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Best Tips for Meal Planning for Social Distancing
Anyone else going a little crazy trying to feed their family 697 meals a week? Are you tired of feeling like a short order cook at a late night diner? Maybe you are just as tired as I was of the constant dishes in the sink and piled on the counter. In the post below, we are going to talk about meal planning, and how it has become different since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing. COVID-19 meal planning seems daunting at first, but if we stay structured and plan ahead – we can get through this thing with one less thing to worry about!
Covid-19 and Social Distancing
As I write this, it is late March 2020, and Coronavirus (or COVID-19) has quickly made its way around the globe, killing many, infecting even more. Affecting EVERYONE in some way. We live in Ohio, where the state government has shut down schools and most other businesses and institutions. The Governor has ordered that all citizens stay home except for essential activities.
Week one of quarantine was not too bad. We treated it as a stay-cation. My husband and I stayed up late to play cards and binge TV shows. There was no attempt at a schedule or any sort of structure. It was a anarchist free-for-all.
Anyway, after a week of living like it was a 1990’s summer vacation, some structure was to be had. Planning our meals, as to avoid scrambling to figure out what to eat an hour before each meal, was the first thing to be reigned in.
Why is COVID-19 Meal Planning so hard?
- Children are out of school, leaving parents to home school, plan and cook lunch, and clean up after then ALL DAY.
- Schedules and structure have been disrupted! This has been hard on everyone and may be affecting the moods and behavior of everyone in your house.
- In many cases, adults have been laid off or told to work from home – in either case, they are home all day.
- Tighter budgets and increasing travel restrictions have made it less likely that families will order takeout for dinner, and impossible to take the family to a restaurant to eat! It can be overwhelming to have to cook every meal at home!
- Dishes. Dishes. And more dishes.
COVID-19 Quarantine Meal Plan
When we got the instructions from the Governor to stay home, I did what most people do under such instruction… I left the house to go to the grocery store. Now, my husband is a hunter. We have a flock of 15 chickens and keep a kitchen garden every summer. We aren’t doomsday preppers, but we’re borderline. As such, my quarantine grocery list might look a bit different than yours.
Tip 1: Stock Up On Groceries
I’m not saying to hoard all the necessities. I’m not saying to deplete the store’s supply of toilet paper. Sit down to make your meal plan, taking inventory of what you already have. Plan for 1 week to 10 days of meals and snacks for your family. Then, go the grocery store.
If you are stocking up, so to avoid additional and unnecessary grocery trips, plan ahead. I sat down to think of 5-10 simple meals we could rotate. Meals that involve few ingredients, and preferably ingredients that are freezer or pantry staples.
Here is what was on my grocery list as we prepared for social distancing:
- Produce that keeps: Carrots, onions, potatoes, cabbage
- Meat for the freezer: Whole chickens, sausages, breakfast meats
- Frozen and canned veggies: Frozen is better IMO, but its always a good idea to have both, as canned veggies can be stored anywhere
- Dry Goods: Pasta, beans, rice, flour, sugar, coffee
Tip 2: Breakfast Ideas
- Freezer Breakfast Burritos – My kids LOVE scrambled eggs. And scrambled eggs with sausage, and cheese? Forget about it! I make these burritos 2 or 3 dozen at a time and wrap them in foil to keep in the freezer. To reheat. I bake them in their foil for 20 minutes at 350 degrees, or microwave unwrapped for 6 minutes, turning halfway through.
- Oatmeal – Dry oats will keep forever in your pantry! Make a batch of overnight oats to last all week long and experiment with different flavors. I combine oats with milk, yogurt, calorie-calorie free sweetener, and some kind of yummy surprise (chocolate chips, peanut butter, fruit, canned pumpkin. I top it with cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice if I’m feelin’ fancy, and leave it in the fridge all week. You can eat them warm or cold.
Bonus* You can use protein powder (which also keeps very well) to boost the nutritional content of your oatmeal!
- Quick breakfasts – In the case that my kids don’t want what I have prepared ahead of time, they have the option of cereal, fresh fruit, or scrambled eggs.
