Stocking Up with Staples for Social Distancing
Social distancing is not just for people who are high-risk, but for all of us to give our neighbors, friends, hospitals, and healthcare systems a fighting chance. As much as you can, try to limit even your trips to the grocery store. And don’t forget your friends who are older or immuno-compromised—pulling together and offering to do grocery or pharmacy runs can be a light in this uncertain time.
When you’re stocking your pantry, this list will help to make delicious Blue Zones meals—even while holed up at home. Please also keep in mind that not everyone can afford to stock up with many months worth of food at one time and that current recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is to have at least a two week’s supply of food in your home, as well as prescription and over the counter medications and other essentials. In addition, when you are shopping, if you see a food item that has the WIC symbol next to the price tag, then consider buying a similar item if you can afford it and if supplies of that item are running low. The WIC program gives assistance to pregnant women or mothers with young children, and if a participating store runs out of a WIC item, these individuals can’t switch to another brand or similar item because the program approves specific foods each month “designed to supplement their diets with specific nutrients.”
Beans, Pulses, Legumes
Beans, pulses, and legumes are not only a great source of protein but they also contain fiber to keep you full and support the health of your microbiome.
Why We Love Beans
Beans are the ultimate Blue Zones food. They are nutritious, delicious, and found in every blue zones region of the world—they also happen to be shelf-stable and inexpensive.
Low or no salt canned beans: Look for no-added-salt varieties, but if you can’t find them, rinse your beans under running water. It removes a good portion of the sodium. Stock up on chickpeas, lentils, black beans, and others, and don’t overlook other bean-based canned foods, like canned, lower-sodium lentil and split pea soup. These foods supply protein and fiber, along with health-supporting minerals, like magnesium and potassium. We know from the longest-lived people in the world that they ate about a cup of beans every day and that eating beans can add about 4 years to your lifespan.
Dried beans and pulses: These dried varieties of any kind including lentils, chickpeas, black beans, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, cannellini beans, navy beans, broad beans, and fava beans are one of the least expensive things at any market. They also take so little space in your pantry and last forever.
Dried, roasted beans: Along with plant-based protein, these foods supply fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Look for dry roasted chickpeas, broad beans and edamame. Check the list of ingredients to be sure to avoid those with added sugar or preservatives.
Hummus and other bean dips: These are great for dipping vegetables, topping toast, etc.
Miso: Though miso soup is usually considered an appetizer for lunch or dinner in American Japanese restaurants, miso soup is frequently eaten for breakfast in Okinawa. Miso can be used in soups like Miso Soup with Vegetables or as a seasoning.
Tofu: Tofu is a common ingredient in all Okinawan households. It lasts months and is great in recipes like Miso-Glazed Tofu, Jordan’s Quick and Easy Tofu Champuru, and Cantonese-Style Tofu in Black Bean Sauce.
Chickpea and lentil pasta: These shelf-stable foods pack way more protein and fiber than ordinary noodles. Try to find brands that use only 1-2 ingredients.
Frozen edamame. You can buy these frozen, either naked or in their pods.
Fruits and vegetables
Stock up on fresh, frozen, and dried fruits and veggies. Onions, potatoes, apples, cabbage, squash, citrus fruits, and carrots last a long time too.
Fresh Fruit: Think apples, melons, grapefruit, oranges, and clementines. Fruit that lasts a long time. Unripe bananas will ripen over the course of several days, so you can enjoy them as you go. Keep them in the fridge after they are almost ripe to extend their shelf life. You can also slice and freeze them for snacking or to toss in smoothies down the line. They’re also a great ingredient to have on hand for baking Banana Breakfast Cookies.
Frozen fruit: Load up on frozen berries, pineapple, mangoes, and peaches which are perfect for making smoothies or topping coconut or almond milk yogurt and oatmeal. In addition to fiber, these gems contain phytonutrients, which play a key role in gut and immune health.
Freeze-dried fruit: Crunchy, freeze-dried fruit, perfect for snacking or mixing into a homemade trail mix, supplies vitamins and minerals. You can find freeze-dried blueberries, mangoes, and others at Trader Joe’s as well as all the mainstream markets.
Dried fruit: Shop for dried raisins, mango (which tastes like candy), dates, figs, apricots, prunes, and whichever dried fruits you fancy. Check for added sugars before you buy, cranberries are one to watch in particular.
Shelf-stable, hardy veggies: Start your at-home stay with veggies, like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, squash, peppers, and cauliflower, which, when unwashed and uncut, stay fresh for several days. Carrots (in the refrigerator) and potatoes and sweet potatoes (on the counter) last even longer.
Frozen veggies: Pick from any you like! Try frozen spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, riced cauliflower, butternut squash, asparagus, and green beans. They’re frozen at the peak of freshness so they pack a nutritious punch and will last a long time while you build the foundation of your meals around them.
