Nfld. & Labrador

Pantry for the pandemic: A chef walks you through what you really need

Stocking your pantry is a difficult task at the best of times. Chef and writer Andie Bulman has advice, such as why the real estate in your fridge is going to become vital. 
Chef Andie Bulman and dietician Danielle Farrell have compiled a handy list of food items to stock in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer. (Credit: iStock/Getty Images, art: CBC Life)

Stocking your pantry is a difficult task at the best of times.

Stocking your pantry during an emergency is even trickier. The stakes are higher, so it feels like a monumental task. What if you don't buy the right ingredients to make a balanced meal? How many treats do you get?  What if the doomsday preppers have already bought all the best stuff?

Canadians who have travelled internationally are being advised by health authorities to self-isolate for 14 days. Similarly, anyone who has been exposed to someone with a confirmed case of coronavirus is also being advised to stay home. Schools have closed, government offices are empty, businesses have sent their employees home. 

Preparing a well-stocked pantry is a smart idea and it doesn't need to be stressful. 

I connected with one of my favourite dietitians, Danielle Farrell, to give you some tips on how to properly stock up for two weeks. She's going to steer you towards the nutritional suggestions, and I'll be the captain of the good ship 'Flavour.' 

Together, we've got you covered!

Danielle Farrell is a registered dietician with Dominion. (Submitted by Andie Bulman)

1. Take inventory 

Make a list of what you already have

Start with the dried goods. Odds are you have some baking supplies, bags of beans, dried grains, rolled oats, and a few treats. This is a good starting point. 

You probably have more food than you think!

While doing this, check the best before and expiry dates — and toss anything that isn't safe.

2. Meal planning is key

Danielle's a planner who recommends taking the time to sketch out some meal ideas.

"Using what you have as inspiration, consider batch-cooking and freezing things like chili, soups, and casseroles," she told me. 

"Make a list based on what you choose. Making a list will help to prevent panic-shopping or stocking up on things you don't need."

3. Clear out your refrigerator and freezer

You need two weeks' worth of groceries — maybe more.

Toss out that jar of kimchi you opened and then forgot two years ago. Nobody likes to waste food, but fridge and freezer real estate is about to become very important. Check your expiry dates here too. 

I mostly pay close attention to best before dates, but I'm a tad relaxed with yogurt.

4. Don't forget to replenish pantry staples

"It's really important to grab some things that you don't always think of on a weekly grocery trip," said Danielle. 

That applies to cooking oils, spices, sauces, stock and similar ingredients.

If you like to bake, she said, "make sure you have baking powder, yeast, flour, sugar, and so on." 

5. Plan to cook (But also plan to be a bit lazy)

If you end up being isolated, you're probably going to want to take on a baking or cooking project during that time. Maybe you'll tackle homemade bread, or try your hand at a long, simmering curry. Regardless, you should get ingredients for an all-day project.

Similarly, Danielle urges you to buy ingredients rather than instant or pre-made food. 

"When you plan to cook, you have so much more variety in your meals," she said. 

"Instead of buying 10 frozen pizzas, grab a variety of meat, cheese, vegetables, and grains such as tortillas or flatbread, so you can make your own pizzas or wraps."

I'd like to interject here and encourage you to grab one or two frozen pizzas. Fourteen days is a long time, and having a few convenience meals on hand for days when your kids are bored, finished with their respective Lego projects or are bouncing off the walls is smart. Sometimes you just need to shove a pizza into the oven.

Andie Bulman checking the best-before date on a pantry item. (Submitted by Andie Bulman)

6. Some healthy food, please

I know we all went nuts for bread, eggs, cigarettes and booze during the state of emergency in January, but I beg you to grab some healthy proteins, as well as whole grains, vegetables, and healthy fats. 

We've attached a short list below as a resource. Use it as a guide!  

I know that when times are tough, I always reach for treats, but an important part of this whole thing is to keep ourselves healthy. 

7. Frozen vegetables are fine

Frozen vegetables need a new PR person. 

Most are frozen at peak ripeness and retain most of their nutritional value. Additionally, frozen produce prevents food waste, as the shelf life is much longer.

If you buy a bag of combined frozen diced onion, red pepper and celery mix, you'll already have a good base for soup or jambalaya. 

Buying a few bags of frozen vegetables can also save you time!

8. Get a few treats

We're not telling you to buy half the chip aisle in a blind panic, just grab a few things that you know you'll crave and appreciate. Make your treats count! 

I'm planning to grab salted dark chocolate, aged cheddar and a good bottle of red. Get stuff you really want.

It's a tough world out there right now, but if you just do a few things you'll feel a bit better. Wash your hands, don't check your investments, and stock that pantry.

A few key staples you'll need for what may feel like a long haul. (Submitted by Andie Bulman)

Pantry list of some key staples: protein foods, whole grains, canned veggies and fruit 

Canned fish (tuna, sardines) packed in water. Great for sandwiches, salads or casseroles 

Dried or canned beans, peas, lentils and beans. Use in soups, salads, grain bowls, tacos and chili

Eggs, Greek yogurt, cheese, milk or milk alternatives 

Fresh meat, poultry and fish (portion and freeze)

Rice, quinoa, barley, bulgur, farro, whole grain pasta

Whole-grain bread (freeze some for later)

Crackers, cereal, rolled oats for baking

Tinned vegetables with no salt added

Frozen vegetables (diced onions and diced butternut squash are staples in both our kitchens)

Longer-lasting fresh vegetables: potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, beets, carrots, cabbage, onions

Canned fruit packed in water and unsweetened apple sauce

Frozen fruit (eat as is, blend into smoothies, or add to yogurt)

Longer-lasting fresh fruits include oranges (they last three to four weeks in the refrigerator), grapefruit (six weeks) and apples (four to six weeks). Unripe green bananas will take two to five days to ripen, and can be used in baking if they become overripe

Let's not forget treats! Make these count by purchasing the stuff you really want and will really look forward to. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 


Andie Bulman


Andie Bulman is a chef, writer and comedian in St. John's.

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