UW News

March 5, 2020

The food you need: UW expert on preparing for an extended home stay

UW News

Shopping in a big box store

What should you stock up on if you have to stay at home for an extended period?Bev Sykes/Flickr

Nutritional science expert Anne-Marie Gloster, a lecturer in the UW School of Public Health’s Nutritional Sciences Program and expert in emergency food planning, has put together this list of things to think about and foods to have on hand if you should be called on to stay at home for an extended period.

“Shopping intentionally and feeding ourselves mindfully is a delicious way to reduce our stress during this time of heightened awareness about our personal and community health,” Gloster said.

Gloster added that while the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, is ongoing, planning instead of panicking is best.

What to think about in advance …

  • Remember a home stay is not like a hurricane or a snowstorm – you’ll have power to cook and be able to store food in the freezer. While no-one can predict how a pandemic plays out in any region it can happen that some utilities can have intermittent interruptions based on how widespread or severe the pandemic is where you are. (Due to staffing shortages of specialized personnel.) You might consider being prepared for at least a 3-5 day stay without power or water. So, having potable (drinking water) water on hand for at least 3-5 days is also a good idea. 3 gallons per day per person is recommended for health and sanitation.
  • Now is a great time to inventory your current pantry and freezer. Identify what you have, what needs to be tossed (to make room) and take note of what is in your refrigerator. Think about what you like to eat and what personal items you may need. See the lists below for ideas on what to buy.
  • Don’t rush out and stock up on rice and beans or any one type of food, because you’ll be sick of that pretty quickly.
  • Go through your day and make a list of foods you typically consume and then think about whether they have short or long shelf lives and how you can purchase them. Remember breakfast is typically the same thing for most everybody. Use your creative energies for lunch and dinner.
  • Consider what you can afford to buy, both in terms of money and storage. Start to buy a few of the things that you know will last and that you will be prepared to eat later, after the home stay is over. If you find yourself with extra shelf-stable foods later, that you know you won’t eat, consider donating them to a local food bank before they expire.
  • The world runs on carbohydrates, so think about your favorite carbohydrates first: pasta (think variety here too), ramen, potatoes (as fresh, instant or chips), rice, beans (canned is easiest but dried are great as well), breads (which freeze well if sliced), fruits and vegetables (dried, canned, frozen) – these all come in packaging that’s easy to store.

What to have on hand …

  • Buy what you know you’ll eat fresh the first week. Think about canned, frozen, and dehydrated versions of your favorites. Potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, winter squashes (butternut or acorn), cauliflower, cabbage and apples all have a fairly long shelf life. Do not store your potatoes and onions together or they will go bad more quickly. Do not refrigerate your sweet potatoes, or they get cold core and will be inedible, even with cooking. Unripe avocados will last at least a week; eat them as soon as they ripen.
  • Eggs will go pretty fast as well. Think realistically about how many eggs your family eats weekly and try to buy twice that much to start. Eggs have a much longer storage life than the carton states as long, as they are refrigerated. They can be good up to two months. A carton of liquid eggs is nice for cooking any boxed mixes or other baked items like cookies that you might want to make during your extended home stay.
  • Fresh milk will also go quickly. You can use dry milk powder or evaporated milk in most recipes, so consider grabbing a box now in case the fresh milk supplies are depleted by the time you get to the store.
  • Even when staying at home is recommended by health officials, someone can get out at least once every three days. But the less you have to go out the better, and remember you might not be able to get what you want so think about substitutes when you write your list.
  • Buy things you know can be used for multiple dishes. I like grits for both breakfast and dinner (shrimp and grits), or oatmeal, which is an excellent flavor savor and protein extender in meatloaf and hamburgers.
  • Consider this a wonderful time to practice your culinary skills and practice some new ones. There are literally thousands of cooking videos online to help guide you.

During the long wait …

  • Once you are in an extended-stay situation, take the time to do some meal planning, focus on variety (for lunch and dinner) and the use of your most perishable food first. Try to plan out your meals in three-day increments. Try to plan meals using the oldest shelf-stable foods in your pantry first and then moving to the newer items. I have a “use first” shelf to that I can stare at while planning those meals.
  • Extended home stays will not hit all areas, and even though you might be at home, we live in an age of delivery services. See if you can purchase necessary staples online or have the store deliver them.
  • Don’t forget those personal items, or those specific to your household, at the end of the list as well. Having enough pet food on hand will be appreciated by your animals, although mine prefer to finish off our leftovers!
  • Consider planting your own vegetables, like kale, this weekend. Some varieties will produce within 45 days. Also grab some dried mung beans and learn how to sprout them safely. They add nutrients and crunch to sandwiches and as a topping to soups.

