A well-stocked pantry takes some planning, but will help add variety to your meals.

With COVID-19 forcing us to stay at home, now is the perfect time to get creative with meals. Making homemade nutritious meals and including your whole family in the planning, executing and creating process can be both fun and educational.

The first place to start is limiting your trips to the grocery store by having a well-stocked pantry and freezer. There’s no need to buy large quantities of pantry or freezer items if you focus on variety. It’s important to consider the needs of others while shopping, and it seems like most stores are able to meet the demands of consumers as long as fear-based hoarding doesn’t get out of hand.

Here is a list of nutritious, shelf-stable pantry items that can be used in recipes, eaten alone as a small snack or used as part of a recipe or meal:

  • Beans and legumes
    Dry or canned, beans and legumes are a great source of plant protein and fiber.

  • Nut butters
    Consider using almond or sunflower butter in place of peanut butter. All nut butters are a good source of protein and healthy fat.

  • Pasta, rice, quinoa, farro Try using whole wheat pasta and brown rice for more fiber. Quinoa and farro are both excellent for added protein.

  • Canned meats, fruit and vegetables and broths
    Choose canned goods without added sugar or sodium. Have canned tomatoes (crushed, diced, sauce and paste) on hand for making chili or adding to soup and for sauce. Go for canned meats like wild albacore tuna packed in water for high protein and omega-3s.

  • High fiber cereal
    Choose steel cut oats and high protein cereals.

  • Dried fruit and nuts
    Try apricots, cranberries and figs for a sweet way to get more iron and antioxidants. Nuts are rich in omega-3s and can be combined with dried fruit to make a trail mix.

  • Shelf-stable milk, coffee and tea
    Shelf-stable milk is important to have on hand in case you run out of refrigerated milk and can’t get to the store. Try almond milk or soy milk for added nutrition. There are a lot of good herbal teas out there that can help you boost your immune system.

  • Baking supplies & spices
    Remember the flour, sugar, yeast, baking powder and baking soda as well as your favorite spices and flavorings.

  • Condiments
    Be sure to pick up an extra of your favorite condiments to have in the pantry. Don’t forget the pickles and olives!

  • Popcorn
    Popcorn has a lot of fiber and you can get creative with your favorite spice or flavoring and even add your favorite little sweets for a treat.

  • Chocolate!
    Dark chocolate is best for providing the highest amount of flavonoids. The higher the percentage of cacao, the more flavonoids.

Here is a list of items that you can buy a couple of and put some in your freezer:

  • Bread, rolls and buns
    Choose whole grain for optimum nutrient content.

  • Fresh meat and fish
    Buy family size packs of meat or fish and package for individual meals before freezing.

  • Fruit and vegetables
    Wash and dry fresh fruit and vegetables and package in zip-lock bags.

  • Cheese & yogurt
    While yogurt doesn’t freeze well for eating on its own later, it can be frozen to use in smoothies. Shred cheese before freezing.

Now that you have a well-stocked kitchen you can get creative with meal ideas. It’s also a great time to introduce your children to cooking, prepping homemade meals and healthy meal planning. Take time to explain nutrition components of each food item and why it’s important to combine certain ingredients in order to get the most protein and nutrients. Make meals fun by having themed dinners such as “Breakfast for Dinner,” “Picnic in the Park,” “Kids Cook,” “One Dish Dinner,” and “Vegetarian Night.” Spin the globe and take turns picking a country to research and try recipes from. All this stay-at-home time on our hands can be used to create new, educational and fun family memories.

Have fun in the kitchen! 

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