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With all the things we should be worrying about during the COVID-19 pandemic — social distancing, washing our hands, disinfecting our devices — the last thing on our mind should be how we eat. But the now-viral photos of long lines and empty grocery store shelves has caused widespread panic across the world, as people rush to stockpile their pantries with canned foods and non-perishables to last them through the (uncertain) foreseeable future.
But to borrow a line from Taylor Swift: we need to calm down.
According to Amy Rosoff Davis, a certified trainer, nutritionist and wellness coach who works with Selena Gomez and Kristen Bell, among others, quantity is never better than quality. “Just because people are scrambling to stock their pantries, doesn’t always mean more is better,” she says. “You have to read labels and pick carefully. There’s a common misconception that any organic or non-perishable items are good,” she continues, “[but] just because something says organic doesn’t mean it’s nutrient-dense and good for you.”
Another argument against stockpiling food: many people won’t actually eat what they’ve hoarded.
“It’s a misconception that we must buy anything and everything we can lay our hands on,” says Cassie Berger, a registered dietitian nutritionist and co-founder of Pacific Nutrition Partners. “If you buy foods you have never used before, you are less likely to make use of them. And,” she adds, “stocking up on foods you are not going to eat is taking those items away from families who actually use and need those items. If you don’t like certain foods, now is definitely not the time to force yourself to eat them.”
Fruits and vegetables with long shelf lives are ideal options to stock up on — if they’re available. According to Berger, these include apples, oranges, citrus fruits, onions, garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, cabbage and winter squashes. “These are high-nutrient staples that make up the base of many great recipes,” she says.
Consider freezing your produce too. “Bananas can be frozen once they start to brown too much and then used in smoothies,” Davis offers. “Apples can be roasted with cinnamon and coconut oil and used on oatmeal or as a snack — there are lots of ways to make fresh foods last.”
If fresh food isn’t an option, Davis says frozen fruits and vegetables can be just as good. “Organic frozen fruits and veggies often have just as much, if not more, nutrition than fresh, because they are frozen at the height of their nutritional value,” she explains. “Many prefer (and are used to) the taste of fresh food, but when it comes to nutrition, frozen doesn’t mean inferior.”
“If you are able to keep fresh foods in the house that’s great,” adds Berger, “but frozen, canned and dry foods are all excellent options too and loaded with the nutrients we need to support a strong immune system.”
One thing experts agree on is consistency, both in terms of establishing a daily meal routine, and seeking out healthy eating habits as well.
“Just because you need to rely more on the pantry and freezer does not mean this is an excuse to load up on refined carbohydrates and highly-processed foods,” cautions Brigid Titgemeier, a licensed dietician and an Integrative and Functional Nutrition Certified Practitioner. “It’s best to keep these out of sight [and] out of mind, especially since you will likely be spending more time at home and around your pantry.”
So what canned foods and non-perishable items should you be stocking up on? Whether you’re planning out your menu for the month, or just want something healthy to snack on, here’s what experts recommend adding to your shopping list right now.
1. Pasta, Rice and Good Grains
“I personally stocked up on quinoa, oats, organic pasta (get rice pasta or any other varietal if you need gluten-free), chickpeas and lentils,” says Davis. In terms of lentils, “I got dried and like to cook them myself, but organic and canned is fine too,” she says.
The lentils we found above are non-GMO, certified kosher and field-traceable — each bag comes with a code you can enter on the company’s website to identify the exact field the crop was grown in, and the harvest date.
The red quinoa above is certified organic and triple-washed to eliminate impurities. The quinoa is ready to serve right out of the bag. It also has a 24-month shelf life, making it great to stock up on.
2. Canned Fruits and Vegetables
Berger recommends buying canned fruits, vegetables, beans and tomato products, though she says “jarred foods” like marinara sauce, applesauce, vegetables and pickles are good too.
This apple and pear sauce above is made from organic biodynamic apples and pears, and contains no sweeteners, flavors or preservatives. The sauce is also GMO-free, certified Kosher and gluten-free. It’s great as a snack (safe for kids!) and great to add to a smoothie too.
A good can of crushed or diced tomatoes goes a long way. Davis suggests using them for everything from soups and rice bowls, to chili and pasta sauces. “Add some greens [to the sauce] for extra nutrition,” she says.
3. Canned Protein
“Veggies (or fruit) plus a grain plus a protein is a simple way to make sure our plates are well-balanced and nutritious,” Berger says, though the combination can come “in whatever form you choose.”
Berger suggests looking for canned beans, meats and fish, along with “nuts and nut butters.” Something like the organic almond butter above can be spread on crackers and fruit, or used in a smoothie. Each serving of the sprouted almond butter contains 6g of protein and 14g of healthy fats.
Davis, meantime, is a fan of wild caught tuna. The box below gets you four cans of Italian “Ventresca” (or Yellowfin tuna belly), lightly seasoned and then set in pure olive oil. Tuna is high in omega-3 and low in fat, making it a great substitute for red meat.
4. Dried Fruits and Other Pantry Staples
“Some of the most nutrient-dense pantry staples include organic apple cider vinegar, jerky, ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, nutritional yeast, extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil,” says Titgemeier, who recommends taking an apple cider vinegar shot in the morning for “an immunity boost.”
1 tablespoon of Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar
8oz of room temperature water
Add lemon and/or honey
Another thing to stock up on: dried fruit and nuts. “Dried fruit has lots of nutrients and is a great snack or addition to oatmeal and organic cereals,” says Davis, “and they’re especially great for children.”
The 20-pack of dried fruit bars above contains four bars each of dried mangoes blueberries, strawberries, cherries and figs. The fruit bars are high in fiber, with no preservatives, and no added sugars. What we like: they’re individually-wrapped, so no worries about hands and fingers dipping into the same packaging.
Dried seaweed can also be a good snack to keep around. Seaweed is one of the most nutrient-dense foods in the world and is a good source of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. We like gimMe seaweed, which is sustainably cultivated and harvested in South Korea, and certified organic, vegan and gluten-free. Have it as a snack, or mix it in with your rice and noodle dishes, or as a salty, crunchy topping on meats and vegetables.
Berger suggests stocking up on boxed items, like crackers, cereals, broth and stocks (for soups and stews). “Look for bone broth if you can get it,” adds Davis.
The bone broth mix above gets you 10g of protein per serving, is high in collagen and helps promote better digestion and immune function. The mix is non-GMO and gluten-free with no added flavoring, preservatives, artificial ingredients, or MSG. Stir into a soup, stew or sauté, or add hot water for an instant healthy drink.
Other pantry essentials: “if you drink non-dairy milk options, get boxed [versions],” Davis says (the macadamia milk above has 50% more calcium than regular milk and doesn’t need to be refrigerated until opened).
“Teas are great too,” she adds. “Look for immune-boosting echinacea, or calming chamomile and mint.”
As news and instructions continue to trickle in over how we should respond to the coronavirus pandemic, the best thing we can do for now, experts say, is to stay mindful and prepared. When it comes to food, that means ensuring that you’re stocked up with essentials to keep you as healthy and active as possible. The one thing to avoid: “Don’t panic and don’t over-buy,” Davis says. “Stress and anxiety lower your immune system and won’t make this time go any faster. Know that this too shall pass and try and make the most of this time off from the daily grind.”