What to buy …

The lists below are not comprehensive and don’t take into account your personal tastes or caloric needs. I have tried to include both low-cost and gourmet items of interest to stimulate your thinking about how to get through an extended home stay in a delicious way. I have not considered maximum “healthy” nutrition here, but caloric loads and thriving during this somewhat stressful time.

Some people don’t have the ability to cook everything from scratch, or they have a limited budget, so surviving deliciously is more important than adhering to a strict nutrient profile. But most importantly, stick to your budget, space needs, and honor that you will need to consume this food long after life goes back to normal, so don’t buy things you or your family will hate.


  • Mac and cheese or other boxed pasta mixes
  • Ramen – cheapest noodles out there
  • Pasta – multiple shapes
  • Dry cereals have long shelf life; also consider hot cereals like oatmeal or grits.
  • Popcorn
  • Sliced breads freeze moderately well – and make acceptable French toast or regular toast
  • Crackers
  • Granola bars
  • Polenta (corn-based) in a shelf-stable tube – slice it and pan sauté for a wonderful starchy side dish


  • Butter freezes well for up to a year, consider buying extra
  • Eggs – can last one to two months safely in the fridge
  • Liquid eggs for cooking in baked goods
  • Dry milk powder or evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed milk; that’s just for baking)
  • Shelf-stable milk and milk substitutes, but only if you will drink them later or use them in cooking
  • Queso cheese sauce for flavor punches to Mexican flavored dishes
  • Shelf-stable processed cheeses are great to cook with or to make sauces.

Baked Goods

  • Mixes for muffins, cupcakes, brownies, quick breads, cornbread, etc.
  • All-purpose flour; starter dough cultures can be kept in the fridge in case you run out of yeast.
  • Cornmeal
  • Baking powder, baking soda, salt, generally used spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract)
  • Sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar
  • Cornstarch
  • Chocolate chips and cocoa (if you like to cook)
  • Honey


  • Coffee and tea
  • Canned juice (takes up shelf space) or frozen juice concentrates (freezer space)
  • Soda, seltzer and tonic water are also shelf-stable beverages.

Cooking Staples

  • Large bottle of olive and/or canola oil
  • Soy sauce (for all that rice)
  • Assorted commonly used spices: garlic powder, onion flakes, pepper, chili powder, Italian seasoning, and Old Bay, and cumin (for all those beans)
  • Mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard – all are shelf stable until opened, then refrigerate
  • Vinegar – apple cider and red wine are most versatile
  • Bouillon – chicken and beef

Fruits and Vegetables

  • Dried or canned fruits
  • Frozen and canned veggies – only if you willeat them later
  • Instant mashed potatoes or frozen potatoes (french fries or hash browns)
  • Pasta and pizza sauces
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Jams and jellies
  • Onions – dice and freeze in plastic bags if you plan to make hot dishes such as chili, soups or stews
  • Garlic or garlic powder
  • Sundried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, and capers in jars – these are nice gourmet flavor boosters
  • Anchovy and tomato pastes add a huge savory boost to recipes and store easily on shelf until opened, then refrigerate.

Protein Sources

  • Whole chickens – use this time to learn how to cut up a whole chicken, or buy a variety of your favorite cut-up chicken and freeze until use. I save my chicken backs (collect four in a freezer bag) to make chicken and dumplings.
  • Ground beef – casseroles, burgers, shepherd’s pie, spaghetti sauce, pizza, meatloaf and meatballs.
  • Consider any of your favorite meats and seafood after you consider how muchfreezer space you have. (Lamb, pork, beef, chicken, goat, venison, bison, fish, etc.)
  • Sausage and bacon freeze well and provide huge flavor in multiple dishes.
  • Frozen shrimp (from the U.S., if possible)
  • Canned or dried beans for soups, hummus, baked beans
  • Mung Beans to make sprouts – add a great crunch to sandwiches
  • Nuts and peanut butter
  • Canned meats such as tuna, salmon, chicken, ham (Spam), beef stew, corned beef hash
  • Canned or dehydrated soups

Beyond food

  • Hand soap
  • Dish/dishwasher detergent
  • Sponges
  • Laundry detergent
  • Bleach
  • Shampoo/conditioner
  • Toilet paper
  • Paper towels
  • Toothpaste
  • Pet food and treats
  • Medications
  • Bottled water

To reach Gloster, contact Jake Ellison, UW News, at Jbe3@uw.edu.