The prepared pantry


For the time being, many individuals and families are spending more time at home. That means we need more food in the house. Today we compile suggestions to keep in mind when stocking up.

For the time being, many individuals and families are spending more time at home. That means we need more food in the house. Today we compile suggestions to keep in mind when stocking up. Photo by:


Mary Helen Hawkins

Mary Helen Hawkins



Jan Swoope



We have all had a lot thrown at us in the past week or so. Each family is making temporary adjustments. Some are now working from home for a while; others unexpectedly have the kids home from school. For all of us who anticipate being "at the house" more than usual, that means having extra food on hand. Being prepared does not mean being panicked. It does mean shopping smart. It helps to make a plan, and yes, some items on your list may be out of stock. The next truck unloaded at your grocer's may remedy that, but expect to make some substitutions.


First, it makes sense to look for nutrient-dense ingredients with long shelf-life. Remember, eating healthier also boosts the immune system


"Peanut butter, honey, pasta, spaghetti sauce, tuna and canned goods are easy pantry staples," says Chef Mary Helen Hawkins, chef instructor at the Mississippi University for Women Culinary Arts Institute. "And fresh vegetables like onions, potatoes, carrots and winter squash have a long shelf life."



Dried or canned beans provide protein and fiber. Rice and grains -- quinoa, farro, barley, for example -- are good to have on hand, too. They can be cooked up in bulk and used in soups, salads, tacos and other dishes throughout the week, says Stacey Ballis at Dried beans can be stored in airtight containers in a cool, dry pantry for up to a year. Rice and grains in airtight containers will last up to six months, or in a freezer up to a year.


Pick up some canned beets for fiber, iron and potassium boost, recommends Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, at Stock up on soups, looking for low-sodium options. You can perk up plain soups up with spices or extra veggies. Don't overlook the packaged soups, like Bear Creek.


Canned corn, green beans, peas, asparagus and tomatoes can also build meals.


Try to get canned tuna and salmon as well, for salads and croquettes. Look, too, for stocks and broths for soups, stews and risottos.





A combination of fresh, canned or frozen fruits can help on the vitamin C front.


"Fresh fruits like apples last three weeks," says Hawkins. "Bananas are great, and you can always cut up and freeze them to use in smoothies."


Remember frozen fruits (and vegetables) are harvested and frozen at peak ripeness.



Don't forget


How are you stocked for cooking oil, condiments, soy sauce, hot sauce, relish, salt, pepper or spices you'll want for boosting flavor. You may want to add all-purpose flour to your list. For long-term storage, keep flour in an airtight container in the freezer, says Ballis. Perhaps get some evaporated milk or shelf-stable milk to have on hand.


Yogurt and cottage cheese are big on dairy protein and last up to a month in the fridge. If you anticipate a lot of snacking ahead, consider nuts, pretzels, popcorn, protein bars, dried fruits, granola -- rather than too many sugary candies or salty chips.


And never forget the freezer is a tried-and-true friend.


"Some of my favorite homemade freezer meals to make are chili, pomodoro and meatballs, soups, lasagna, pot pies, grilled chicken, tacos and carnitas," says Hawkins. " I love to make my own freezer meals because there are no preservatives so I know what I'm feeding my family."


With all the kiddos home from school, Hawkins suggests this is a great time for them to practice their math skills by helping cook a meal or even prepare homemade ice cream.


"Who doesn't love ice cream?" says the chef. "It's a great family activity. I have so many happy memories preparing ice cream, and I know you and your family will as well."






1/2 pound spaghetti


1 tablespoon vegetable oil


1 1/2 cups canned chicken (drained)


2 cloves garlic (chopped)


1 teaspoon dried oregano (if you like)


1/4 teaspoon black pepper


2 cans low-sodium tomatoes, not drained (about 15 ounces each)


3/4 cup reduced-fat cheddar cheese (shredded)



  • Preheat oven to 350 F.


  • Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Drain and place in a 9-by-9-inch baking dish.


  • In a large skillet over medium heat, combine chicken, garlic, and pepper. If using oregano, add that too. Cook in oil until hot, about 5 minutes.


  • Stir in tomatoes. Lower the heat and cook for 10 minutes.


  • Spoon tomato and chicken mixture over the spaghetti in the baking dish. Sprinkle with cheese.


  • Bake for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbling. Serve immediately or cool to room temperature then freeze up to three months.


    Nutrition: Total Calories 230, Total Fat 9g, Protein 18g, Carbohydrates 19g, Dietary Fiber 3g, Saturated Fat 3g, Sodium 380mg


    (Source: Make-Ahead Meals, Sandra Bastin, PhD, RD, LD, CCE, Extension Food Specialist, The University of Kentucky Extension)



  • Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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