As experts have recommended, Americans are stocking their pantry shelves in preparation for a COVID-19 quarantine. Although warranted, many are purchasing processed, shelf-stable foods.
These items may include comfort processed foods like ramen noodles, macaroni and cheese, Hamburger Helper and canned soups.
But even during a pandemic, we can try to prioritize health and make the best of every meal. Check out these simple tips to boost the nutritional value of your quarantine pantry staples.
Ramen noodles are inexpensive, shelf-stable and a crowd favorite. Although ideal for emergencies, the lack of protein and fiber within these packets leave you with an undesirable, energy-dense meal. Add ramen packs a high sodium content – about 1,800 mg per serving – compared with the daily recommended intake of less than 2,300 mg per day.
The good news is that simple changes can be made to a bowl of ramen to reduce inflammation, increase flavor without added sodium and increase satiety.
First, start by sautéing chopped onion, minced garlic, and sliced bell peppers with 1 tablespoon oil in a saucepan over medium heat.
Once the onions are translucent, spice them up with some turmeric and black pepper.
Follow the directions on the ramen packet, cooking the noodles with boiling water.
When it comes time to add in the seasoning packet, only use half to cut back on sodium. The flavoring won’t be necessary with the addition of garlic, turmeric and black pepper.
If you have some greens in your fridge, consider adding a handful of spinach at the end.
In order to make this a well-balanced meal, a soft-boiled egg, beans, canned tuna or canned chicken could be added during the cooking process for added protein.
Macaroni & Cheese
A creamy box of macaroni and cheese is the comfort food we all desire during a pandemic. Although delicious, this dish alone offers little nutritional value. Luckily, protein and produce could always be added to make this dish packed full of nutrition.
Add two cans of tuna, drained, and a couple handfuls of spinach at the end of the cooking process. These simple additions ramp up the protein and fiber content, turning macaroni and cheese from a creamy side to a balanced main course.
You can try other variations with onions, peppers, canned chicken or diced tomatoes. The possibilities are endless!
Boxed meals can be easily altered to provide more servings and additional nutrients. When making something like Hamburger Helper or other meals in a box, consider adding chopped onions, minced garlic and other herbs to the pan with lean ground beef, chicken or turkey.
Other additions could be chopped zucchini, spinach, kale or peppers. Frozen or canned vegetables can always be used if fresh is not available.
Canned soups may be bulked up with frozen or canned vegetables, beans, meats and whole grains. Please note additional broth may be needed depending on the amount of ingredients added to the soup.
Remember that healthy eating isn’t always focusing on what we can't have, but what we can add into our daily diet. Always try to include lean protein sources, whole grains, fruits and vegetables to every meal. Luckily canned proteins and canned and frozen produce are easy to store and have on hand during these times. Don’t be afraid to get creative and make the most out of your time at home!
By Mickala Ritter, MS, RD, LD
Registered Dietitian, Franciscan Health Indianapolis