Last Updated on August 28, 2020
My goal is always to make healthier living easier for you, even in difficult times. The recent uptick in pandemic planning articles probably has a lot more of us thinking about how to be prepared for emergency situations, so I thought I’d go over some of the basics to stocking a real food kitchen in case this isn’t something you’ve thought much about before. Here are some healthy kitchen basics to keep in mind so you’re ready for disruptions and still have what you need on hand to make healthy food for your family.
How to be Prepared for Anything with a Well-Stocked Healthy Kitchen
You’ve probably noticed your store shelves are a little barer than usual as millions of us prepare to “hunker down” in our homes. Panic-buying of white flour and sports drinks perhaps isn’t the best way to keep your family healthy during trying times, however. Overbuying isn’t helpful either, as people with fewer resources or less storage space still need to be able to get these items also.
Taking a little time to sit and think about what makes sense for your family will save you time and money, reduce waste, and provide the nutrition your family needs to stay well if there are disruptions to food supplies. Think about what easy meals you can make from pantry staples (some suggestions below) and be realistic about what you need and how much space you have. If you’re lucky enough to have extra storage space, go ahead and buy a little more, but try not to feed the frenzy of panic-buying by clearing the shelves of staples we all need.
You may be reading this during or just ahead of an emergency, but even if you’re not, having plentiful supplies in your real food kitchen will help your family weather crises you don’t see coming. A lot of the suggestions below are also helpful when you’re trying to eat healthy on a budget. There are lots more in my free guide to affordable healthy food.
How to Prepare Your Healthy Kitchen for Emergencies: Refrigerated and Frozen Items
Your refrigerator and freezer can be thoughtfully stocked with things that keep well so you can have a decent supply of fresh food. Alas, you can’t store weeks’ worth of fresh greens, so it’s worth thinking about how you want to use your available refrigerator and freezer space.
Focus on Fresh Food that Keeps
While a variety of veggies is key to long-term health, we need to be practical about how we allocate precious fridge space, and lots of tender fruits and veggies won’t last more than a few days. So consider getting more of some of these longer-lasting items so you’ll have fresh ingredients when you want them.
Fruit: Citrus like grapefruit and oranges will last for weeks, as will many types of apples.
Vegetables: Focus on long-lasting winter veggies like carrots, brussels sprouts, and cabbage. Since potatoes tend to get sprouty in spring, you may want to keep some in the refrigerator.
This is also a great time to try easy home fermenting projects, which will keep veggies fresh even longer, while adding healthy probiotics to your diet. Here’s an intro to pickling vegetables from An Oregon Cottage.
Here are more helpful tips for making your produce last longer and more than 40 root-to-stem recipes to stretch your fresh food further.
Dairy & Eggs
Buy more than you normally would of long-lasting cheeses, like parmesan and aged cheddar, which unopened keep for months.
We usually have a dozen eggs in the fridge for breakfasts and dinner frittatas and omelettes. We got an extra dozen in anticipation of plenty of baking.
Extra butter can go in the freezer to extend its freshness.
Since some emergencies include power interruptions, it’s best not to rely too heavily on your freezer to feed your family, and space tends to be limited anyhow. But if there’s no disruption to power, some of your favorite frozen fruits and vegetables may help supplement your family’s diet if you run out of fresh options. We bought some extra bags of peas, edamame, spinach, and frozen berries, which we’d eat anyway in lots of delicious healthy smoothies made with homemade yogurt. Frozen broccoli and cauliflower are other options to consider.
If you’ve been dabbling in simple food preservation, you may have popped some summer produce in your freezer while everything was at its peak (and cheap or free). My freezer often has berries I’ve foraged from our edible yard or surrounding forage grounds, plus homemade pesto and piles of summer ratatouille made with veggies from our CSA.
If your family eats meat regularly, you probably want to read on for meatless meal suggestions, since unless you have a chest freezer, you’ll likely run out of options pretty quickly. But maybe put by some small portions of meats your family will be happy to have on occasion, and consider the shelf-stable options available to you if you think it’s important.
Winter squash, onions, garlic, and sweet potatoes add important nutrients to your meals and interest to your diet. Here are some innovative ways to use pumpkin (or sub butternut squash) and a collection of sweet potato recipes.
How to Be Prepared: Pantry Staples for Your Healthy Kitchen
A pantry stocked with long-lasting real food staples can provide your family with varied and nutritious meals. It’s best to consider what your family will eat anyway and focus on those ingredients. Being stuck at home can be a great opportunity to try some new recipes and expand your family’s repertoire, so check out some of the suggestions below.
Pasta keeps well, so buying your family’s favorite kinds in larger quantities makes sense. Go for whole grain options whenever possible to up the nutritional value, as white-flour pasta has very little nutritional value. Our family likes Delallo organic whole grain pasta a lot. If you don’t make your own sauces, buying some extra jars might be a good idea.
