Like millions of others around the globe, I’m practicing social distancing, doing my part to #StayAtHome to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. That means a lot of cooking at home. And while many are understandably feeling anxious right now, one thing we can all do to regain a sense of control is manage our kitchens.
Ensuring your food lasts as long as possible will cut down on shopping trips, help your wallet and bring an added benefit by reducing food waste, which contributes to climate change. If you’ve stocked up on food, here are tips on how to make the most of it.
1. Set your refrigerator to the right temperature.
Your refrigerator’s temperature should ideally be set at or below 40 degrees F (4 degrees C). Your freezer should be at 0 degrees F (-18 degrees C). This will ensure fewer bacteria on your food, helping perishable items last as long as possible. The back of your fridge will always be colder than the refrigerator door, so put items like milk towards the back and condiments like mayonnaise in the door.
2. Know the difference between “use by” and “best if used by” date labels.
If you have boxed foods in your cupboards and the “best if used by” date has passed, don’t throw it out. These dates simply mean the food may not be at peak freshness, but they are most often still fine to eat. “Use by” date labels typically appear on perishable items such as dairy products, meat and fish. These dates are there for your safety, so follow guidelines.
3. Use a glass of water to know if eggs have gone bad.
While we generally advise following “use by” date labels, a few tricks can help you know if a perishable food item is safe to eat after its expiration date. If you have eggs with a recently expired date, drop the egg in a glass of water. If the egg sinks, it’s still safe to eat. If the egg floats, you’ll want to pass on using it. For milk, a simple sniff test can tell you if it has started to spoil.
4. Disguise fruit and veg that look less than fresh.
Brown bananas? They taste great in banana bread. Soft strawberries? Turn into a jam or make a smoothie. Zucchini a bit too ripe? Throw into a vegetable soup. If you’ve overstocked on fresh produce that is nearing its end, get creative with your cooking and freeze dishes so you can enjoy foods with “fresh” ingredients for some time.
5. Familiarize yourself with good substitutes.
Apple or white grape juice can substitute for white wine in recipes, so think about how juice you need to use up can be used in a pasta sauce. A lemon that’s started to sit too long can be juiced and mixed with milk to make buttermilk for pancakes. Now’s a great time to get creative with your pantry. Here’s a list of food substitutes that can help you get started.
6. Don’t waste your scraps.
Vegetable scraps plus some water and seasoning turn into vegetable stock, which can be used to make risotto, soups and more. You can also use scraps to grow your own vegetables, so consider keeping those avocado pits, green onion ends and celery bits to start your own indoor garden. This website has some tips on how to grow your own foods from scraps.
7. Don’t overstress.
Most major retailers plan for disruptions in their supply chain, so in the medium and long-term there likely won’t be major issues with food making it to shelves. The risk in the short-term is that people continue to buy much more than they need. As we settle back into a more normal shopping rhythm, store shelves will have enough food. It’s important that we all have food at home right now, but focus on stocking up on shelf-stable and frozen foods to ensure you don’t overbuy the kinds of food you are likely to end up wasting because they spoil before you can use them. And if you do end up with too many fresh and perishable items, take a breath and use this list and the wealth of resources online to get creative.
Connecting with food through cooking is a great way to keep your family busy, distract your mind from the COVID-19 related news and release some stress. Food nourishes both our bodies and our souls, and that’s something we could all use more of during times when we may be feeling anxious and isolated.