Have you been to the grocery store lately? Trying to find food for the week when the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic has cleared the shelves of produce, canned foods, meat, and frozen meals (and forget even looking for toilet paper) has upended the prospect of finding most of the healthy foods we naturally reach for.
While it’s important to prepare for a two-week quarantine, it’s equally imperative to stay calm and find ways to get your nutrients and support your health while you hunker down.
The Best Foods to Buy Right Now (If You Can Find Them)
Now might not be the best time to grab that bag of spinach that goes bad before you have the chance to make a salad. What you want is non-perishable food that lasts at least a few weeks, and will help support a healthy immune system. Typically, the heartiest options have a strong peel to protect them, like root veggies.
Here are some of the best Paleo-friendly fresh foods to stock up on, and how to store them for the longest shelf live:
- Garlic (6 months, whole and in a paper bag)
- Winter squash (4 months, in a dark pantry)
- Apples (2 months, in the fridge)
- Beets (2 months, in the fridge)
- Lemons, limes, and oranges (2 months, in the produce drawer of the fridge)
- Onions (6 weeks, in a paper bag)
- Sweet potatoes (5 weeks, in the pantry)
- Carrots (5 weeks, in the produce drawer of the fridge)
- Pomegranates (3 weeks, in the fridge)
What You Need
Packaged, canned food, and frozen foods are also great to grab right now. (They’re selling out fast too, but grocery stores should keep restocking.) Here are some great ones to look for:
- Almond flour or coconut flour. People normally grab a sack of white flour and run for the checkout. But these Paleo staples have staying power—and they’re great for a variety of cooking needs while you’re stuck inside!
- Nutritional yeast and other spices. They keep forever, so you might as well.
- Dried mushrooms. What better time to buy dehydrated fungi? Just add water to as many as you need when you’re ready to cook, and watch them come back to life.
- Frozen veggies. Granted, they might be hard to find right now. But if you grab whatever’s still available (aside from corn, of course), you’ll certainly find uses for them later.
- Frozen fruit. Good frozen fruit can be healthier and more nutrient rich than the artificially ripened fruits found in the produce section of some grocery stores. Plus, they last a long time. A morning smoothie of frozen fruit, vegetables, and collagen is a healthy way to get through 14 days at home.
- Stock and bone broth. They have a great shelf life, but once they’re opened, the clock starts ticking. Make a big batch of soup or stew—you can even freeze half of it if you can’t get through it all.
- Collagen powder. A good way to get amino acids that doesn’t go bad.
- Coconut milk. Trust me: You’ll need at least three cans to get through a good quarantine!
- Meat. Did you know that some grocery stores are pulling out whole turkeys and hundred dollar free-range roasts from the depths of their back freezer? Don’t get caught up in the siren-call of overpriced and freezer burnt meat—instead, go the other way here. Grab whatever normal chicken, ribs, or beef you normally do, and then you can freeze what you don’t use yourself.
- Eggs. These are hard to find right now, but guess what? The expensive, free-range eggs are usually still on the shelves. What better time to justify the splurge?
What Will Help You Get By
As the shelves get thinned out and many of us start facing a 14-day voluntary quarantine, we’ll have to start making sacrifices. The following are solutions that we wouldn’t recommend in good times, but will help you get through the worst of this virus:
- Canned fruits and vegetables. They don’t compare to the fresh or frozen versions, but they last forever and don’t seem to be disappearing from the shelves as quickly.
- Trail Mix. There’s a reason they call it trail mix. When hikers are facing days in the woods with no other potential sources of food, it will last them a long time. Mixes that use nuts and seeds last weeks and can still pack good nutrients.
- Dried Fruit. No, it’s not much better than candy, but it is better. It also lasts. It’s not a bad idea to have some in stock, just in case.
- Canned tuna, salmon and sardines. While canned fish often contains added salt and has other health concerns, it might be a good choice right now. If you select the right brands (read: sustainably sourced and responsibly packaged), you’ll get lots of good nutrients, healthy fats, and protein.
What You Don’t Need
Some people are going crazy for things you can live without (so don’t feel sad if they’re sold out.) Here are the things that are going fast, but you can pass up right now:
- Bananas. Unless you’re planning on freezing them for smoothies or other things, they aren’t a reliable snack for long. They go brown way too quickly.