Beans, Peas, and Lentils
If you’ve been focusing more on vegan protein sources, you’ve probably got some favorite bean recipes up your sleeve already. Here’s our family’s favorite homemade pea soup and more than 50 healthy bean recipes from food bloggers all over the internet.
Lentils not only make an easy and delicious soup, they’re wonderful for making protein-packed salads. Red lentils cook up incredibly fast for soup or as a base for Indian dishes, and can even be used to make your own hummus.
We tend to favor dried beans, which are more economical, healthy, and eco-friendly, but sometimes people want canned food for emergency situations. Do what you gotta do, but in general it’s wise to avoid canned food. You can often find beans and tomatoes packed in glass, so choose those when you can.
Rice, Quinoa & Other Grains
We laid in an extra supply of wild rice, a healthy, high-protein ingredient I can count on for my picky eater. We use it as a side dish, add it to soups and in wild rice salad, which uses up whatever you have in the fridge. Here are lots more wild rice recipes.
We buy big bags of quinoa for another protein-rich rice alternative, and we’ve begun experimenting with buckwheat as well.
Flour & Baking Supplies
Making your own bread (gluten-free or otherwise) is easier than you might think, and can even provide a little family activity while you’re stuck at home. I recommend whole-grain flour whenever possible, or try some of the wheat flour alternatives that have become easier to got and work with as they gained in popularity. Here’s a simple whole wheat bread from Loving It Vegan.
I refilled my jar of yeast (enough for dozens of loaves of bread) for under a dollar before my co-op stopped letting shoppers bring their own containers. (Some, but not all, zero waste practices may need to be put on the shelf for awhile in the name of health and safety, but do what you can.) You’ll still likely save money and packaging buying the larger container of yeast rather than those little packets.
–> You can keep flour in the refrigerator or freezer to extend its shelf life if you have the freezer space to spare.
If you’ve never made bread before, don’t be intimidated. It’s far easier than you might think. I’ve found those containing oatmeal to be the most forgiving. They also don’t require as much kneading to produce a really yummy loaf of bread your family will devour. Here’s a whole wheat oatmeal bread from Ambitious Kitchen.
Homemade whole-grain pizza dough is another easy option for healthy homemade pizzas.
Oats: We use steel cut oats and thick-cut oats for breakfast (like in this awesome healthy overnight oats recipe with elderberry!). Regular “old-fashioned” oats are great for baking or for a satisfying baked oatmeal. I use this baked oatmeal template from Raising Generation Nourished.
Baking Staples: Make sure you have enough salt, baking powder, sweetener, and other ingredients for your baking projects.
Nuts, Seeds & Dried Fruit
Nuts: We usually have almonds and walnuts around, so we made sure we were well-stocked. Maybe your family like pistachios, cashews, or peanuts. We also have plenty of peanut butter for peanut-butter toast, energy balls, and good ol’ PB&J. You can also make your nut butters and milks with the nuts you have. Homemade almond milk tastes incredible and will certainly work when you can’t buy other types of milks at the store. Here’s a recipe for oat milk from The Pistachio Project as well.
Seeds: We usually have nutrient-rich pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds in our refrigerator, and we bought some extra to keep us longer than usual. We get nutrient-dense chia seeds in three-pound bags that last a very long time, and wind up in smoothies, overnight oats, and baked goods of all sorts.
Dried Fruit: If your fresh fruit supply runs out, you’ll be glad to have plenty of raisins, apricots, dried apples, plums, and peaches. They can be snacks, treats, or mixed into satisfying and nourishing baked goods. We still have our favorite rhubarb fruit leather to use up before this year’s rhubarb comes in. Coconut is another good choice, helping to mix up your toppings for oatmeal, energy balls, and baked goods.
If you don’t already dehydrate in-season fruits and vegetables, here’s how to get started dehydrating. It’s super easy, and means your pantry is always stocked with lots of yummy ingredients no matter the time of year — or state of the store shelves.
Snack Foods for the Healthy Kitchen
If we’re talking about long-term reliance on our pantries, odds are we won’t have enough room for big bags of chips and the like to last very long. But maybe buy a few extra boxes of crackers and bags of your family’s favorite chips and dole them out slowly. When those run out, make sure you have plenty of unpopped popcorn, which takes up far less shelf space than these other snacks.
We will probably also try making our own crackers. Here’s a homemade cracker tutorial from Kitchen Stewardship.
Oils, Spices, and Sweeteners
Oils: You’re going to be doing a lot of home cooking, so make sure you have plenty of oil. Olive oil keeps well, and coconut oil great replacement for butter and requires no refrigeration.
Vinegar: Apple cider vinegar, wine vinegars, and balsamic vinegars are critical ingredients for homemade salad dressings. They can also be used in homemade cleaners and help bug bites feel better, among many other uses.
