How to Prep Your Pantry And Store Food Safely
Growing up in the Northeast, it always struck me as odd when the mere mention of a snowfall led to a store-clearing rush to buy bread and milk. Watching my neighbors prepare for limited access to food, or a potential loss of power, I always found it curious why there was such a reliance on foods that were likely to spoil the fastest.
Adequate nutrition during times of extended interruptions in regular access to the food supply – whether from weather, illness, or something else – is imperative to support health and immunity. Proper planning and attention to detail can ensure that your nutritional needs are met, even if you aren’t able to access the foods that normally fill your plate.
Taking Stock of What You Have
As you accept the idea that you’ll be relying on your kitchen pantry for a majority of your meals, it’s vital to take an inventory of what’s on-hand. Use this time to identify missing foods that make up a significant portion of your normal diet.
Taking it a step further, consider which nutrients these foods provide and identify other sources of these nutrients that are more readily available. While access to fresh produce that contains a variety of vitamins and minerals might be limited, frozen options, powdered greens and fruits, and multi-vitamin supplements can provide similar nutrients without concern over perishability.
If fresh fish or sushi is your usual source of healthful omega-3 fats, then there are frozen and canned options, as well as pantry staples such as oils, seeds, nuts, and beans that have long shelf lives and can be used as substitutes. If these options won’t work, then a fish oil supplement is an alternative to provide omega-3 fats in your diet.
Protein is often a primary concern when stocking a kitchen for the long haul. As freezer space becomes limited, look to other protein sources that don’t require refrigeration or freezing. Hikers and campers have long addressed this problem with jerky of all kinds, nuts, and seeds, although rarely are these foods traditionally the centerpiece of meals.
Protein powders are a versatile answer to supplementing pantry staples to make sure you’re meeting your needs. There are endless shake options that combine food staples such as frozen berries (fiber, vitamins, flavonoids, and minerals) and nut butters (healthful fats) with whey and vegan protein powders into many recipes.
When I started my career in an ICU and trauma unit, I quickly observed that protein is a major nutrient needed for recovery and repair. Patients often had a diminished capability or desire to eat, which dictated getting creative about increasing protein intake. We added protein to everything, including oatmeal, pancakes, mashed potatoes, hot chocolate, and pudding. Check out our blog here for some additional tips on how to incorporate protein powder while cooking.
Getting creative and pushing your culinary skills in the kitchen is a great way to pass time and provide much needed distraction when you’re stuck inside for long periods.
The Internet has endless recipes for boosting nutrient density in meals by adding protein powders. I have a hundred “do it yourself” protein bars and bites I’ve been meaning to try for years to find the perfect protein bar. Feel free to share your own ideas and recipes for protein bars with us using #onlythorne. We’ve included a few of our favorite recipes at the bottom of the blog.
Safety First: Shop Smart, Store Smart, and WASH YOUR HANDS!
After you’ve assessed your situation and have a plan for building a balanced and nutritional diet for the next few weeks, there are several steps to take to minimize risks while procuring your food.
Wash your hands! – Before you leave the house, after touching any communal surface, when returning home, and before and after handling food.
Bring the food to you – Utilize supermarket delivery services, online meal kits, or support local restaurants that provide delivery and takeout options.
Shop during off-peak hours and at smaller markets – These two options will limit your interaction with others when it’s smart to do so, and smaller markets can have a larger variety of items and it’s a good way to support local businesses.
Self-checkout and smartphones – Both will decrease contact with others and with potentially contaminated surfaces. And now is a great time to set up wireless bill-pay on your smartphone.
Wash your hands! – Proper hygiene is so important we’re mentioning it twice. When you return from a trip to the grocery store or local restaurant, wash your hands immediately on entering your home. Avoid using reusable grocery bags for the time being. Discard paper and plastic shopping bags and all outer packaging as soon as you arrive home.
If it’s not packaging you can discard after entering your home, then swab it down with alcohol before storing it in the cupboard or refrigerator. This goes for delivery meals as well. And if you have high-risk individuals at home, then consider showering when returning home to minimize contamination.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has simplified food safety into four easy-to-remember categories: Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill.1
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. It’s boring but singing “happy birthday” works – or if you’re like me cycle through your childhood cartoon theme songs to break it up. Be sure to remember to clean your thumbs, the back of your hands, and under your nails.
- Wash and sanitize cutting boards, utensils, and countertops before, during, and after food preparation, especially if they’ve contacted raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs.
- Always wash fruits and vegetables.
- Don’t wash meat, chicken, or eggs.
- Avoid cross-contamination by using one cutting board and utensils for produce or foods that won’t be cooked before they are eaten, and a second, separate cutting board for raw meats, seafood, and poultry.
- Use separate plates and utensils for raw and cooked foods.
- When shopping, keep raw meats, poultry, seafood, and eggs away from other products and ideally wrapped in a plastic bag. When checking out, bag raw meat items separately.
