Affordable, Healthy Eating in a Pandemic


The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought many changes to our lives, including our eating habits. Today, frequent trips to the grocery store are not practical or encouraged. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend keeping enough nutritious foods in the house that will last for up to two weeks. As such, we may need to take a closer look at what we have on our shopping list and perhaps broaden our horizons with new ways to meet our nutritional needs.

There are, however, a few obstacles that make this challenging. For example, you might have to accommodate shrinking household income, consider timing of when to go to the store or work with the limited options of food staples.

The following are guidelines to help direct what selections you can make to keep the essentials in your home while keeping costs to a minimum.

Stock your pantry

First, think about how many people you are shopping for and purchase only what you need to leave some for others, too.  Plan for a variety of fresh, frozen and shelf-stable items. Because not all stores will have everything you’re looking for, keep your list flexible.

Vegetables: Look for produce that has a longer shelf life, such as broccoli, carrots, celery, onions, leeks, potatoes and cauliflower. If they are out of broccoli, look for other alternatives, such as brussel sprouts or zucchini. Frozen vegetable mixes will help carry you through the two weeks, along with canned diced tomatoes.

Fruits: Consider dried fruits, canned fruits packed in juices or water, and fresh fruit packaged in bags such as apples, oranges and kiwi.

Beans and protein: Chickpeas, lentils and legumes are healthy options, especially with the meat shortage and likely higher prices for meat. Also consider frozen fish or tuna, salmon and chicken in cans as sources of protein. Other affordable and nutritious options include nut butters and eggs.

Starches: These include shelf-stable options such as whole grain rice, pasta and quinoa.

Condiments: If you like flavoring your food, some affordable recipe additives include plain nonfat yogurt, soy sauce, broths, spices, vinegars, olive oil and mustard.

Dairy foods: Flavored Greek yogurts and plain nonfat yogurt is a great substitute in recipes for sour cream or cream cheese. If the milk refrigerators are bare, shelf-stable dry milk is also an option. 

Reconsider your options

Whether it’s about recipe substitutions or how to get your groceries, there are alternative options out there for you to consider.

Don’t know what to do with your leftovers? Use them with what is on hand in other recipes. For example, put dried tomatoes in salads with pine nuts, cranberries in tuna, nuts and raisins in oatmeal. You can get creative when making soups by adding leftovers and using vegetable or chicken broth as a substitute. Think beyond your usual recipe ingredients. If you are making enchiladas and do not have peppers, add zucchini, olives, black beans and taco sauce.

Worried about going to the grocery store? Explore your shopping options. If going to the store causes you anxiety, consider purchasing food from places that have delivery options. The fees are reasonable and keep you off the frontlines, especially if you are in a high-risk group. If transportation is not a problem, curbside pick-up can also be an option. Don’t forget that many stores also have special shopping hours for older Americans.

While everyone is at home together, consider sharing the cooking responsibilities. Try new dishes or, if you prefer, stick to simple items or familiar foods and tastes that provide you comfort. Plan what works for you and your family. By purchasing a mix of fresh, frozen and shelf-stable items, you can create a healthy balanced diet that satisfies both food cravings and budget concerns.


Ann Caldwell and Maureen Shackelford are nutritionists and registered dietitians at Anne Arundel Medical Center. To reach them, call 443-481-5555.