Quarantine Cuisine

Healthy food ideas for the coronavirus Shopocalypse

If you’re worried about being subjected to a quarantine, at the mercy of government bureaucrats delivering your food, what should you buy? Everyone’s worried about toilet paper, but I’ve got some ideas about healthy foods that will keep reasonably well.

Important point

A quarantine — or “social distancing” — is not like a hurricane. There’s no reason to believe the power or water will go out. You’ll have refrigeration, freezer, electricity and gas for cooking, and water. This creates lots of food opportunities you would never have after a devastating hurricane.

Freezer foods

You can put all kinds of healthy food in the freezer. Some of it already comes frozen: vegetables, fruit, meat, fish. You can freeze breads, muffins, buns, tortillas and rolls. And of course, there’s no end of frozen ready-to-heat foods like pizzas, burritos, tamales, casseroles and single-serve meals. Your biggest consideration will be the size of your freezer. This isn’t the time to waste freezer space on cakes, pies, pastries, ice cream and other frozen treats.


If you like baking, stock up on flour, sugar and items like vanilla extract, baking powder, yeast and salt. If not, don’t bother. The good news is if you’re stuck at home with time on your hands, maybe you could learn about baking or cooking in general.

Here are suggestions for foods to stock in your pantry, that will last pretty much indefinitely, or at least as long as any quarantine:

  • pasta and noodles (egg noodles, soba, lo mien, rice noodles, pad Thai, ramen, etc.)
  • canned vegetables
  • grated Parmesan
  • canned beans, refried beans
  • salsas, spaghetti sauce
  • Asian-style sauces and condiments, if you like Chinese, Korean, Thai or Indian seasonings. These are great for seasoning vegetables, cooked grains and noodles
  • canned fruit
  • canned or dried soups
  • canned tuna, sardines and other canned fish
  • oils for cooking
  • rice and other grains
  • polenta. This has to be one of the easiest foods to prepare — heat it up with a bit of water to the desired consistency, serve with marinara sauce and grated cheese. Those shelf-stable chub packages are keepers.
  • oatmeal or other hot cereals
  • dried fruit
  • nuts and nut butters
  • ready-to-eat cereals. The problem with these is milk supply. If your access to fresh milk is questionable, you can buy powdered or evaporated milk, or single serve shelf-stable milk.
  • granola bars and energy bars
  • chocolate. But please, good solid chocolate, not “chocolate” coated junk that basically tastes like corn syrup.

Fresh Foods

Fresh foods present more of a problem with any long term quarantine. They’re really healthy and desirable. On the other hand you don’t want stuff to spoil because you can’t eat it all in a timely fashion. Depending on the situation, you might decide to stock up on some things and hope for the best. You might not be restricted that long, or at all. A 2 week quarantine leaves room for many fresh food items

Lettuce and greens — these will not last more than a few days. Pre-washed greens in bags or plastic tubs may last slightly longer than heads of fresh lettuce. Greens are nutritionally wonderful, so if you want to hedge your nutritional bets, I’d add frozen spinach, chard or kale to my freezer stock.

Fruit — some fresh fruit will be Ok for several days. Oranges, grapefruit, apples and mandarins are examples. Fruit that won’t keep long: bananas, grapes, pears, pineapples, mangoes, berries, peaches. Buy frozen berries and peaches instead.

Salad vegetables like cucumbers, radishes, peppers, mushrooms, avocados eggplant and tomatoes will not keep long. If this hysteria goes on for awhile, fresh salad might not be an option.

Other vegetables that will keep longer: carrots, cabbage, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes winter squash, parsnips, rutabagas, garlic, shallots. Vegetables that keep less well: celery, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cauliflower, green beans, snap peas. If you buy pre-chopped vegetables or pre-washed greens in packages, I’d use them up first. Chopping makes these more susceptible to spoilage.

NOTE: you can make a fabulous roasted vegetable dish with sliced potatoes, rutabagas, parsnips and turnips tossed with olive oil and garlic and baked for 30 or so minutes. Add some Brussels sprouts for cheery green color.

Soy Foods: When buying soy milk, check the Use By date. Tofu lasts longer than milk, but once you open the package, you need to use it up in a timely manner. Tempeh may have a shorter shelf life than tofu. Again, once the package is opened, use it up.

Meat, poultry and fish: Fresh fish doesn’t last long. Use it up soon after buying, or freeze it. Smoked fish, such as salmon, has a longer shelf life. Fresh poultry and red meat, like fish, should be used or frozen shortly after purchasing.

Cured Meats like hot dogs, bacon, bologna and sausages do need refrigeration. “Cured” doesn’t mean they last indefinitely. They really aren’t the best choice when it comes to health.

Bread, buns, etc. These can keep for several days, sometimes longer. It’s easy to keep these in the freezer. Some types of crackers can substitute for bread and are reasonably healthy. Matzo (especially whole wheat if you can find it) is a particularly versatile option.

