can decide if our emergency planning is sufficient or requires a longer trajectory.
The good news is that we can look to numerous traditions around the world for inspiration. Many cultures store their food long-term. Many cultures also value simplicity, moderation and restraint. The Japanese culinary art of Washoku and Kansha and the tradition of hari hachi bu (the concept of eating until you are 80 percent full)… might help us find some solace and comfort in our homes right now.
Below are some practical tips for organizing our pantries and feeding our families so we can sustain them during this brief period of adversity… and beyond… just in case. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with tasks and struggling to embrace this new role as homemaker extraordinaire, watch this humorous clip of Emily Matchar discussing her home care how-to book Homeward Bound on the Stephen Colbert Show in 2013. Her book is also a great resource for those of us who didn’t grow up learning any housekeeping skills and might need some help right about now!
Goal Setting Tip: Set realistic goals, based on your actual cooking skill level, keeping inmind what your family enjoys eating.
Those seasonal peas look so gorgeous in the produce aisle, but if you don’t have a kindly grandmother waiting at home to shuck them for you, you might be a frozen peas kind of cook. Establish your cooking skills level and the amount of time and ambition you want to devote to daily meal preparation. Resource: Cooking Skills Primer
Inventory Tips: Maintaining and growing your inventory with nutrient-dense foods forthe pantry, storeroom, fridge, freezer, and deep freezer is easier than you think:
Pantry basics: You can make almost anything taste great with only salt, healthy fats, acids (vinegars and lemons), and something sweet, not necessarily sugar. These items should be kept on hand at all times. See the Substitutions section below for healthier alternatives to white sugar.
Focus on immune-boosting ingredients minus allergy- and dietary-restricted items.
Maintain your inventory
Write down what your family eats each day and multiply by seven.
Instead of stockpiling, just replenish your supplies as you go in order to maintain a two-week supply.
If you want to build up a three-month supply, don’t stockpile. Just buy a little extra each week until you’ve acquired what you need.
Employ a first in, first out system (FIFO) in order to rotate out your older supplies first. Label with dates whenever possible.
Cook foods or move them to the freezer as they near their expiration dates. Many foods freeze well, including milk and cheese (although the taste and texture might be affected). Also, here is a list of foods that do not freeze well.
Meal planning is so much more efficient if you plan around nutrient-dense INGREDIENTS (rather than complete menus), simply prepared and stored in separate containers. This simple step makes it much easier to throw together an infinite number of meals on demand, and in minutes, without a big mess or a big fuss.
It’s exhausting to cook complete meals at mealtime two or three times every day and then be faced with a stack of dirty dishes. I’ve also tried devoting entire Sundays to concocting numerous meals to eat throughout the week (whose meal planning tip was that?). I always found this to be an inefficient use of an entire day; and most of it just got shoved unceremoniously to the back of the fridge to rot.
Several extra (inexpensive) supplies that will make ahead-of-time ingredient prepping a snap:
Half sheet pans (allows you to roast large amounts of veggies at a time)
Parchment paper (minimizes cleanup)
Stackable glass storage containers (8 cup capacity)
Wire racks (for cooling)
Painter’s tape and a Sharpie (for labeling containers of cooked ingredients)
Ingredient Prepping Tips:
The minute you walk through the door with groceries, unpack your bags and throw each ingredient, not into the fridge, but into a pan to roast, a pot to steam or a skillet to sauté. All you need is a healthy oil and some salt. You can embellish your ingredients when you finalize your meals throughout the week (see Simplified Meal Tips below). Store each cooked ingredient in its own glass storage container and label.
Be your own nutrition advocate: The Mayo Clinic advises us to eat a moderate diet that is rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and healthy oils; and, to refrain from consuming processed foods, in particular refined carbohydrates and white sugary foods. This short list below represents a quick reference guide to simple, immune-boosting foods that store well and can be quickly transformed into nutrient-dense meals. Keep as many of these on hand at all times, adjusting for dietary and religious restrictions.
Short List: Immune-Boosting Foods
Animal proteins: smoked (canned) oysters, hens (for making homemade chicken broth (use the chopped chicken for numerous menu items), Salmon filet, ground turkey or chicken.
Fruits: Blueberries/blackberries, avocados, tomatoes, pomegranate (unsweetened juice), elderberry (unsweetened concentrate for smoothies and teas)
Vegetables: Sweet potatoes/yams, carrots, beets, broccoli, spinach/baby kale, mushrooms, wakame (dried seaweed for soups, grain and noodle bowls)
Alliums and rhizomes: Onions, leeks, garlic, ginger
Nuts, seeds, beans and legumes (including peanut butter, healthy oils)
Miso, tea (especially green tea)
Click here for a more complete explanation of immune-boosting foods put out by The Cleveland Clinic.
Simplified Meal Tips: Over the course of each week, you’ll begin to see patterns to how your menus evolve. Many meals can be prepared in fifteen minutes or less. [See Addendum: Simplified Meal Prep Guide]
Root to Stem Cooking Tips: Buying and utilizing the whole plant from root to stem is easy. It’s also much more budget-friendly and far less wasteful.
Separate the roots from the stems and leaves. Roast the roots, sauté the leaves and chopped stems separately. Freeze whatever raw or cooked items you don’t immediately need in separate freezer bags (always label them). You can add to your stash over time and use them in soups, stews, casseroles, or a simple sauté. [See Addendum: Tips for Root to Stem Cooking]