Canned veggies: These staples can turn into countless stews, soups, pasta, and baked goods. Canned pumpkin, canned tomatoes, canned corn, and canned olives are some top picks.
Nuts and Seeds
Seeds: Seeds, such as flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, sesame seeds, and chia seeds, supply protein as well as fiber. Add them to your oatmeal or overnight oats, blend them into smoothies, or use them to top salads, sautéed veggies, or avocado toast.
Nuts: Pick up a variety of nuts, such as pistachios, pecans, walnuts, Brazil nuts, peanuts, and almonds. You can use them to boost the nutrition and tastiness of a range of meals and snacks. They can also be blended into homemade nut butters if you’re looking for a fun activity to do with your kids. Get creative by coming up with your own combinations of flavors like Chai-Spiced Cashew Butter or Honey Almond Butter.
NonDairy Milks: Shelf-stable soy, hemp, almond, and coconut milks can last years. They are great as a base for smoothies and can be useful in making curries or for baking.
Grains provide fiber and other nutrients to keep you healthy while you’re homebound. They can be a meal all on their own or as the foundation of stir-fries and other dishes.
100% whole grains: Shop for whole grains, such as steel-cut oats, quinoa, farro, millet, barley, and brown rice. These make tasty and nutritious side dishes or can be the foundation of your meals, and they’ll keep in your pantry the entire time you’re practicing social distancing — and beyond. Try Mediterranean Grain Bowls, Adventist Brown Rice Salad, Sushi Bowls, Quinoa Salad with Sweet Potatoes, or Ikarian Tabouli.
Pasta: Pasta gets a bad rap, but centenarians from the blue zones, particularly in Ikaria and Sardinia, eat pasta frequently. Look for pasta made with just a few high-quality ingredients. Gluten-free varieties are available in many stores and are often made with quinoa and brown rice. You can also use chickpea or lentil pasta.
Flours: Stock up on an assortment of flours, such as chickpea flour, almond flour, coconut flour, cornflour, and whole-grain flour. Days at home were made for baking. Try Plant-Slant Banana Bread or Cranberry and Peanut Butter Protein Bars.
Bread: It won’t stay fresh for weeks on end, but it is freezer-friendly. You can make it an activity, as well, by baking your own Ikarian-Style Sourdough. If you are not a baker, be sure to buy 100% whole grain bread or ask your local baker for real sourdough bread.
Popcorn: Popcorn is, in fact, a whole grain that is loaded with antioxidants and fiber. It’s a great snack to have on hand that your family will appreciate when Netflix becomes the height of your evening plans. Buy whole kernels and pop them in olive oil or coconut oil on the stove, or use a paper bag to pop them in the microwave without all of the extra junk found in packaged microwave popcorn.
While we typically recommend eating mostly whole foods and avoiding packaged foods, it’s ok to prepare for a time that is stressful enough as it is without adding meal planning and prepping to the mix. After all, sometimes it is the small comforts that can help get you through hard times. If you need some easy go-to items, try frozen cauliflower rice blends or low-sodium canned soups. If you like dark chocolate, grab a high-quality dark chocolate bar for a treat—it also contains antioxidants to boost your immunity. You’ll also need to make sure you have all of the ingredients you may take for granted on a daily basis.
The following items are all shelf-stable but can be easy to leave off of your list if you are in a hurry:
Olive oil: Olive oil is most often used in the blue zones, but coconut oil, avocado oil, and canola oil are good to have on hand, as well. Evidence shows that olive oil consumption increases good cholesterol and lowers bad cholesterol. In Ikaria, we found that for middle-aged people, about six tablespoons of olive oil daily seemed to cut the risk of dying in half.
Spices: Salt, pepper, turmeric, garlic, ginger, oregano, basil, chili powder, cinnamon, etc.
Stock: Vegetable broth, vegetable stock, and products like Better than Bouillon will be the base of many soups, stews, and sauces, and can also add extra flavor to grains like rice, quinoa, or farro.
Coffee: Sardinians, Ikarians, and Nicoyans all drink copious amounts of coffee. Research associates coffee drinking with lower rates of dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
Tea: People in all the blue zones drink tea. Okinawans nurse green tea all day. Green tea has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease and several cancers. Ikarians drink brews of rosemary, wild sage, and dandelion—all herbs known to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Wine: Particularly dark, red wine. In Sardinia, they drink Cannonau wine, made from garnet-red grenache grapes, it bursts with flavors of ripe cherries, spices and a hint of vanilla. People who drink—in moderation—tend to outlive those who don’t. (This doesn’t mean you should start drinking if you don’t drink now.) People in most blue zones drink one to three small glasses of red wine per day, often with a meal and with friends.