Dairy foods

  • Cheeses — especially hard cheese — will keep well. Great source of protein, calcium and other nutrients. Plus cheese tastes good and has lots of uses (on salads, on vegetables, on burritos or tacos, on pasta or bean chili, in omelets, as a snack…).
  • Milk — It will keep for awhile, but be prepared with powdered or evaporated milk, or shelf stable single serve packs if quarantine is excessively long.
  • Yogurt usually keep longer than milk but again not indefinitely. Check the Use By date and try to find one that’s at least 2 weeks out. I bought yogurt with a Use By date one month out. Yogurt is a good food to have around for the probiotic benefits. A lot of your immune system resides in your gut. Better to keep it healthy. NOTE: “yogurt”-coated candies? Just… NO.
  • Eggs can keep for quite awhile in the refrigerator, and are fine as long as they’re well-cooked. Extremely useful protein source, quick cooking and versatile. Plus you’ll need some if you’re going to experiment with baking.
  • Spreads. Butter and margarine will keep for quite awhile. If you’re in doubt, put unused portions in the freezer. If you use soft spreads, check the Use By date.

The Really Important Stuff

Coffee and Tea. Fortunately coffee beans and tea leaves keep well. Put them in the freezer if you’re concerned. The real problem with coffee is what you prefer to put in it. Buying milk, cream, half and half or coffee creamer? Check the Sell By/Use By dates and choose accordingly. Ultra-pasteurized dairy products last a lot longer. NOTE: flavored sweetened coffee creamers — really? Not a great use of refrigerator space in general.

Wine, Beer, Etc. A quarantine isn’t an excuse to drown your sorrows, but a glass of wine or a beer might make the whole scenario less intolerable. Alcoholic beverages don’t go bad, although they can lose their potency if left open. And obviously, if you have a problem with alcohol, don’t stock up. In fact maybe use this as an opportunity to quit. Stock up on club soda instead.

Chocolate. Oh, I already said that.

The Not Important Stuff

Chips, cookies, junky snack foods, donuts, pastries, ice cream, candy and soft drinks might keep for months, but they definitely aren’t going to do anything for your immune function. The temptation to drown your sorrows in junk food might be too great. After all, if those temptations are not in the house, and you can’t leave the house to buy them, you can’t eat them.

Which brings up an interesting possibility. You could turn quarantine into a weight loss opportunity. It’s the Social Isolation Diet. If the only foods available in your home are reasonably healthy, you have no other options. You can’t go out for your daily mocha latte, or appetizers and cocktails after work. Enforced calorie control.

On my recent trip to the neighborhood grocery store, I had no problem finding these foods, although the toilet paper shelves were almost empty. Other foods that seemed unusually depleted: canned beans, rice, dry beans, and spaghetti sauce. A family member reports that the Whole Foods in her California neighborhood was out of bottled water. What? Does someone think the water supply will be shut off?

from Health.mil

All my sympathies are with the people in Wuhan, China who were the first victims of government quarantine mandates. Trapped in their apartments, they were dependent on deliveries of food supplies chosen by government bureaucrats. I can just imagine — rice, more rice, canned vegetables (maybe). More rice. The nutritional aspects of this are a nightmare. If you’re trying to stay healthy to resist a viral infection, bureaucratic food choices aren’t going to cut it.

What choices would support the immune system? Well, a diet full of quality vegetables and fruit for one thing. I’m not sure how likely that would be in central China in winter. Then there’s zinc, critical for immune function. Meat, poultry and fish are great sources. Rice really isn’t a source of much except calories and some random B vitamins.

Reality Check

Meanwhile as the Main Stream Media posts screechy minute-by-minute updates about a person here and a person there suspected of harboring Covid-19, store shelves are being emptied of…… toilet paper. Honestly people, if you want to improve your chances of avoiding severe symptoms, you need to make better choices than that.

As with other upper respiratory infections, most people exposed to Covid-19 have few to no symptoms. Older, frail people with multiple pre-existing medical conditions are most at risk, especially if they were smokers. As a nutrition professional with a particular interest in nutrition for older adults, I have to wonder if this would be the case if older adults were generally advised to consume higher amounts of key immunity nutrients. When it comes to nutrition, the conventional (quote-unquote) wisdom is that a 75 year old is no different from a 30 year old. This is a ludicrous assumption.

Quarantine Cuisine – the Social Isolation Diet

  • Load up on frozen, canned and some fresh vegetables and fruit, nuts, grain foods and legumes. Make those central to your meals.
  • Boost protein with dairy, soy foods, meats, fish, nuts and legumes.
  • Experiment with different types of grains and seasonings.
  • When you want something sweet, go for fruit. Or chocolate.
  • Don’t stock up on low-nutrition-value junk food.

The only possible glitch in this healthy diet plan is if you can’t get out to exercise. If you don’t have exercise equipment in your home, what can you do? Exercise videos on YouTube might be your best bet. Might as well make it fun. Go for the ones that involve dancing. Add some yoga and core exercise routines. After all, if you’re quarantined in your home, you’ve got time on your hands.

Remember above all: this too shall pass. Meanwhile it’s a chance to isolate yourself from junk food, learn to cook, and take up Bollywood dancing.

Copyright: All content © 2020 Nutrition Strategy Advisors LLC. Photographs © Donna P Feldman, unless otherwise attributed. Reproduction or use without permission is prohibited.