What to Make During COVID-19: Recipes and tips to transform simple foods
The COVID-19 outbreak has led many people to stock up on pantry staples, freezer-friendly foods, and shelf-stable vegetables. Plenty of individuals are having to cook for the first time or using new ingredients and are likely feeling overwhelmed, while also searching for ways to make their food more exciting.
Learning to cook isn’t just beneficial from the standpoint of physical health, it can be really soothing and meditative as well. By focusing on a task that engages all of your senses, you can let your mind drift away from the chaos of the outside world for a few moments and truly be in the present.
Whether you’re looking to hone your cooking skills, enjoy family meals, or stay healthy while staying at home, there are cooking and shopping tips to learn that can make the whole experience easier and enjoyable.
Stock Your Pantry
Most people may have already stocked their pantries with shelf-stable items and foods that can be frozen to last. If you haven’t done so yet, it’s wise to start limiting daily trips to the grocery store by buying enough for about 2 weeks of meals, if possible. Here are some tips for getting started.
In addition to stocking your pantry with shelf-stable products, utilize your freezer to extend the shelf life of items such as meat, poultry, seafood, bread, milk, cheese, butter, and produce as well as to store leftovers for future meals.
Try Food Purveyors
If you still need to do some food shopping but want to physically limit (or eliminate) your trips to the store, try reaching out to local and national food purveyors that normally service restaurants.
Many of these companies are now doing home deliveries. For example, you can order meat, seafood, produce, dried beans and grains, and nuts all direct from distributors. Below is a selection of some companies offering home delivery nationally; however, this is by no means exhaustive. There are many others.
If you know of a local market or distributor near you, it is worth checking their website or calling to see if they have added on delivery service. There are also numerous subscription services available for items you need on a regular basis such as coffee. Lastly, for produce and other farm products, look into signing up for a local CSA program for the Summer and Fall.
Home Delivery Nationwide
There are a variety of companies that will provide nationwide delivery. The following are options you may want to consider, especially if you are looking for certain food items or if you want to limit your trips to the grocery store.
Grocery Delivery Services
- Chefs Warehouse offers a selection of meat, dairy, produce, pasta, and other dry goods, they do delivery to various regions nationwide, and there’s also free delivery on orders over $250.
- Imperfect Foods gives you “imperfect” grocery items including produce, grains, coffee, nuts and bread, and in some areas, eggs, dairy and more. They are sold to help reduce food waste and delivered for up to 30% less than national supermarket chains.
Sea To Table offers domestically sourced sustainable seafood delivered via FedEx, and Wild Alaskan Company also offers monthly seafood membership delivering wild caught, sustainable salmon and white fish such as halibut and cod.
- Fossil Farms specializes in sustainably raised all natural meats (beef, lamb, pork, and poultry) and farm raised wild game (duck, pheasant, elk, venison, ostrich, bison, wild boar, and others).
- Belcampo Meat Co. offers sustainable beef, pork, lamb, poultry all raised and processed on Belcampo Farms in California. They also have bone broth available and free shipping on orders over $100.
- Porter Road offers a selection of pasture raised beef, pork, lamb, and chicken; there is free shipping on orders over $100.
- Greensbury Market has a variety of domestically raised organic meat (as well as wild seafood).
- Misfits Market offers a mix of organic “imperfect” produce delivered directly for up to 40% less than average grocery store prices. Weekly subscription service offered in two sizes of boxes.
- Farmbox is an organic and natural produce delivery service that offers a mix of fruits and vegetables available in three different box sizes.
Dried Goods and Grains
- Anson Mills offers artisanal grains and flours grown in South Carolina (gluten-free flour also available).
- Geechie Boy Mill offers small-batch, stoneground cornmeal and grits as well as small selection of whole grains, rice, and legumes along with dressings and preserves.
- Bobs Red Mill has specialty flours and ancient grains, oats/oatmeal, beans, seeds, and snack bars.
- Rancho Gordo has heirloom beans, grains, and a selection of herbs and spices.
- Jansal Valley offers dry goods (beans, grains, flour, nuts, and dried fruit) herbs and spices, condiments, and chilled provisions such as cured sausages, bacon, and smoked salmon.
- Maine Grains has heritage whole grains, flours, dried beans, and even a sourdough starter.
