Having lived through both hurricanes and blizzards in my lifetime, I’ve learned that my home should always have a good supply of food, home cleaning products, medicines and personal hygiene products. While my pantry usually has a good assortment of items for preparing several unplanned meals, COVID-19 has suddenly changed how I stock my pantry, refrigerator and freezer for the foreseeable future.
When I started writing this article, there were no cases of the coronavirus in our area of Florida (we now have 8) and yet shoppers reacted in a way that I was not prepared for when I visited our local supermarket. Areas of empty shelves in the store and very little meat and fresh seafood has become the new norm. Instead of buying mostly fresh foods for our meals, I’ve had to alter the way I shop. My pantry is now well stocked with long lasting, shelf stable products I can use to prepare meals for the weeks ahead and I thought I would share what my pantry includes.
I have a good supply of canned and packaged foods to use as a base for meals as they have a long shelf life and are usually easy to prepare. A big portion is made up of dried items like pasta of many shapes and sizes, rice (different varieties like basmati, brown, and arborio), couscous, farro, a variety of beans, split peas and lentils, grits and polenta, different kinds of crackers, and a variety of nuts and seeds. Items like flour, salt, sugar and breadcrumbs are essentials for the meals I will be creating.
The shelves of my pantry hold a variety of soups, canned tuna, chicken and minced clams, shelf stable milk and cheese that can be used as fresh meat alternatives for nutritious meals. Canned vegetables like tomatoes, beets, potatoes, beans, chickpeas and corn will add to the variety of meals I can prepare.
Stocks and broths can be used as the base for homemade soups and will also add flavor to almost any savory dish I prepare. I’ve also got a good supply of olive oil that can be used for sautéing and also for creating sauces with the addition of herbs (either dried or fresh) that will top pasta. I also have several different types of vinegars for salads, vegetables and to bring out flavors in stews and other dishes.
Different mustards, barbecue and hot sauces, salsas, olives, pickles and capers as well as spices from various countries can be added to meats, pasta, grains and beans. Jarred peanut butter, jams, jellies and honey as well as canned and dried fruits will add sweetness to some of our meals. And of course, there are multiple boxes of tea and coffee for us to enjoy at the beginning of each day.
I’ve bought fresh vegetables that have a long storage life like potatoes, carrots, cabbage, hard squash and broccoli. Unpeeled onions, shallots and garlic cloves will last for several weeks sitting out on my counter. I have several tubes of herb pastes such a ginger, lemongrass and cilantro to replace hard to find items in the produce section at our market. Herbs I normally buy such as oregano, thyme and rosemary, are now growing in pots located in the garden just outside our front door.
Instead of buying sliced cheese from our deli, I’ve bought hard cheeses that are vacuum sealed and will last several months in my refrigerator as well as some processed cheeses that have a long shelf life and don’t need refrigeration. I also have a couple cartons of eggs that can last several months stored in my refrigerator.
I am using my freezer to extend the shelf life of fresh items like butter, bacon, meat, poultry, vegetables and a few bakery items. Chicken breasts, lean pork chops, ground beef, sausage, pasta sauces, homemade stock and nuts fills the majority of the freezer. I’ve repackaged some items so that they don’t take up too much room in my limited freezer space.
Since restaurants and bars are closed, our drinks cabinet has been topped off with wine and ingredients for our favorite cocktail. While maybe not considered an essential, sharing a cocktail before dinner helps ease the stress when listening to the news of the day.
As far as keeping ourselves and our home sanitary, I have common household disinfectants and bleach as well as alcohol wipes and solutions with at least 70 percent alcohol in my laundry room cabinet.
I’ve made sure to have necessary toiletries such as toothpaste and brushes, soap, hair products, skin care and personal hygiene products and a small amount of the all important hand sanitizer in my linen closet. By the way, if you don’t have any hand sanitizer but are able to buy aloe vera gel and 70% alcohol, you can make your own using 2 parts gel to 1 part alcohol.
I hope you have made preparations to have enough food to sustain yourselves for the weeks ahead. Pantry items that we would normally have in our kitchens can run out quickly when we have to rely on them for more than a few days. If you have room, I believe a two to four week supply of nonperishables as well as fresh produce that can be successfully frozen is what you and I need to keep in our kitchens for the foreseeable future.
To my friends and readers around the world, you are all in my thoughts during these unprecedented and worrisome times. Please do everything to stay safe and healthy.