By HELEN JONES
Special to Atmore News
Meal planning and preparation can be a tremendous challenge during a time of quarantine. With mandates to shelter in place and limit trips to the grocery store, one of our most basic tasks, food shopping, becomes a lot more complicated. So how do you continue to provide healthy meal options? Here are some tips to help you make healthful food decisions and reduce your trips to the store.
Keep a well-stocked pantry
Having a well-stocked pantry can relieve some of the pressure when it comes to meal planning and preparation. Keep the following on hand for quick, easy-to-fix dishes:
- Dried or canned beans, peas, and lentils (black, garbanzo, kidney, white, and pinto beans; green or yellow split peas; brown, green, or red lentils)
- Canned vegetables with no added salt (tomatoes, green beans, corn)
- Dried or canned fruit (natural juices or 100 percent juice)
- Whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, oats, millet, whole-wheat pasta)
- Pouches or cans of fish and chicken
- Nuts, seeds, and nut butters
- Olive, canola, or other vegetable oils
- Dried herbs and spices
- Vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, Brussels sprouts)
- Fruit (berries, cherries)
- Whole-wheat pizza dough
When thinking about what to make at home, consider foods that also freeze well. Casseroles, soups, muffins, and breads are easy to portion out and store in the freezer in individual containers. These foods can be frozen for 2 or 3 months without significant loss of quality.
Plan meals based on foods you already have
Check the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry for foods that need to be used up. Leftover meats and veggies can be easily transformed into meals by cutting them up and adding to soups, salads, or sandwiches. Here are some ideas:
- Toppings for salads or cooked grains such as rice or pasta
- Filling for a tortilla or pita sandwich
- Ingredients in a soup to eat right away or freeze for future use
Keep in mind that leftovers should be used within 3 or 4 days of preparation and reheated, if necessary, to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
Plan ahead when you have to go to the store
To help you reduce the amount of time you spend at the store, create a plan before you go. Deciding on meals and snacks before you shop can save both time and money. Organize your list according to the section of the store in which the items are located. This will prevent you from having to run from one end of the store to the other.
Here are ways you can shop safely and efficiently at grocery stores:
- Get delivery when possible. There are several apps you can access on your cell phone for grocery delivery. Finding a time slot can be hard, though, so try early in the morning and a couple of days ahead of when you need the items. The key is to plan as far out in advance as possible. Also, if the app allows you to tip, choose that option.
- Go to the store early. If you must venture out to get groceries, the earlier you go the better.
- Bring disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer. Wipe down your cart before using it.
- Wipe down your credit card after your purchase.
- Wear a face covering and be careful with gloves. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommend wearing a cloth facial covering in public settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores and pharmacies.
- Wipe off groceries and counters when you get home. Be careful when you get home. There is no clear data indicating the amount of time that COVID-19 may live on packages. Experts say to throw away disposable bags, wipe down your kitchen counter, and wash your hands just to be safe. While there is no evidence of the virus living on food, you can wash your produce using a scrub brush if you are concerned.
- Think commercial. If you cannot find products at a chain grocery store, try going to a supply store, such as a janitorial supply store, which may have products like toilet paper or paper towels.
Regular handwashing along with routine cleaning and disinfecting, especially all frequently touched surfaces, remain the most effective ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Helen Jones is an agent with Alabama Cooperative Extension System.