Kitchener-Waterloo

Andrew Coppolino on cooking at home in the age of social distancing

As people self-isolate or stay home as part of social distancing efforts, food columnist Andrew Coppolino offers some ideas for what you should have in your pantry and what to make with those items.
Cooking at home may be a good time to take some tips from Julia Child. She made French cooking accessible to people around the world. (Jon Chase/Associated Press)

For the time being, we are in a new age of social distancing and restricted movement outside our homes.

That said, most people only have a pantry stocked with supplies that will last a couple of weeks. This current new reality is a moment to take stock of how you buy food and how you prepare it.

Think about your food supply as perishables and non-perishables. In both cases, it's important to look for nutrient-dense foods.

With farmers' markets closed, your favourite vendor and neighbourhood butcher shop may have made special "social distancing" arrangements such as online purchasing and pickup so you can buy some local produce. 

A well-stocked larder focuses on non-perishable items like canned foods and dry goods such as pasta, grains and legumes which are easier to store and last a long time. 

Without hoarding, stock up on cans of beans; there's a wide variety. Legumes like the chickpea come dried and in the can; the former requires soaking in water, while the latter can be used right away. 

Many cooks will tell you that canned tomatoes are best for making pasta sauces, for instance, so make sure you have lots.

If you have available freezer space, make frozen fruits and vegetables a staple item.

There's nothing wrong with frozen vegetables. Research done at the University of California at Davis showed that there is only a marginal difference in vitamins when it comes to fresh or frozen peas, corn, carrots, broccoli, spinach, peas and green beans, which are good for stews, as well as strawberries and blueberries. 

Use a mix of fresh fruits and vegetables and canned goods or pasta to extend supplies. Don't be afraid to use frozen fruits and veg, Andrew Coppolino writes. (Kory Siegers/CBC)

Cook in bulk and get inventive

Whether it's pasta, soups, casseroles or bakes, strive for one-pot style dishes that combine protein, vegetables and fibre. And make lots for re-heating later.

Whenever you can, prep one time for many meals; peeled  potatoes and scraped carrots can be stored in water for later use.

If you're busy with kids at home or helping other family members, do as much as possible to cut down on the cooking prep-work involved at the same time you boost flavours: on your next trip to the grocery store, buy a variety of spices and dried herbs to experiment with their flavours. 

Make sure you have a supply of aromatics: onions, garlic, carrots and celery are relatively sturdy perishables and packed with flavour.

Make a lot of rice for a meal and use the leftover portion for fried rice the next day.

Visit the international aisles at the grocery store: stock up on Latin American, Caribbean and Indian ingredients to add variety and flavour to meals.

Buy some good protein powder and get out the blender: combine a couple of tablespoons with some frozen fruit, some spinach and a dollop of yogurt and you can make a delicious and nutritious "shake" that kids will love too. 

Make some "white" chili with cooked pulled chicken breast to which you add some salsa and black beans. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream. 

Modify and adapt 

If you choose a simple meal of a canned stew, let's say, you can stretch the amount by adding a bit of stock (look for "no salt added" versions) when heating it up. 

You can also boost flavours and serve more people by chopping up a potato and carrot or two, adding fresh or dried herbs and dashing in a bit of Worcestershire sauce or a hot sauce for richer, fuller flavour. 

If you've roasted a chicken or brought home a whole roasted one from the store, pick any remaining meat from the bones and refrigerate it to add to a soup. 

Put the bones in a large saucepan, add some herbs, cover with water and simmer to make a bit of extra stock. 

Roasting a chicken? Now might be a good time to try to make your own stock using the carcass. (Valeria Aksakova/Shutterstock)

Involve the kids 

With kids at home, involve them with the process of planning and preparing meals. Rather than dictate what they will eat, ask them (within reason) what they would like to cook. 

Depending on their age, get them to help with mixing, grating, peeling and stirring. 

It's also an opportunity for a bit of fun with teachable moments and talking about healthy eating and the "science" of food (like the tried and true vinegar and baking soda "volcano eruptions") such as volume and weight (use a scales to show kids what grams look like). 

Discuss how a hard substance like fusilli corkscrew pasta becomes soft in the boiling pot of water as it absorbs moisture, and how the grooves of the pasta hold the tomato sauce. 

If you have the time and you have some yeast and flour, kids can be involved with all the prep and measuring for baking bread; it could be a lifelong skill they grow into.

It will feel good for them to get their (washed) hands in there and knead the dough. Explain to them that humans have been making bread by hand for thousands of years. (You can also find "no-knead" recipes.) 

For shorter attention spans, "quick breads" like banana loaf, brownies or scones don't require the long proofing time of yeast breads: kids can put the ingredients together and eat the results in about 30 minutes. 

There are a dozen ways to eat chickpeas. Kids can sprinkle them with seasoning and let them roast in the oven for a unique crunchy snack; or, blend them into a paste and add some cocoa powder and a bit of maple syrup for a Nutella-like creation. 

Finally, if it isn't a part of your usual shopping list, it just might be the perfect time to buy some special treats like ice cream and pastries. They can boost morale and inject a bit of food excitement into the day. 

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