- Different foods have different internal temperatures that are high enough to kill germs that can make you sick. Minimal internal temperatures include:
- 1450 F: fish with fins, cuts of beef, pork/ham, lamb, and veal
- 1600 F: ground meats (beef, pork, veal, lamb), egg dishes
- 1650 F: All poultry, casseroles, leftovers
- Keep food above 1400 F after cooking and before serving and microwave food to above 1650 F.
- Follow cooking instructions closely on microwaved foods to ensure heat is distributed evenly. Instructions such as “Let stand for X minutes after cooking” or “Stir halfway through” are intended to make sure proper heat is distributed evenly throughout the dish.
- Although there is an upper internal temperature to prevent the growth of bacteria and germs, there is also a minimum temperature of 400 F that is protective. We refer to temperatures between 400 F and 1400 F as the “danger zone” where bacteria that cause foodborne illness can thrive. Minimize the time that foods are in this temperature window.
- Make sure your refrigerator is set to 400 F or lower, and your freezer to 00 F or lower.
- Never leave perishables out for more than two hours, and if they have been exposed to temperatures above 900 F (warm weather or inside a hot car), then refrigerate within one hour.
- Leftovers should be stored in shallow containers to accelerate cooling and to avoid the middle of the food remaining above 400 F for too long, despite refrigeration.
- Although freezing raw food doesn’t destroy harmful germs, it does keep food safe until you can prepare it. Use caution when thawing food, because liquids from thawed foods can contain contaminants.
Stock your refrigerator smartly. Organize your fridge from the top down in order of lowest minimum cooking temps. In case of spillage or contamination, the lower foods will be cooked to a temperature to destroy the germs from the higher foods.
Ready-to-eat foods and prepared foods at the top, then fruits, vegetables, and other foods that will not be cooked before eating go next. Foods from the 1450 F group and above on the next shelf, followed by the 1600 F foods, and finally, raw poultry on the bottom shelf.
Putting it all together
Although you might be using different ingredients than you are used to and have limited food options from your pantry, only your imagination and culinary daring are holding you back from creating new recipes and expanding your skills. And when dealing with limited food options, dried spices and canned sauces go a long way toward breaking the monotony.
Switching up the seasonings, sauces, and cooking method can turn simple items like rice or noodles, frozen vegetables, and a protein into a stir-fry one night and a burrito bowl or pasta primavera the next.
Below are some basic pantry-friendly recipe templates to get you started. Use your preferences to swap out different fillings and ingredients to make the recipes uniquely yours.
Basic Overnight Protein Oats
- ½ cup rolled or steel-cut oats
- Up to 1 tablespoon sweetener of choice
- ¾ - 1 cup of milk of choice (dairy, oat, nut, soy, etc.)
- Pinch of salt
- 1 scoop of Thorne’s vanilla-flavored Whey Isolate or Vegalite
- Add-ins: berries, bananas, honey, cinnamon, vanilla, cinnamon, nuts or seeds, chocolate bits
- Combine dry ingredients in a bowl or container (I use a mason jar) and mix to incorporate
- Add your milk of choice
- Refrigerate overnight (or until liquid is absorbed if you’re eating later in the day)
- Add extra liquid (milk of choice, honey, syrup, yogurt, etc.) and stir to desired consistency
- Top with the add-ins you like and serve
No-Bake Nutrition Bar (makes 10-12)
While we have tried many protein bar recipes, this one has a mix of protein, carbohydrates, and fats, with minimal ingredients and endless options to customize, and kids can easily make them because they don’t require baking.
- 1½ cup rolled or quick oats
- ½ cup nut butter of choice
- ½ cup honey or agave
- 3-4 scoops of Thorne’s vanilla flavored Whey Protein Isolate or VegaLite (you can adjust the amount of protein for desired consistency)
- Add-ins: berries, bananas, honey, cinnamon, vanilla, cinnamon, nuts or seeds, chocolate bits
- Stir all ingredients together until well mixed.
- Transfer to an 8x8-inch pan with wax paper (you can use different size pans for different thickness (I use a square silicone muffin pan)
- Line the top of the mixture with another sheet of wax paper and press down to create uniform height (if you have another 8x8 pan, then place it on top and press down)
- Freeze until hard, then cut into bars of the desired size
These bars can keep in the freezer for up to a month.
- Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs. 4 Steps to Food Safety. FoodSafety.gov. https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep-food-safe/4-steps-to-food-safety
Published April 12, 2019. Accessed March 26, 2020.
An important note: No dietary supplement can diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, including COVID-19. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is especially important to understand that no dietary supplement, no diet, and no lifestyle modifications – other than the recommended social distancing and hygiene practices – can prevent you from being infected with the COVID-19 virus. No current research supports the use of any dietary supplement to protect you from being infected with the COVID-19 virus.