Spices: I plan to do quite a lot of baking, so having plenty of vanilla, cinnamon, ground ginger, and so on was important. Spices like thyme, basil and sage make soups and other cooked dishes so much more delicious and add lots of useful phytochemicals. Many are also useful remedies for a number of common ailments (see below).
Sweeteners: Make sure you have honey, coconut sugar, maple syrup and whatever else you might want to add sweetness to baked goods and other treats.
Coffee, Tea & Other Useful Things
My pantry is always stuffed with my favorite loose herbal teas, which I buy in bulk: Lemon balm, hibiscus, and chamomile are some favorites. We also have an assortment of black and green teas and some coffee as well.
Cocoa and chocolate are good for keeping up morale in my opinion, so maybe grab some extra of your favorite chocolate bars or chocolate chips for baked goods. Here’s more of the health benefits of chocolate and how to make your chocolate habit healthy.)
Soap: Be sure to have plenty of bar soap and whatever you use for dishes and hands as well. Washing up well is really important! I’m loving Dr. Wood’s soaps, which are gentle but effective.
Other things we bought more of than usual to keep our healthy kitchen stocked and ready: Organic taco shells for easy meals, organic Asian noodles for noodle soups, and shelf-stable broth bases.
How to Be Prepared: Natural Remedies to Keep in Your Real Food Kitchen
You want to have all your favorite natural remedies ready for whatever comes your way, even if there are disruptions in shipping to local stores or your favorite online shops. Here’s what I make sure to have on hand:
Dried elderberries. While there aren’t studies showing elderberry is at all useful against coronavirus, it’s my go-to whenever I feel my glands are swollen. I make an elderberry tincture, and I have elderberry syrup in the fridge. Here’s more on the benefits of elderberries. I also made an elderflower and echinacea tincture I’ve been turning to.
I also like elderberry-zinc lozenges for soothing coughs and supporting the immune system, though you need to be mindful not to overdo the zinc. We rarely take more than one per day when we have them.
Ginger: A go-to for respiratory problems and nausea, I love fresh chopped ginger in broth for fighting off colds and treating symptoms. Dried ginger can work as well, though its properties can be a bit different. Here’s more on the health benefits of ginger from one of my favorite herbalists, Rosalee de la Forêt. Here’s an easy ginger tea with orange peel to support your immune system and address respiratory symptoms.
Some of the other pantry and spice-shelf items above are great remedies and preventatives for cold, flu, and respiratory symptoms. Garlic, honey, cinnamon, turmeric, and other spices are some favorites. Here’s more on kitchen remedies for fighting off colds and some of the best herbs to support healthy immune function.
Herbal tea: I turn to herbal teas with honey to help with little ones’ sniffles. Some of my favorites are Traditional Medicinals’ Gypsy Cold Care and Echinacea with Elderberry.
Most of the above are affiliate links to Amazon, but you’ll often find better prices at Vitacost or Target, so shop around. If you don’t see a link above, it’s because Amazon didn’t stock an item, or the prices were too high to recommend. Azure Standard and Thrive Market are other options to try.
Don’t Forget the Water in Your Healthy Kitchen!
Though hopefully safe drinking water won’t be an issue, it’s wise to have a way to get water when you need it. We have a high-quality water filter installed in our sink, but in case there’s a disruption to our water supply and we can’t use it, we have a gravity filter in a cabinet should the need ever arise. It makes pond water safe to drink, removing more than 200 contaminants. Here’s a link to the filter we chose after much research. Use the code ‘Savvy’ to get 10% off. You can also find them on Amazon.
You can also check out the array of options offered by Lifestraw.
Consider Growing Some of Your Own Food to Supplement Your Healthy Kitchen Supplies
Thankfully, in much of the country, the weather is warm enough to start growing some hardier greens outside.
If you’re new to gardening, here are some of the easiest beginner gardening crops and a free beginner’s guide to gardening. While we’re all supposed to stay home as much as possible, many people are trying to learn some new skills, including some basic food gardening. Here’s how to get many of your gardening supplies for free.
If you’re somewhere that hasn’t thawed yet, you can grow some microgreens to get a little extra fresh food in very little time. Here’s how to grow microgreens from Practical Self Reliance.
If you’re in a warmer part of the country than I am, you probably already have some wild greens you can forage. Here are some edible weeds to enjoy this spring to supplement the other food you’ve put by.
What did you get to keep your healthy kitchen stocked? I’d love any additional suggestions!
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Photo credits: Pexels
Susannah is a proud garden geek and energy nerd who loves healthy food and natural remedies. Her work has appeared in Mother Earth Living, Ensia, Northern Gardener, Sierra, and on numerous websites. Her first book, Everything Elderberry, released in September 2020 and has been a #1 new release in holistic medicine, naturopathy, herb gardening, and other categories. Find out more and grab your copy here.