Like many of us, you may have found your routine changing with news of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, whether you’re working remotely or keeping more supplies around for a possible extended stay at home. In stressful times, we usually look to food as a source of comfort. That doesn’t have to change if you follow a few guidelines and do as best you can to plan ahead. (Experts agree that it’s always a good idea for everyone to have 2-4 weeks of food on hand if budgets and space permit.)
Here are some smart and easy-to-follow tricks we’ve found for stocking up responsibly without adding to your stress. We’ll explain how to combine those shelf-stable staples with fresh produce and how to freeze your fresh stuff so your Misfits Market haul lasts even longer.
Here’s our handy printable checklist (and click here for a PDF version):
Take stock of what you’ve got
Before you shop, do a simple pantry check and inventory what you already have. Move items that have the most recent expiration dates to the front of your pantry. Just like the FIFO (first in, first out) method for the fridge, the same rules can apply for shelf-stable items. You’ll want to eat up nearly-expired food first and plan to restock.
Buy what you like
If you’re going to have more food on hand than usual, make it stuff that you and your household already eat. If that means an abundance of pasta or soup mix—great! Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s a good idea to have both favorite snacks and nutrient-rich crowd-pleasers on hand, so don’t be tempted by labels with years-long expiration dates if it’s not something you normally eat. If by chance you don’t end up having to rely on your pantry of food, unfamiliar foods will continue to go to waste and could be better used by others who like them.
Start with non-perishables
Anything that can live in your pantry for weeks and months at a time is good to have on hand. The following items have long shelf lives with extended expiration dates. As long as you have a few on hand, you can make any meal in a pinch without sacrificing taste or nutrition:
- Rice: A mix of short and long grain, plus varieties like risotto, can take on basically any flavor profile.
- Dry pasta: Get long noodles as well as shorter ones like penne or bowtie so you’ve got a bit of variety on hand. If you’re looking into pasta mixes like mac and cheese, note whether you need milk to complete the recipe.
- Cereal: Non-flavored versions can be added to snack mixes as well as your morning bowl.
- Dried and canned beans: Dried tend to taste better when made at home but canned is easiest in a pinch.
- Canned tomatoes and pasta sauce: Canned tomatoes work with a variety of cuisines from Indian and Italian to French.
- Lentils: High-protein legumes are great for soups and salads. They’ll also keep you fuller, longer if you need to space out your meals more than usual.
- Nuts: Filled with protein, dried nuts are great for snacking and add flavor and crunch to salads. They can also stay fresh for up to 6 months.
- Dried fruit: Perfect for snacking, salads, baking, or even rehydrating, try to invest in unsweetened versions as some are packed with sugar.
- Peanut or nut butter: Good for spreading on bread as well as making energy balls.
- Baking essentials: Just remember that flours expire too, so use the oldest ones first.
- Dried herbs and spices: If you haven’t refreshed yours in a while, consider stocking up on new ones since flavor deteriorates with time.
- Canned fish: Tuna is a go-to for sandwiches and for adding lean protein to salads if you need a meal in a pinch and don’t have access to an oven.
- Stocks or broths: Vegetable, beef, and chicken broth are the base for many big-batch dishes like chili or bean soups.
- Shelf-stable milks: Though dairy milk is occasionally found in shelf-stable packaging, here’s where the trend of plant-based milks really comes in handy. Consider keeping unsweetened, non-flavored (unless you really love it) almond, oat, coconut, or soy milk on hand.
In our Marketplace, we currently sell a number of deeply-discounted pantry and shelf-stable items such as oatmeal, dried lentils, and canned tomatoes—and even more goodies to come!—so you can fill your pantry while getting the fresh Misfits Market produce that you love.