- Avocados. What goes bad faster than a banana? An avocado. Unless you’re able to find super unripe varieties or plan on eating them the next day, you can go without.
- Beans. Grocery stores are running out of beans fast, but since they aren’t Paleo and there are so many other, better options, you can skip the beans for now.
- Pasta. Same here. I saw one grocery store the other day was completely sold out of every single pasta style! You don’t need to break your Paleo lifestyle for any linguine, even if you do happen to see some on the shelves.
What to Make With Your Haul
So you’ve got all (or most) of the food staples for your quarantine. Now what?
We’ve got lots of great, easy recipes that don’t require too many ingredients. Need some inspiration to get started? Here are some great recipes that stick with the easy-to-find basics. No eggs, fish, or avocado required!
- Paleo Irish Stew: Here’s a great way to use some cheap stew meat, root veggies, and seasonings. Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day!
- Paleo Chicken and Leek Soup: You can skip the zucchini here and add a few more carrots or other root vegetables instead.
- Creamy Roasted Asparagus and Leek Soup: You can skip the spinach in this recipe—it’s more for color than anything else.
- Paleo Bring-It-On Beef Stew: What better time to bring it on than the present? Again, skip the hard-to-find, quick-to-rot zucchini for now and use those dried mushrooms in place of the fresh creminis.
- Paleo Fall Vegetable Salad: This recipe is forgiving for whatever you’ve got on hand, so no worries if you didn’t snag any Brussels sprouts. Now’s a great time to use that orange for a fresh vinaigrette!
- Vegetable Coconut Curry: Here’s another easily customizable recipe. Just use whatever veggies and seasonings you have on hand, and let the coconut milk bring it all together.
- Sheet Pan Pork and Asian Veggies: You don’t have to use ground pork here—ground chicken or even beef could work just as well.
- Paleo Apple and Pomegranate Lemonade: If you’re tired of drinking plain water, blend up this easy lemonade with just four non-water staple ingredients.
Stay Safe. Get Food Delivery Services
If you don’t want to go to the grocery store (which is understandable for a number of reasons right now), you can still get meals delivered right to your doorstep. And you don’t have to interact with anyone!
It was recently reported that food delivery services like UberEats, Postmates, and GrubHub will offer contactless delivery. In other words, you just tell them where to leave the food (right on your welcome mat, perhaps) before you sneak a gloved hand around the door to snatch it up. Hey, you’re tipping online anyway, so why not?
Even if your food delivery service doesn’t offer the “contactless” option outright, you can always just instruct them in the notes section of your order.
It may or may not be difficult to find Paleo options nearby, depending on where you live. If you’re in SoCal like me, you know that there are healthy acai bowls and smoothies on every corner. If you’re in the Midwest or somewhere rural, it might be a bit trickier.
If you’re stuck in the land of chain restaurants, here are a few tips for what you can order that will keep you mostly Paleo. Many of these options are high in salt, but making sacrifices right now is in order:
- Chipotle or Moe’s: Get a burrito bowl or salad with meat and guacamole, and skip the rice and beans.
- Shake Shack or In-N-Out Burger: Get a burger with onions, skip the bun and cheese. And treat yourself to those sweet potato fries if they have them.
- Panera: Get one of their signature salads, and add your own olive oil dressing at home.
The Bottom Line
If you’re normally the type to have your fridge filled to the brim with fresh leafy vegetables, it might be time to remind yourself that it’s okay to buy the canned stuff instead this time. If you have to get by for a time on pasta and beans, then that’s what you have to do, but hopefully with the suggestions above, that never becomes necessary. Plus, it’s totally acceptable to skip the hassle of cooking and just order contactless food delivery from your favorite restaurant.
The best lesson to remember from our Paleo ancestors is that they were adaptable. They often faced times of food scarcity and they ate what they could find. Let’s be calm and flexible in the face of panic right now. And if you need to take solace in an extra scoop of guac’ on your burrito bowl, well, who’s around to judge you right now anyway?
For more thoughts on how to prepare and keep your immune system strong with diet, check out this recent post by Nell Stephenson.