Food Prep During Social Distancing

In our house, we’re trying to keep our routine as ‘normal’ as we can for our kids during this pandemic, and while so much seems out of our control right now, we can at least control what happens in our home.

In the early days of social isolation, and when it was technically their March Break week, we let the kids have fun and let the rules and routine slide: meals happened whenever everyone was hungry, and we didn’t necessarily focus on healthy meals, but rather fun meals.

Now though, with no end to all of this in sight and our girls obviously becoming stressed, we’ve tried to put small parts of their routine back in order. Sure, we’ve extended their bedtime at night and allowed them to sleep in every morning, and for the most part they have the day to relax and do whatever, but now we expect them to check in with their school lessons online every weekday, they are responsible for a few extra chores above and beyond their usual ones, and they are expected to help out at meal time. In fact, dinner has become something of a family affair now: the tv goes off and music goes on. At the sound of the music, the kids know it’s time to head to the kitchen to help. So far it’s working and it’s even fun (so far at least).

Changes to Grocery Shopping Means Changes to Meal Preparation

I’m trying to keep our meals as balanced as possible, but with our number of grocery trips reduced, and the uncertainty in the availability of food items when we do go, our food prep has definitely changed.

Our focus is less on 5 fresh evening meals per week, and more on preparing individual items for preservation, and on preparing and freezing meals for future use. I also focus on getting what I can when I do go to the store in case these items aren’t available next time.

While fresh produce is still available, I’ve been getting what I can and have been focused on keeping fresh fruits and vegetables in our diet.

Nothing goes to waste. If it looks as though we’re not going to finish something, I freeze it or use it in a different way (think broccoli stems turned into broccoli soup).

If I can get an extra item or two, I’m freezing that for future use (in case it’s not available later).

We’ve even started a small window garden of sorts, using the cut ends of produce we’ve finished. Many vegetables can be given new life if you just stick the cut ends in water. We’re (re)growing green onions, romaine lettuce, and carrot tops already (we have a guinea pig that needs fresh produce so he prompted this). It’s a great learning opportunity for our kids – a little science with a little home economics/food & nutrition.

Honestly, I’m surprised to see packaged frozen produce completely wiped out in the grocery stores, but fresh produce in such abundance. If you can get the fresh produce, get it! In a lot of cases, it’s cheaper, and hey, most of us have the time now to chop and prepare the produce ourselves, so why not. I’ve been teaching my kids that a quick blanching of most produce is all that’s necessary to help preserve vegetables before you freeze them.

Meat has become difficult to get (or is available in cuts we’re not used to seeing), and has recently been limited to only 2 items per purchase. That means, if you don’t want to expose yourself to unnecessary risks by going to the grocery store more frequently to get more meat, you have to make the two packages you can get go as far as possible.

Chicken Satay

On our last trip, I was lucky enough to get a package of boneless skinless chicken breasts. Rather than cook them up as 1 breast per person and using them all up in one meal, I broke the package down: one breast cooked and turned into chicken salad for lunch (stretch it out by adding chopped celery, red pepper, or whatever you have/like), two breasts were cut up, marinated and frozen for chicken satays to eat another day, and the last two were cooked and used in a chicken pot pie (again, stretched out by adding mixed chopped vegetables).

Bread is also limited right now to two per purchase. Each trip to the store I grab two (my family are big sandwich/toast people). Bread can be easily frozen, or you can turn any extra bread into French Toast which can also be frozen and used later.

Canned goods. Yep, two per purchase (IF you can get them). Always pick up the limit on every trip. I try to focus on canned beans or chickpeas as these can be used in vegetarian versions of some of our favourite meals like chili or curry dishes, but I do also pick up the odd can of vegetables. These items are obviously shelf stable and can help down the line if fresh produce becomes scarce. Things like canned tomatoes are great and can be used for pasta sauce, in stews, etc.

And lastly, get creative and look for substitutes when you can’t find something you’re looking for. Take for example the chicken pot pie I made a few days ago. I would normally cover the pie with a crust, but with flour almost impossible to find and with no pastry in the freezer section, I resorted to what I could find: tater tots. Not healthy, but it will certainly be filling (and fun) when we eat it.

Life is stressful enough right now, and in my opinion, it’s not the time to be preaching my usual 80/20 healthy eating mantra. Have fun with meal prep and use it as a great opportunity to focus on life lessons with your kids. Whether it’s preparing food for the freezer, cooking meals together, or giving old produce new life, enjoy the time you can spend together.

Stay safe!

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