Coronavirus Food Tips: Don't Waste the Goods

Shannon Brewer Roth created a coronavirus cake for her family.
Shannon Brewer Roth created a coronavirus cake for her family. Photo by Shannon Brewer Roth

You've done all your shopping. You and the people you love are hunkered down, working from home and ready for the long haul. It might be a while. It's time to make the most of what is in your house and at your disposal.  Houston is not on a mandatory shut down as of yet, but the immediate possibility is there. And you should be doing it anyway.

I first pitched the idea of doing an article on food waste to my editor for Earth Day but boy, have things changed. It's no longer about saving the planet, or even money. It's about dealing with the situation at hand. Even though grocery stores are still allowed to operate and many restaurants around town are able to supply the public with to-go and delivery service, we residents need to be able to feed ourselves and our people if the going gets any tougher.

This isn't doom and gloom. It's just common sense. Food waste is an ongoing problem in the United States and many First World countries. While there are so many causes of this, politically, socially and economically, that's not what we need to talk about right now. We need to make sure that we are using every bit of food and resources within our own homes to make it through these times. The "waste not, want not" dictum may seem trite, but it has never rung more true than now.

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Be grateful for a full pantry.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

Take Stock

Most people have done this somewhat. We have had two weeks already to hit the stores or get groceries delivered. It is time to stop going out and make do with what we have. For some people, that may not be possible financially. There are some schools giving curbside meals for kids under 18. Please don't take advantage of that unless you really need it. Some families have no resources. Those of us with packed shelves do not need to increase our store by taking free food.

Make a list of everything you have by category. You don't have to list all the ounces of various condiments in your home, but knowing how much meat, fish, fresh produce, dairy, baking and frozen products that you have on hand will help you to create a menu for the next few weeks. And you will need a plan.

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Fried rice can use up leftover meat.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

Use Perishables First

Yes, this seems pretty basic but we Americans are spoiled with choice when it comes to our daily food intake. We usually eat what we feel like eating not what must be eaten first. Make sure to be aware of expiration dates and write down the fresh vegetables and fruit that will go bad in a few days or a week. If you make a large meal, make sure that the leftovers are eaten within a couple of days. You can find storage guidelines here at

You can also freeze fresh fruit and vegetables before they go bad. A  smoothie made with frozen bananas and berries will be a welcome treat a couple weeks from now. Most vegetables need to be blanched before freezing. There are plenty of websites with instructions on how to store and save fresh produce.

Save the pantry foods and non-perishables as much as possible. We could be in self-imposed quarantine for a while, so be smart about your food supply.

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Take inventory of your supplies.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Organize Your Refrigerator and Pantry

Many of us have some extra time on our hands even if we are working from home. Take this time to clean out your refrigerator. Throw away anything that is expired, moldy or looks off. None of us can afford to get food poisoning during a pandemic.

Once you have cleared out all the inedible stuff, you need to clean your refrigerator shelves and interior walls. I did this shelf by shelf during the day. I would do the top, stop for a little while, then go back and do the middle, working my way down and taking breaks. Not for my sake, but for the refrigerator's. Doing one section at a time, then closing the doors for a while allows the temperature to get back to where it should be. Speaking of temperatures, try to keep the refrigerator a little cooler than usual. I keep mine at 37 degrees. It seems to help the fresh food last longer.

When you restock the fridge make sure that you can see what needs to be used first. It's the same principle with your pantry. Do a front to back system that allows the items which will expire quicker to be up front and visible.

I also recommend keeping a marker nearby to write the date that you open a food stuff. It's not a good idea to rely on your memory. You may think the sour cream has been open only a few days when it may actually be a few weeks. At this perilous time, we do not want to be second guessing if food is good or not. We don't want to compromise our immune systems nor do we want to throw out good food because we weren't sure about it.

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Save some items for later.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Be a Meanie

If you have kids or a partner who loves to snack, it's time to lay down the law. Teens are missing their friends so scarfing a whole bag of Doritos while playing video games is of great comfort. You might have a significant other who wanders away from their work computer into the kitchen for constant snacks. Or maybe you are binge-watching a Netflix series and forget just how many fun-sized Snickers you are consuming. That will lead to you being not-so-fun-sized if this goes on for another month.

It may sound harsh, but you will need to tell the other members of the household what they can and cannot eat. During World War II, people were given ration books so that wealthier people didn't buy up all the stores of food for themselves. We are seeing some of that rationing occurring in a small way now. ( And don't you just love all those people trying to return toilet paper and hand sanitizer, now that they realize they need money for food and bills?)

We have to ration our own supplies at home. I have a "Don't Drink" sign on the gallon of milk that has the furthest away expiration date. I put smaller glasses on the shelf most used by my family so that they don't pour as much milk or lemonade. That didn't work too well for my son since he's six foot-two and is eye-level with the top shelf of pint glasses. So, I pull out my best drill sergeant voice and tell him to drink water instead. I have also started serving chips or popcorn in separate bowls. It allows me to control the amount of snacks my family is eating and is also more hygienic. You cannot eat popcorn or mini-marshmallows without touching your fingers to your lips. Try it. It's not easy. The less saliva we are all sharing, the better.
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The Ryan family enjoys luxurious homemade shrimp and grits while on lockdown.
Photo by Alex Ryan


Now that you have taken stock, made lists, and organized, it's time to actually cook. Save the prepared foods for when you are tired or stressed. Social media has become a way of keeping in touch with friends and family and also showing off our mad cooking skills. Even people who normally roll their eyes at "what I am eating" photos are getting in on the action. We're sharing recipes. We are swapping ideas.

I have a friend who couldn't find yeast at the store, so he had another friend drop off a bit of sourdough starter. Some people are making stunning cakes while others have become grilling fools. By the looks of it, many of us are eating pretty damn well. I'll admit, we've had some crab legs and shrimp boils going on at my house.

However, frugal meals are a necessary addition to the weekly line-up. I made fried rice with ground pork and my family loved it. In fact, we've had it twice this week. The first time, I had no fresh ginger but I used some pickled ginger from a sushi roll that we had shared earlier. The next time,  I used Chinese five-spice. Both times, it cost less than a dollar a serving by my estimation.

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A whole chicken can go a long way.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Hopefully, you were able to get the supplies you needed. There were no whole chickens the last time I went on a grocery run so I had to plop down $18 for a chicken at Whole Foods Market. Free-range and organic. You bet your bottom dollar I am going to get my money's worth out of that chicken. You got your chicken pot pie, chicken tortilla soup, chicken enchiladas... I'll be like Bubba from Forrest Gump. Except with chicken.

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Just because you can party every night, doesn't mean you should.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Cut Back on the Booze and Coffee

I know no one wants to hear that. Caffeine wakes us up and alcohol relaxes us. However, besides the fact that they are drugs, they are expensive. Maybe you don't need a whole pot of coffee every day. Cut back a little. You don't want to wake up one morning and discover that you are completely out. And while we joke about how much we are drinking during this crisis, we don't want to emerge with fatty livers or a serious drinking problem. Plus, you do not want to be fighting with your spouse about who gets the last cup of joe or glass of wine. Moderation is key in times of trouble.

So, everyone take care. Share. Be aware. This is the time when we show our true colors. Let those colors be a rainbow of hope.

If you have any tips or ideas, hit us up in the comments. We know our readers are particularly brilliant people and we would love to know how everyone is coping.
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Lorretta Ruggiero is a Houston Press freelance writer based in Cypress, Texas. She loves entertaining her family and friends with her food and sparkling wit. She is married to Classic Rock Bob and they have two exceptionally smart-aleck children.