Q: I’m worried about the coronavirus outbreak and I want to stock up on healthy foods just in case I am asked to self-isolate for two weeks. What should I have on hand?
Canadians who have travelled to countries with an outbreak of the novel coronavirus (e.g., China, Iran, Italy, Japan, South Korea) – and have potentially been exposed – are being advised by health authorities or their employers to self-isolate for 14 days and monitor for any symptoms.
People who have been exposed to someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 are also advised to stay home and not interact with others to prevent spreading the virus.
If you’re concerned about a possible self-isolation, be prepared by stocking your pantry with a supply of nutrient-dense foods that will last for two weeks. (This advice is not intended to cause panic; the health risk linked to COVID-19 is low in Canada.)
Use the following tips to help you eat healthy, balanced meals whether self-isolated or not:
Take inventory, make a list
Sort through your non-perishable foods. Check best-before dates on canned goods, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, packaged grains, crackers, peanut butter and condiments.
Do the same in your fridge and freezer. Throw out what’s past its prime.
Best-before dates refer to quality, not safety; they tell you how long a product will maintain its peak freshness. Eggs, milk and yogurt can be eaten safely soon after their best-before dates have passed, provided they’ve been stored properly.
Make a grocery list of foods you’ll need for breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks. Shop for proteins (include fatty fish and plant proteins), whole grains, fruits and vegetables (include dark green and bright orange produce) and healthy fats.
Consider adding the following non-perishable and longer-lasting perishable foods to your shopping cart:
Protein foods. Tinned tuna, salmon and sardines, sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, can be used for sandwiches, salads and main dishes. Consider tinned clams, which add protein and lots of iron (8 mg per one-quarter cup) to spaghetti sauce.
Canned lentils and beans (e.g., black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans) are excellent sources of plant protein (and fibre) and can be added to soups, salads, whole grain bowls, tacos and chili.
Keep a couple of bags of frozen edamame (in pods and also shelled) on hand for protein-rich snacks and meals. Unopened, firm tofu and tempeh will stay fresh for weeks in the fridge. Add frozen shrimp to your grocery list, too.
Include eggs, yogurt, cheese, milk and/or plant-based milks. Consider stocking your pantry with shelf-stable dairy and non-dairy milks, which can be stored for months before opening.
Whole grains. Dry goods such as quinoa, brown rice, barley, bulgur, farro, rolled oats and unflavoured instant oatmeal can be used for porridge, pilafs, grain bowls and salads. Include whole wheat pasta for a quick, fibre-rich meal.
If you eat cold cereal, restock those, too. Look for whole grain cereals that have no more than 6 g of sugar per serving or, even better, no added sugar.
Store whole-grain sliced bread in the freezer and take out only what you need to use at one time.
Vegetables. Canned peas, corn, green beans, carrots, beets and pure pumpkin purée (add to smoothies) are convenient to have on hand. Look for reduced-sodium varieties where possible.
Stock up on frozen vegetables, including leafy greens such as kale and spinach, as well as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower rice and spiralized vegetables. Include frozen vegetable medleys to stir-fry and add to soups.
Longer-lasting fresh vegetables include potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, beets, carrots, cabbage and onions.
Fruits. For snacks and desserts, choose fruit canned in its own juice and unsweetened applesauce. Buy unsweetened dried fruit such as raisins, dried apricots, dried apples and dried cherries to add to trail mix, hot cereal, pilafs and salads.
Don’t forget frozen fruit, including berries, pomegranate seeds and mango, to blend into smoothies and add to yogurt.
Longer-lasting fresh fruits include oranges (last three to four weeks in fridge), grapefruit (six weeks) and apples (four to six weeks). Unripe green bananas will take two to five days to ripen.
Healthy fats. Nuts, nut butters and seeds also add protein, fibre, vitamin E and minerals to snacks and meals. Buy frozen avocado chunks to add to smoothies and salads.
Make sure your supply of cooking oil will last you for two weeks.
Snacks. Include granola bars (compare brands for added sugar), whole grain crackers, hummus, roasted chickpeas and whole-food energy bars.
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan.
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