Americans are scrambling to stockpile supplies as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads. But not everyone has the flexibility in their budget to buy extra supplies, especially as many service workers lose their jobs and small businesses shutter because of social distancing and government-mandated closures.
If you're worried about having enough money to stockpile extra food, the first step is to assess what you already have. Write out a list of what’s in your fridge and pantry (including things like flour and other basics like salt and spices).
After that, here are strategies for staying within your means, but also preparing for an uncertain next few weeks.
Cook healthier, freezer-friendly meals
Research some healthy, freezer-friendly meals before you go shopping and plan to make a few dishes that you can freeze for future use. Stews can be packed full of healthy ingredients and taste delicious out of the freezer, but you need to either buy broth when you shop or have the supplies to make your own.
One of my favorite freezer meals is a can of salsa and two chicken breasts cooked in a crockpot on low for 6-8 hours. You can also add a can of corn, beans or other vegetables. It turns into a spicy, shredded chicken dish that’s delicious alone or with rice.
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Frozen, canned and bread-baking supplies
Not only will these items stay good for any duration of a quarantine, they can also add nutrition to your diet. Don't use a shutdown as an excuse to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and mac and cheese from the box for (potentially) weeks on end.
Start with adding frozen fruits and vegetables to your list. Potatoes are also a good, low-cost food to stockpile. When cooked in non-french-fry form, the potato is chock full of nutrients, and they're filling.
Meat can last for a long time in the freezer, but if stocking up on extra chicken and beef would be too pricey right now, there are other ways to get your protein.
Beans are especially useful as they can be versatile in cooking and are nutrious. Lentils, kidney, chickpeas, pinto, peas and black beans are ones you should consider adding to your list. Dry beans are often cheaper in cost per serving, but can take hours to prepare. Canned beans are much quicker to cook with, but do have a significantly higher amount of sodium per serving, so try to stick to low-sodium canned beans if possible.
In addition to beans, purchase dry goods that have a long shelf-life and make large servings, such as noodles, rice and quinoa. Canned stews are also a good one to add to the list, especially if you’d prefer not to make them yourself.
Get flour, yeast and some more salt too. You may be surprised how simple it is to bake bread, especially with a dutch oven.
Another idea: coffee beans and tea, especially if you already have a caffeine addiction.
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Turn to Instagram, YouTube for inspiration
YouTube, Instagram and blogs are all free resources to learn more about how to cook at home and on the cheap. You can access famous cooks like Rachael Ray or bloggers like Chungah Rhee. It can also be helpful to follow vegan or plant-based cooks, like Plant-Based on a Budget, if your dairy, meat and egg supplies start to dwindle.
Seek out food pantries in your area
If you’re able, please consider supporting food pantries and other emergency services in your community with donations. For those who are in need of using such services, please reach out to local community and religious centers, your children’s school, organizations such as Meals-on-Wheels, and food banks to learn about distribution centers and resources.
Erin Lowry is the author of "Broke Millennial Takes On Investing" and "Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together."