Spices, Herbs, and Coffee
- If you’re looking for high-quality certified organic, non-GMO, fair trade herbs and spices sold in bulk, try Frontier Co-Op.,which also offers free shipping on orders over $39.
- Spicewalla is a service providing a variety of spices and spice blends, all roasted in house in small batches and typically delivered between one and three business days.
- Simply Organic has organic spices and seasonings found in many retail stores but can be purchased directly.
- Food 52 Pantry offers well curated, high quality pantry goods including flours, coffee, teas, jams, spices, nut butters, cured meats, and more.
- Goldbelly is a curated online marketplace for gourmet food featuring some American iconic foods, from pastrami to New York bagels to stone crabs to cheesecake.
Additional purveyors can be found on the Good Food Foundation website by clicking on the link “Who Ships Good Food,” which provides a resource that is actively being updated.
Avoid the Urge to Hoard
While it is wise to stock up on groceries for a couple of weeks to limit daily runs to the store, rest assured there is no shortage of food in the United States.
There is just some lag time while the distribution catches up to the sudden increased demand. Take advantage of the delivery services available to you and resist the urge to hoard so that there is enough left on the shelves for other people.
For those who are completely new to cooking, now is the time to take advantage of the variety of resources available online. Here is a summary of some of the Best Online Cooking Classes.
Many of these are free and can teach you tips as basic as how to boil water so you can cook pasta for yourself, to more advanced recipes, such as how to bake your own bread or make a multi-course restaurant meal.
For those more comfortable in the kitchen but getting a little tired of their usual go-to meals, here are some additional recipes for some inspiration. They utilize many shelf-stable ingredients, long lasting produce, as well as some fresh items that seem to be more readily available in grocery stores such as fresh herbs.
For breakfast, try out these simple and delicious recipes:
Lunch doesn’t have the be the same meal everyday. You may be surprised to learn you already have many of the ingredients on hand for some of these great recipes:
For a burst of delicious flavors, any one of these recipes should hit the spot:
Missing an Ingredient?
If you can’t find some of the ingredients in these recipes or don’t have them all, take this time to be creative and work with the ingredients you have on hand.
Be inspired by these recipes but also by what you have in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. Mix and match components of the recipes, swap out different proteins (or modify into vegetarian dishes), and season with whatever herbs and spices you have available.
Easy Cooking Techniques
- Here are some ways you can boost flavor from basic ingredients. For instance, you can maximize the flavor of vegetables with different cooking techniques and seasonings.
- Try searing or roasting meat and skin-on poultry to get good caramelization, which adds a lot of flavor.
- You can infuse oils with fresh herbs and use this to make a simple vinaigrette. For example, whisk equal parts basil oil and lemon juice with a pinch of salt and pepper for a light and bright lemon basil vinaigrette. Or, replace olive oil with rosemary oil for an earthier balsamic vinaigrette.
- These can be used to dress just about everything including salads, cooked grains, beans and simply cooked proteins. Make oils and dressings in large batches so you can use them for the weeks ahead.
- Use fresh herbs to make sauces like chimichurri or pesto that can add a finishing touch to any dish. Extra sauce can be frozen in small containers or ice cube trays for easy practical use later on.
- Use homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock to cook grains such as rice, barley, farro, and polenta and also as a base for stews and soups. This not only adds flavor but is a great way to utilize any leftover bones you have from roasting chicken or prepping vegetables and is one less thing to buy at the store.
How to Make an Infused Herb Oil
To make an infused oil, submerge a few sprigs of a fresh herb of your choice—rosemary and basil are great—in a small pot of olive oil; you can also add other aromatics like garlic cloves and chili flake along with the herbs for stronger flavor.
Heat oil with herbs on low until oil is warm to the touch but not bubbling; the herbs will change color to a darker olive green. At this point, remove from heat and steep for about 15 minutes before straining into a glass container. The infused oil can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks or more.
Cooking for Large Families
Cooking for a family and need to consolidate your time in the kitchen? Follow these three meal prep steps and then mix and match ingredients paired with different sauces and dressings for easy, healthy meals throughout all week long.
