Planning meals in times of crisis

How to get the most out of the food you have at home.

Man and girl washing hands

Many times, emergencies create difficult situations with little notice to prepare, making normal activities stressful. Weather-related occurrences or events such as the novel coronavirus, the virus that causes the infectious disease COVID-19, can create homebound situations. Identifying what kinds of food you have available and developing meal plans can help add structure to an uncertain situation.

Start by taking a food inventory. List what foods you already have in your refrigerator and freezer and note the use-by dates. Make another list of pantry goods, organizing with the first in, first out (FIFO) method. FIFO can help you minimize food waste by using older items before you use items bought most recently. Then, clean and organize your pantry for easy access and to prevent pests.

Create meal plans to incorporate what you have on hand. Determine what foods need to be used first, such as fresh food like fruits and vegetables, and items close to their use-by dates. Use the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) MyPlate to create balanced meals, which are important for your health in stressful situations.

Making a shopping list can help you remember what you need, helps you to stay on budget and minimizes grocery store trips. Additionally, you’ll probably spend less time at the store and impulse buys are easier to reduce. Be flexible to take advantage of a bargain, but remember it’s only a bargain if it will be used before its expiration date. If you make a paper list, consider taking a cell phone picture of it as a backup in case you leave your real list at home.

Encourage household members to make meals together. Alternate preparing meals or cleanup tasks to keep everyone involved. If you have time, consider making recipes that might normally be saved for the weekend. Stay connected and challenge friends on social media to post what they have made and how they are being resourceful.

Find inspiration by looking through cookbooks or use the USDA-approved Recipe Finder to use pantry basics. You can find budget-friendly recipes from Cooking Matters; this site also has advice and activities to involve kids in the kitchen.

Review the 4 Steps to Food Safety: clean, separate, cook, and chill to minimize foodborne illnesses. For other food safety questions, call 877-643-9882 or Ask an Expert online.

Using these tips can create a peace of mind during a crisis and can make life run smoother when work, school, family and other responsibilities return to normal. More information, classes and events can be found at the Michigan State University Extension website.

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