Tip 3: Lunches
- Salads – Heads of romaine lettuce will keep in the fridge for a week or more! I chop up half a head of lettuce and top it with whatever we have on hand. This could be leftover meat from the previous night’s dinner, deli meat, any type of fruits or veggies, or pickled snacks (pepperoncini peppers are a favorite around here!)
Bonus* You can make salads ahead of time in a mason jar or similar. Make sure to stack wet ingredients at the bottom and drier ingredients up top.
- Sandwiches – Loaves of bread store remarkably well in the freezer. Make sandwiches in bulk, leaving off any condiments that might soggy the bread. You can do this a few days ahead.
(These next two are my favorite. Because you are not a short order cook and your family will be just fine if you don’t slave over every meal you make them!)
- Hodge Podge Lunches (and dinners!)– When I don’t know what to feed them, my kids love hodge podge lunches. These can also be referred to as DIY lunchables. Deli meat, cheese, crackers, fruit.
- Frozen Pizza – Yep, I said it. Frozen pizza. Stock up on these, girl. Quarantine is going to be long and trying on all of these.
Tip 4: Dinners
I love making dinner. Like a really good, that-makes-my-soul-feel-better kind of dinner. It’s my jam. It’s what I live for. Pre-quarantine, my husband and I have company over for dinner almost weekly, in large part because I really do live for making people dinner. Without that creative outlet I am going a bit stir crazy. The first few days, I tried to relieve my boredom with cooking. And it worked, but my fridge was soon full of food we could not eat. And in this uncertain time, the last thing I want is to be wasting food!
- Curry and Rice – My parents are immigrants from Hyderabad, a large city in South Central India. Curry and rice is comfort food to me in every meaning of the term. As ad added bonus, you can make it with virtually any protein, and the other ingredients are all cheap staples. So far during Social Distancing 2020, we have made curry with chicken, shrimp, chickpeas, and boiled eggs – all were damn delicious.
- Roast Meat and Veggies – I have always been a big proponent of Big Meal Monday. This practice involved cooking a beef roast or chicken or ham etc. for Monday’s dinner, and using the leftovers to fuel meals throughout the rest of the week. Roast chickens are a favorite of mine, simple and comforting, stuffed with onions and garlic, and served along side roasted root vegetables. I’m almost drooling just thinking about it.
- Sausage and Sauerkraut – Good God, this meal! It’s a favorite of my family. Simple, affordable. Kielbasa, potatoes, sauerkraut, onions, and plenty of butter. Slow cooked for flavor. You can’t mess it up and I promise your family will love it.
- Campfire Dinners – Fire is another thing in our human DNA and a fantastic way to boost your family’s spirits during social distancing. Fire roasted hot dogs, pie iron sandwiches, and foil meals are all simple, customizeable dinners your family can prepare for dinner together!
- Salads with meat leftover from our Big Meal Mondays
Tip 5: Pantry Staples
Throughout all of this, there are a few ingredients that I always aim to have on hand. The skeletons of any dish.
- Beef and Chicken Stock
- Canned Crushed Tomatoes
- Cooking Oil
- Frozen Veggies
- Frozen and Canned Fruit
- The handful of spices I use the most
The Last Thing You Need to Know about Meal Planning During COVID-19 Social Distancing
Odds are your standards are higher than the rest of your family’s. This social distancing thing – the pandemic that is claiming lives and eroding freedoms around the globe – it sucks, and it’s scary. But there are blessings in it – time to reflect and reevaluate, more time with our children, seeing the way communities have banded together and lifted each other up.
While it may be easy to be overwhelmed (I’ve been overwhelmed quite a bit throughout this time), try to remember that there are bigger things to focus on here than how many dishes are in the sink, or whether the kids had frozen pizza for lunch AND dinner. Make a plan, remain flexible, and find the blessings.
Be sure to click below and add your own tip for COVID-19 meal planning during social distancing! I’d love to hear what worked for you and add it to the post!