10 Quarantine Cooking Tips to Help Your Family Survive Meals at Home

Since we’re eating most of our meals and snacks at home these days, that means constant food prep — or does it? Check out these 10 essential quarantine meal planning ideas for shopping, batch cooking, quarantine pantry cooking, and more!

  • By Jess Dang
  • September 8, 2020

With the entire family home now more than ever, it may feel like food hardly touches the shelves of your pantry or fridge before it disappears. Instead of eating lunch at an office or at school, we’re eating lunch at home. Happy hour snacks have become afternoon pantry raids. Post–game crackers and orange slices with the team have become post-backyard snacks in the living room.

That means more meals and more snacks that need to be purchased. 

More meals and more snacks that need to be prepared. 

And more meals and more snacks that need to be cleaned up after.

It can start to feel like a real-life version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar: endless — and impossible to keep up. That’s why we pulled together our favorite quarantine cooking tips for meeting the demands of a household of people chewing and swallowing their way through quarantine together. Because of all the stressors happening in our lives right now, food shouldn’t have to be one of them!

Here’s how to make it easier to feed your Very Hungry Household.

1. Batch your cooking

We’re all cooking more lately, and batching is an essential quarantine cooking skill that lets you do prep work once to eat several times. Roasting veggies? Add a second pan so you’ll have leftovers for lunch. Cooking chicken breast? Make all you’ve got, then use it throughout the week on salads and sandwiches! Steaming rice? Make enough for the whole week. If you find these extras about to go bad, most can be put in the freezer for longer-term storage

Batching is such an important part of quarantine meal planning and can also save you time when you’re chopping veggies or doing other prep work that isn’t technically cooking. While you have the cutting board out and knife at the ready, chop enough not just for today, but for the next few days as well.

2. Double your dinners

If you don’t mind eating leftovers of entire meals, then just doubling up on everything you cook can be a simple way to make dinner and lunch at the same time. If your family tends to eat everything that’s put in front of them, put half the meal away in leftover containers before serving to be sure you’ll have enough later. 

3. Let everyone help with the grocery list

One week your kids are obsessed with fruit, and the next it’s attracting fruit flies on the counter. One week they want popcorn as a snack, and the next it’s chips and salsa. Stop trying to read minds by leaving a paper grocery list and pen on the counter or fridge where the whole family knows to find it. Encourage everyone to add to the list whenever they think of items they’d like to eat. 

Alternatively, if you use curbside ordering, you can allow your family access to the account so that they can add items directly to your order. (Of course, you can still review and veto items before submitting the order so that you don’t end up with five gallons of ice cream!)

4. Buy enough food

If your brain is still back in February in terms of the amount of food your family eats, you’ll constantly be playing catch-up — and grocery shopping more often than you’d like. An important part of quarantine meal planning is being realistic about the amount of food you’re going through right now. Accept that you’ll be buying more and probably spending more than normal for a while (and remember that if you’re struggling financially, there’s no shame in getting help from food pantries).

Try not to shame or blame your family for the amount they’re consuming, and instead use past grocery lists as a guide for how much you need to buy. Did last week’s list last you only 4 days? Buy double or triple of everything the next time around.

5. Fill a designated snack area

If it feels like you’re constantly cutting up fruit, slicing carrots into sticks, doling out hummus, or slapping peanut butter onto bread, doing some of this prep in advance can go a long way toward saving your sanity. Having a designated snack area is not the most commonly talked about quarantine cooking tip, but it’s a vital one. By prepping a variety of snacks in advance and keeping them in a designated bin in the fridge and / or pantry, your kids can grab what they want when they want it, without having to interrupt you in the moment to ask for help.

You can also repackage large bags of snacks into individual portions in small leftover containers. For instance, crackers, popcorn, chocolate-covered pretzels, almonds, etc., may go a lot further when kids aren’t eating straight from the bag. (We use this same concept for entire lunches in our school lunch formula post, found here.)

6. Divide up responsibilities

If you’re quarantine meal planning, prepping, cooking, and cleaning up after every meal for every person in your household, you’re probably exhausted by the mere mention of food. Another important quarantine cooking skill to try is working with your family to divvy up responsibilities so that kids have age-appropriate tasks they can take on to help out.

Teens might be able to plan and cook dinner for everyone once a week, while preschoolers might be able to help cut up soft vegetables and help clear the table after dinner. And of course, talk with any other adults in your household too about ways these responsibilities can be divided more equitably, if that’s an issue. 

We know this can be a tricky issue in many families, but we believe it’s worth a conversation (or several). Many of us bear burdens silently, assuming those around us know we’d like their help, but that’s not always the case. By asking directly, you may get a different response than you expected. 

And if you do find a new way to divide up the food-related work, it’s a win-win for everyone involved. Not only will you get some relief from having to do it all yourself, but you’ll be teaching your kids some valuable real-world skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. 

7. Cut corners

Seriously, now is not the time to do it all yourself. Buy those pre-chopped frozen veggies. Get pre-made sauces, marinades, and vinaigrettes. Get pre-cooked rotisserie chickens. Whatever helps you to keep your head above water, we’re here for it.

8. Have a few pantry staple meals on hand

Keep a set of staples on hand that can be expanded for quarantine pantry cooking at a moment’s notice. With all the extra cooking we’re doing, many of us have lost the motivation to get fancy (if we ever had it to begin with). Keeping these things on hand for days you’re just not feelin’ it can do wonders. Some examples include: 

  • Boxed mac ‘n’ cheese + frozen broccoli + canned white beans
  • Pre-seasoned couscous + frozen veggie mix + shredded rotisserie chicken
  • Spaghetti noodles + jarred sauce + raw baby carrots
  • Instant ramen + frozen veggie mix + hard-boiled egg
  • Premade salad mix + diced lunch meat + toast
  • Pre-seasoned rice + frozen peas and carrots + canned chickpeas

9. Keep frozen dinners on hand

For those days when you’re really not feelin’ it, keep a stack of frozen meals in the freezer as a part of your  quarantine meal planning. These could be ones you’ve bought or freezer meals you cooked ahead of time (such as lasagna, pot pies, soups or stews, casseroles, or even homemade pizza). There’s no greater feeling than dragging your feet about cooking yet again . . . then realizing that you have an entire meal ready to go that just needs to be heated up!

10. Be easy on yourself

Last, be easy on yourself. If your family is eating well most of the time, there’s no need to stress out about occasional less-healthy snacks or getting takeout when you need it. If it makes your life easier, it’s worth it. Plus, if you’re able to support local businesses by getting takeout once a week, that’s something to feel good about!

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