“How do I plan menus during the coronavirus pandemic?” asked alert reader Anne M. I’m using a mix of my normal, low-waste methods with a touch of hurricane prep. This post starts with my general rules of thumb, then goes on to menu ideas.
1) Eat whatever would go bad otherwise
Don’t waste any food. If you can’t eat it, then consider cooking it to kill off the bacteria so you can eat it in a few days or freezing it so you can eat it in a few weeks or months.
2) Eat the most perishable food first
It seems like weeks ago because it was, but just after my last in-person trip to the grocery store, I made asparagus in lemon-cashew sauce with pasta for dinner.
- Eat fresh asparagus, eggplant, mushrooms, and berries within a few days of getting them.
- Eat loose-leaf lettuce before romaine.
- Eat relatively relaxed chard and kale before tightly furled cabbage.
- Don’t be fooled by cauliflower’s rugged appearance. It loses its flavor quickly and then turns brown on the tips. You can cut that part off and use the rest, but it’s a waste of food and time.
- Rely on sturdy, pioneer vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage, onions, garlic, lemons, and apples.
- Eat refrigerated food before frozen food.
- Eat frozen food before canned or dried food in case your power goes out.
3) Eat the scraps
I have a whole class on this, but in short, think twice before throwing anything away:
- Use all the edible parts, including citrus zest and stems from kale and other greens.
- Make apple cider vinegar from apple cores and peels.
- When you cook dried beans, eat the broth too, as in aromatic Cold-Nix Soup recipe.
- Use bean broth instead of eggs and milk in some recipes. Known as aquafaba, the protein-rich liquid whips up into meringues and makes cakes tender.
- Keep a Stoup container to make tasty stew/soup from leftovers and edible scraps.
On the other hand, don’t eat food that has spoiled. Follow good food safety practices.
4) Develop a menu pattern
If it helps you deal with the stress, by all means make Instagram-worthy appetizers for every meal and a unicorn cake for dessert. But we’re sticking with our regular meal rhythm, with an emphasis on healthy comfort food.
Here’s my default menu, kept fresh by the dozens of ways to make these basic dishes. Check out my free recipes for ideas.
- Peanut butter on homemade toasted bread and a smoothie for breakfast.
- Beans, greens, and grains for lunch, plus dessert.
- Pasta with a big salad for dinner, plus fruit. Usually I make a tomato-sauce variation, sometimes spicy peanut or a creamy cashew sauce. On Fridays, we celebrate by splitting a Field Roast sausage. Live large!
Sometimes Stoup or a stir-fry replaces the pasta. Sometimes, I confess, we have dessert for dinner too. I went through my month’s supply of Escazu sea salt bars in two weeks. (One bar a week! What was I thinking?) For my birthday a few days ago, we feasted thanks to Che Empanadas, who delivered tasty frozen hand-pies that I baked at home. In short, plenty of wholesome variety with some shortcuts and treats. For more ideas, see my post 4 Whole-Day Menus under $7.
5) Eat healthy
Do your best to stay healthy. Seriously. Making good food choices now can help save your own life, shows compassion for others, and is a way you can contribute to fighting the pandemic. Let the medical professionals focus on others.
One of the scariest charts I’ve seen, in this period of terrifying charts, shows the number of hospitalized patients predicted compared to the number of ICU beds. It clearly shows that most patients who need intensive care won’t be able to get it. This is not the time to have a heart attack, stroke, or cancer if you can avoid it.
Well, Linda, you might say. I never want to have those chronic diseases.
Good! Then eat a whole-foods, plant-based diet. Aim for balanced, with includes about 9% of your calories in protein. That’s much less than most Americans eat. A major study published in Cell Metabolism found that “high levels of animal proteins promote mortality,” leading to a 75% higher death rate. And that’s without a shortage of ICU beds!
A concise and trustworthy resource that I keep going back to is Dr. Michael Gregor’s book How Not to Die. (He admits that we’re all going to die. He wants to help us avoid shuffling off our mortal coils any sooner or more miserably than needed.) Learn how to stave off cancer, heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, and even suicidal depression. I’m glad I got it as an ebook to make searching easy. You’ll also find useful, research-based videos on his website Nutritional Facts.
If you’d rather watch than read or if you want to persuade a family member to take better care of themselves, stream a lively documentary. Start with the athletic and often funny Game Changers, then watch Forks Over Knives for a more medical approach.
Sending you my best wishes
I realize that I’m lucky to be writing about menus and looking forward to dinner while others worry about masks and hope for access to a ventilator. May you and yours come through the pandemic healthy, safe, housed, and employed if you want to be. May our society learn from this disaster and take steps to improve.