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Home » Your Health » The pandemic pantry

The pandemic pantry

Six simple steps for healthy eating in trying times

By Rosemary Szabadka
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Friday, April 10, 2020

As we hunker down at home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, some of us may find ourselves in a room we’ve rarely occupied before: the kitchen.

In many ways, the pandemic has changed our relationship with food. We can't eat in restaurants. We aren’t spending Sunday dinners with the folks. Quick dashes to the grocery store have been replaced by once-a-week (or less frequent) excursions to stock up. Some of us are watching our expenses more closely than ever as a result of loss of income.

Despite the challenges, there are easy ways to adapt to our temporary new reality. With that in mind, here are six handy tips on healthy and enjoyable eating during a pandemic:

Take inventory

Take an inventory of the food and spices you have on hand, and build from there. You can create a basic shelf of long-lasting foods by stocking up on protein foods like canned tuna, salmon, sardines, clams, lentils,  black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas , peanut butter, and packaged tofu; grain products like brown rice, barley, bulgur, rolled oats and quinoa; frozen or canned vegetables and long-lasting fresh veggies like carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions and cabbage; frozen fruits, dried fruits and long-lasting fresh fruits like oranges and apples, which can remain fresh for several weeks in your fridge. Eggs, cheese, yogurt and milk or milk-like beverages will last several weeks in your fridge and be useful in all kinds of meals. Nuts and seeds (including sunflower and pumpkin seeds, which are much less expensive than most nuts) have a long shelf life and can be added to salads, rice bowls, stir-fries and other meals. Make sure your basic shelf has enough cooking oil, and whatever spices and condiments you like to enhance your meals. Don't forget ingredients for baking like flour and sugar.

And if you're watching your budget, remember this: great deals on foods you don’t like or your family won’t eat are a fool's bargain. “Buy what you eat and eat what you buy” is a far better recipe for success and savings.

Plan ahead

Before you go shopping, think of what you will need for one week’s worth of breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks, using a combination of fresh items and items from your basic shelf of long-lasting foods. Remember: cooking food from the staples doesn't have to be boring. Frozen vegetables, for example, include a lot more than the standard peas and corn. Try frozen brussels sprouts, okra, broccoli or beets. Frozen fruits can include mango chunks, cherries, raspberries and blackberries.

Many items on the basic shelf pack a lot of nutrition at a low cost, including sardines, canned beans, chickpeas and eggs. Sardines, for example, are high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, while beans are high in both protein and fibre.

Keep it simple

These days of added stress may not be the best time to start your quest of becoming a world-renowned chef. Make it easy on yourself, particularly if you are a novice in the kitchen. Following a few simple recipes that make use of basic ingredients is a great way to build your confidence. Likewise, choosing recipes with easy, step-by-step instructions can help keep you calm in the kitchen.

In terms of tools and appliances, do yourself a favour by using the utensils and gadgets you already own and with which you are already familiar.

When in doubt, click.

There’s a wealth of cooking videos and recipes online that will provide plenty of ideas and helpful hints. If you're planning meals for a week at a time, look for recipes that use ingredients that are easy to keep on hand, especially non-perishable foods or long-lasting fresh foods. For example, a hearty bean chili made with canned tomatoes, canned kidney beans, canned corn, onions, shredded carrots and spices will be tasty, nutritious and economical.

Involve the whole team

If ever there was a time for an “all hands on deck” approach, it’s now. If you have children at home, try to make cooking into a family activity. Kids often enjoy chopping (if old enough to safely hold a knife), mashing ingredients and mixing. They’re also fascinated to watch how baking transforms batter into a cake or dough into a crust.  Learning about cooking now will give them a valuable skill for life.

This tip also applies for those of you with no children, but who live with a spouse, significant other or roommate(s). By cooking together, or by taking turns in the kitchen, you can help share the load.

And finally:

Share your successes

I think you’ll find that cooking is a practical and rewarding job that can occupy your mind, engage your creativity and give you a feeling of accomplishment. So if, by following these tips, you’ve conquered the kitchen, don’t be humble: go ahead and share your successes with family and friends. Chances are, they can use the help and encouragement. After all, we’re all in this together!

Rosemary Szabadka is a registered dietitian with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. This column was published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Monday, April 13, 2020.

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