Batch-cook one to two times per week. Depending on the size of your family, cook half to full-sized bags of dried beans and grains, some simply cooked proteins (enough quantity to stretch out over a few meals), and prep a mix of raw, roasted, and/or steamed vegetables to mix and match into grain bowls, salads, or more traditionally plated dishes.
You can also incorporate frozen vegetables at the last minute if you run out of protein, top with a fried egg for a more filling meal or just go vegan or vegetarian and skip it all together (you still get protein from the grains and beans).
Try making at least one homemade salad dressing or sauce. A simple vinaigrette takes a few minutes to make and can brighten up leftover dishes. They are so easy, you can make two or three different ones—some acidic, some creamy, some spicy—which can transform all of your cooked ingredients into new flavorful dishes.
When you make them, think of filling a small Mason jar’s worth each, so that you are set for a week or more.
Have some tasty add-ins on hand. This can include cheese that can be crumbled, grated, or melted on top, pickled vegetables, olives, jarred roasted peppers, fresh picked herbs, toasted nuts/seeds, dukkah, croutons, or these crunchy parmesan cheese crisps. These are items you add in a small amount for pops of flavor and texture.
If you near the end of the week and are looking for one last dish to pull odds and ends all together and stretch into another meal, take any grains or beans you have along with cooked or frozen vegetables, add some broth or canned tomatoes and fresh or dried herbs and you have a soup or stew ready in 15 minutes.
The best part is that now this dish can be frozen to set you up for another meal for another day, further extending the shelf life.
For tender vegetables like greens, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, and peppers, cut them into bite sized pieces, blanch and shock them, drain well, spread out on parchment lined sheet tray and freeze. Once frozen, transfer into freezer safe container or bags (all air removed).
Heartier produce like carrots and winter squash usually last a long time in the refrigerator but you can also cube these and freeze raw or boil just until tender, and follow same method as above.
If you have stocked up to the point that fresh vegetables are starting to go bad, create your own frozen vegetables for later use.
Are canned products less healthy than fresh?
- The biggest drawbacks to canned products are the high levels of salt that are often added as a preservative as well as the potential exposure to BPA packaging. However, there are a lot of low sodium or no salt added varieties available on the market which contain 0mg or minimal amounts of sodium per serving.
- If you can’t find low sodium varieties, rinsing the canned item in a mesh strainer (for items like beans and vegetables), can reduce sodium by up to 40%. Regarding BPA, the majority of cans (or boxes) sold now come in BPA free packaging so it is actually harder to find food products stored in packaging with BPA than those without it.
Are frozen foods less healthy than fresh foods?
- As long as you are buying fruits and vegetables that don’t contain added salt from sauces or seasonings, the produce is typically flash frozen at its peak ripeness locking in nutrients.
- Since the produce isn’t exposed to light or oxygen from sitting out on a grocery shelf, kitchen counter, or loose in the refrigerator, sensitive nutrients such as Vitamin C that they contain are preserved for longer when frozen.
How many days do leftovers last in the refrigerator?
- How do I know when they should be transferred to the freezer? Leftovers have a shelf-life of three to seven days depending on the ingredient. Cooked meat and seafood are best consumed within two to three days or transferred to the freezer. Egg-based dishes and soups/stews are best eaten in three to four days.
- However, other cooked foods such as vegetables, grains, and beans can last longer. Use this guide as a resource if you are unsure about a specific food item.
How do I properly thaw meat, poultry, fish or leftovers from the freezer before using?
- Some cooked leftovers such as lasagna, casserole, or meatloaf that are baked in the oven can be reheated directly from frozen. Soups and stews also benefit from a day in the fridge to get a head start but can also be gradually reheated in a pot on the stove even if still frozen.
- Other frozen foods such as raw meat, fish, or poultry that need to thaw completely before cooking should be transferred to the bottom shelf of the refrigerator one to two days prior to cooking (bottom shelf is best in case they leak as they thaw). Alternatively, small amounts of frozen foods can be thawed in a bowl of cold water.
To access your AWP EAP services, call 1-800-343-3822. Your EAP is here to help with family, work, health and legal issues. EAP Services are provided at no cost and are 100% confidential.
Alliance Work Partners is a professional service of Workers Assistance Program, Inc.
Copyright © 2020 Workers Assistance Program, Inc.