Move onto fresh fruits and veggies
Some produce can last for weeks or months without refrigeration as long as it’s kept in a cool, dark, and dry place. We call these cellar foods. Many are hardy and starchy, so they help you make large and filling meals that can last a few days when refrigerated. Store the following items in a pantry or basement cellar if you have one:
- Onions – just be sure to store far from other items, as the gasses they emit can cause other foods to ripen (and rot) faster
- Hard/winter squash
- Apples – as with onions, they also emit ethylene, a gas that speeds up spoiling so keep them separate from other veg
- Beets – if yours come with greens, store in the fridge instead
Other fruits and veggies do require refrigeration but can still keep for 1-3 weeks:
- 1 week: mushrooms, strawberries, raspberries, green beans, zucchini
- 1-2 weeks: brassica (cauliflower and broccoli), lettuce and leafy greens, celery, bell peppers, eggplant, blueberries, cucumbers
- 3-4 weeks: citrus like lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruit, apples (yep, we said the cellar but they will last longer in the fridge if you have room), carrots
Store fruits and veggies in the fridge with FIFO in mind: Keep the ones you need to eat first in the front of the fridge and the produce with a longer shelf life in the back. Always prioritize eating the most perishable fruits and veggies first or you’ll continue to create more food waste. Before eating produce that’s been in the fridge for a while, check for dark spots, mold, and mushy areas. You may be able to cut away bruised spots with no issues, but always smell the produce first—if it seems off, toss it.
Got produce storage questions? Check out our full list of how and where to store your fresh produce so it lasts as long as possible.
You can save time, money, and even save your Misfits Market produce from going to waste by pickling. Onions, cabbage, and even cherry tomatoes can be pickled and used for weeks if access to fresh produce is touch and go. Click here to read more about pickling vegetables.
Freeze everything else
Frozen foods you can quickly heat will always be a staple in any emergency, but you don’t need to rely solely on pre-made meals and packaged veggies. If you can spare the time, take a day or weekend to cook meals in batches, starting with your favorite meals and foods like chicken, roasted veggies, smoothie packs, meatloaf, and lasagna. Many of these meals can last 3-6 months in the freezer so you’ll have easy weeknight meals or blended drinks at the ready if you’re in a situation where you can’t make it to the store or if you’re in-between Misfits Market deliveries.
What’s more, bread, butter, and even eggs can be frozen. If you can’t fit everything you’ve bought in the fridge, take perishable items you always use and toss them in the freezer to use in a pinch. Just use them within a week after thawing.
Then, you’re ready to eat
In the event you’re holed up at home for any reason in the future, you can easily combine your shelf stable items with fresh produce as long as they’ve been stored and frozen properly. Pair fresh Misfits Market fruits and veggies with pantry items and you can still eat fresh, delicious, and nutritious meals like grain bowls, smoothies, tacos, one-pot pastas, soups, chilis, fried rice, and even ramen. Canned tomatoes can be paired with just about any fresh veg. Toss canned beans into salads and on top of baked potatoes. Add steamed fresh veggies and a hard boiled to instant ramen for a filling, nearly no-cook meal.
Following the sage advice of Atlantic staff writer Amanda Mull, don’t toss anything that could be repurposed for another meal or to flavor multiple dishes.
- Parmesan rinds add flavor to soups and homemade tomato sauces—combine canned tomatoes with tomato paste, garlic, fresh basil, salt, pepper, and a Parmesan rind. Remove the rind before serving and you have a fragrant and flavorful homemade sauce to pair with a box of pasta.
- Veggie scraps, tips, ends, and peels can be saved and used to make a flavorful homemade stock, which can quickly become the base for homemade soups with a can of beans or chickpeas.
- Leftover bones from whatever meat or poultry you cook can be saved to make a beef or poultry broth.
- Even pickle juice from store bought (or homemade!) pickles can be used in place of vinegar in things like gazpacho, to brine other veggies and eggs, and even added to hummus and other dips for a tangy kick.
Click here for all of our original Misfits Market recipes, which use both fresh produce and a number of pantry staples to keep you and your family full in the event of weeks-long stay at home.
Got a tip for saving food indefinitely or a question about the best way to stock your pantry? Let us know in a comment below!