A collaborative guide to COVID-19 care


This is a brief guide for thinking about putting together and maintaining a pantry with healthy food you like that will last for 2-4 weeks. Having that much food on hand is part of the standard emergency preparedness advice. These are just a few hints and tips for implementing that advice.

This guide is intended to help readers who are:

What this is not:

The very real challenge this general advice responds to is one that we all face: To keep well in body and mind by eating a balanced diet composed of a variety of real foods… at a time when access to fresh food is – at least for now, at least a little bit – more constrained than under normal conditions.

Given this challenge, it probably makes sense to think about your food supplies as fitting into roughly three categories: Food lasting about one week, a few weeks longer in the fridge, or much longer in the cabinet. Of course, most people began eating their favorite shelf-stable emergency supplies (or emergency cookies) already in the first week of sheltering in place. (Testing is important!) That’s fine so long as you keep topping up your emergency stores in case of, well, emergency.

Fresh and perishable

Hopefully you are well, your neighborhood is not a current COVID-19 hotspot, and ideally you even have a mask and disposable gloves. In that case, go out and buy fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy, fish, and meat (if you eat them) about once a week. The earlier you go, the lighter the foot traffic in stores (usually) will be, and the easier it will be to keep your safe distance. Use good hand hygiene and change your clothes when you get home.

Even better, especially if you are middle-aged or older and / or have a chronic health condition – or feeling remotely sick / symptomatic – arrange for delivery instead. Many grocery store chains have online order and delivery services. In some cases, you may need to ask neighbors or friends for help. Ask that groceries be left at the door in order to better protect yourself and others by staying in and minimizing contact. Wash your hands after touching something someone else may have touched and before eating.

Fresh and perishable food is the original fast food, because it can require very minimal prep to make it into snacks or meals. Carrot and celery sticks, bananas and berries, and cottage or sliced cheese make quick and easy snacks. A bit of nut butter or yogurt can add the protein and fat veggies and fruits need to have a little staying power.

Of course, this is also the territory of foods such as lettuce (the basis of many great salads), ground beef (the basis of many tasty casseroles, like shepherd’s pie or potato paprika mash), and fresh dairy products (milk, cream, cheese – the basis of many soups, dips, and sauces). If you are not used to cooking for yourself and don’t know the first thing about making any of these things, think about what you like and look up how to make it. A good general protocol for salads involves washing the ingredients (like lettuce and paprika / bell pepper), breaking or cutting them up, and tossing with a bit of olive oil, vinegar, and any fresh/dried fruit, nuts/seeds, cheese/tofu, or herbs you want to add.

Fresh and longer-lasting

While getting some fresh food weekly or so, you may also want to stock up on a few weeks’ worth of fresh food that will keep longer than a week. Garlic and onions, potatoes and sweet potatoes / yams, carrots and parsnips, citrus fruit and apples, yogurt / kefir, tofu, eggs, butter, and some cheeses, processed breads, smoked fish, and meats can be good for 2-3 weeks or longer. Most of these things can or should be refrigerated to lengthen their shelf life. Check the food packaging or reputable food safety websites (e.g., from the food safety regulatory agency in your country) if you’re unsure. And if something looks or smells funny: “When in doubt, throw it out.”

Again there’s a huge mix of practical possibilities here for snacks and meals – some quick and easy, others requiring more time and effort. Quickies include apple slices, smoked tofu diced in cubes, hard-boiled eggs with salt, smoked fish, and bread and cheese. Slightly longer (e.g., 30 minutes to an hour) prep time is involved in still very simple dishes like veggie roasts (tomato, paprika, fennel, radicchio…), potato bakes (russet, sweet, etc.), or hot fruit trays (apple, pear, plum…). Always check the Internet for specifics on what you want to make, and you’ll see that there is no one right answer – just a range of things to try. But a good general protocol for roasting produce involves washing, dicing, putting a bit of oil and spices on it, tossing the mixture, and baking until it smells done or a fork goes in easily.


If you are able, you might stock up even more on a few weeks’ worth of canned, jarred, frozen, and otherwise shelf-stable foods that you like. Again, look for whole foods when possible, the less processed and filled with added sugar / salt / additives, the better. Keep in mind that it may be a little bit less intuitive what less processed but shelf-stable means…