With the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be easy to put a healthy lifestyle on the back burner. Gyms are closed and food is flying off the shelves. Should you even buy any produce? Well, it is easier than you may think to maintain healthy eating habits with shelf stable foods during your quarantine. Getting back to the basics, there are five food groups. Did you know there are ways to find shelf stable food items that fit into every food group?
Let’s start with fruit. Fruit can be frozen, fresh or canned. When looking at canned fruits, try to aim for options canned in their own fruit juice (not syrup). Frozen fruits, like berries, are great for making smoothies that can be packed full of vitamins and minerals to get you through your long quarantine days. Canned fruit is shelf stable for up to two years and frozen fruits are good for up to 9 months.
Similar to fruit, vegetables can be frozen, fresh or canned. Frozen vegetables are an excellent alternative to fresh as they retain close to 100% of the nutrients. However, canned is certainly better than nothing! When searching for canned vegetables, look for ‘low-sodium options.’ If you buy regular canned vegetables, rinse them off before cooking to eliminate a lot of the sodium content. Canned vegetables are good for two-five years and frozen are good for up to a year (before becoming freezer burnt).
Let’s talk protein. When we think protein, we probably think chicken breasts and steak right? Well, there are many other ways to include protein in our diet! Canned and frozen meats are an option. If you are looking for plant-based proteins, look for nuts, seeds and beans! One cup of black beans contains roughly fifteen grams of protein. Peanut butter is shelf stable for up to three months and packs about six grams of protein per serving. Canned meats, such as chicken, tuna and salmon can last up to five years and frozen meats can last up to a year!
Grains are naturally fairly shelf stable. The shelf life of whole grains, like wheat or brown rice, are a bit less than flours, but they have a higher nutritional value. More refined grains, like white bread and pasta, have striped the bran and germ to give them a finer texture and longer shelf life, but that also strips the nutrients from the grain. However, intact grains, such as oatmeal, uncooked brown rice and quinoa last longer than refined grains! Some great shelf stable grains include whole rolled oats, brown rice and whole wheat pasta.
Last but not least, dairy. This is probably the trickiest one of all. When we think dairy, we think milk, cheese and yogurt. All perishable items, right? Well, there are actually ways to make dairy last longer. You can freeze yogurts and eat them as a cool refreshing treat (and they will last in the freezer for up to two months). Stay away from things such as ‘Easy Cheese’ or any processed cheese that may seem to be shelf stable. These products won’t provide you with Calcium and Vitamin D that natural dairy provide and they tend to be loaded with fat. There are also shelf stable milks (like powdered milk), which can be an alternative during times of quarantine.
All in all, living a healthy lifestyle during this time is hard, but it’s doable! Make it fun, cook new recipes, try new things and stock up on all the amazing options in the grocery store that will last well past the quarantine. Fresh does not always mean best!
About the Author
Jaclyn Paciaroni, Dietetic Intern
Jaclyn is a Medical University of South Carolina Community Focused Dietetic Intern. Graduate of Clemson University with a Bachelor of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition. She is passionate about community nutrition and loves to bring people together using the power of food and wellness.