Prepare for COVID-19's next wave: Stock your kitchen with these foods

Use this dietitian's shopping list of fresh, frozen, dried and canned items to load up on before hunkering down this fall.
If you’ll be taking less frequent trips to the store, it’s helpful to have nutritious fresh, frozen and pantry foods on hand at home.
If you’ll be taking less frequent trips to the store, it’s helpful to have nutritious fresh, frozen and pantry foods on hand at home.TODAY Illustration / Getty Images

As coronavirus cases continue to rise in the United States, people are bracing themselves for the next wave of the pandemic. Data from retailers and online shopping platforms suggests that people are already stocking up on staple items.

If you’re planning to spend more time at home than in previous weeks, buy accordingly, but don’t overbuy. That said, if you’ll be taking less frequent trips to the store, it’s helpful to have nutritious fresh, frozen and pantry foods on hand at home. With a mix of each, you can whip up a variety of meals and snacks, including easy options when you want to lighten up on your cooking load.

How to stock a healthy kitchen

While most Americans base meals around meat or poultry, fruits, veggies and other plant foods are really the foundation of a healthy diet and immune system. These foods provide critical vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other bioactive compounds, so now’s a good time to try to address your family’s intake. Here are some must-have, mostly plant-based foods to keep at home, along with pro-tips for how to use them.

Fresh Food

Fill your cart with a mix of fresh fruits and vegetables (as well as frozen, canned and dried versions, which are addressed below), focusing on some of the longer-lasting ones. The perimeter of the supermarket is also where you’ll find seafood, poultry, eggs and dairy foods, so take stock of what you’ll need. Eat perishable items first, and then move on to your longer-lasting foods. For meat, poultry and seafood, you’ll need to freeze anything you won’t eat within two days. Here are some to seek out:

  • Citrus fruits, like clementines and grapefruits, are excellent sources of immune-supporting vitamin C. Try brightening up a salad with segments or drizzle a half grapefruit with honey and broil it to have as a snack or healthier dessert.
  • Hardy veggies, like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, contain a plant-compound, sulforaphane, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Plus, these veggies keep up to five days in the fridge. Batch roast them to serve alongside meals throughout the week.
  • Red and orange peppers are packed with vitamin C while baby carrots are loaded with vitamin A. Both nutrients are important for a healthy immune system. Snack on them with a dip, like hummus or guacamole.
  • Dairy foods, like milk, yogurt and cottage cheese, as well as eggs, provide protein, which is essential for the production of immune system cells. Look at sell-by dates, which are often a few weeks out, but keep in mind that this date isn’t the end-all-be-all. Unopened milk that has been stored properly (below 40 degrees Fahrenheit) can be safely opened and consumed a few days past that date (even longer for eggs) provided nothing seems off.

Pantry foods

You can find nutritious gems in the center aisles. The focus should be on minimally processed foods. Here are some to try.

  • Pulses, such as canned chickpeas and black beans, provide a slew of key nutrients, like iron, magnesium and fiber. Studies show that people who eat a half cup of these foods each day have more nutritious diets with higher levels of these and other nutrients. Make a bean chili, add black beans to tacos or roast chickpeas to eat as a crunchy snack.
  • Legume-based pasta, such as chickpea or lentil versions, have far more protein than regular pasta, which means you can pare down your meal prep by skipping the protein portion (like meat in your sauce). These varieties also have more fiber, which improves your gut health.
  • Nuts and seeds (and their butters) each have unique superpowers. Walnuts, for instance, are highest in anti-inflammatory omega-3s and polyphenol antioxidants, making them a good choice for gut health. Good gut health is linked to better immune health. Plus, these foods add interest to meals. Crush them to use as a coating for fish or chicken or use them to garnish canned soup. Add nut butters to smoothies, drizzle them over pancakes or add savory seasonings, like cumin or chili powder, to make a marinade, dressing or dip for veggies.
  • Dried fruits, like mango, prunes and figs, have important nutrients, including fiber and antioxidants. Pick up some freeze-dried fruits and veggies (think: kale, carrot and beet chips) for healthful additions to your snacking repertoire.
  • Whole grains, like quinoa, oats and whole wheat, include all parts of the grain, and therefore, all of the grain’s natural nutrition. Benefits of eating these foods instead of their refined counterparts include a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. You’ll want to keep several around to eat as side dishes. Be sure to buy whole grain breads, cereals and crackers, too.
  • Lower-sodium, healthy canned soups will surely come in handy. Seek out ones with veggies and pulses for extra nutritional perks.
  • Canned seafood, like tuna and salmon, are great pantry staples. Seafood is a good source of selenium and zinc, which are minerals necessary for your immune system. Seafood is also rich in omega 3s. Try canned seafood in pasta salads or made into burgers.
  • Condiments are a must-have at home, so take a quick inventory and buy what you need. Some ideas: Unsweetened jarred marinara, salad dressing, Dijon mustard and hot sauce.

Frozen Food

The frozen section has many wholesome options that will keep you nourished as you run low on perishable items. Here are some to keep at home.

  • Frozen and canned fruits (ideally in 100% juice) are healthy options that can brighten cold, dark days — and they provide the same nutrients as fresh versions. You can also trade perishable fresh berries for their frozen counterparts. Just use frozen fruits as you would fresh ones.
  • Frozen veggies are also just as nutritious as fresh ones and they help reduce meal prep fatigue. Keep a few varieties in the freezer to ensure you don’t run out of produce. You can always saute them in extra-virgin olive oil for an easy side.
  • Frozen meals — when made with whole food ingredients, such as whole grains, pulses and vegetables — can be healthy and easy options for Zoom-school-day lunches. Look for varieties with less than 600 milligrams of sodium (lower is better).
  • The healthiest frozen pizzas have a cauliflower or whole grain crust (even if not 100%) and veggie toppings. We have a long road ahead of us. You’ll be grateful to have a respite from cooking from time to time.