Basic Kitchen Foods for Covid-19 Times

Woman wearing a facemask and shopping for groceries
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If you’re like me, you’re trying to visit the grocery store or order groceries as little as possible! My goal is to limit buying groceries to every 2 to 3 weeks and keep my kitchen stocked with versatile basic kitchen foods. There are two people in my home (my husband and me) and we eat almost all meals at home. We have one average sized refrigerator / freezer. Larger families may shop more often if they don’t have extra refrigerator/freezer space. However, this list of basic kitchen foods and tips should help most people avoid extra trips to the grocery store during the week.

Following are some basics in my cupboard, fridge and freezer that will mix and match into many meals. Several of the refrigerator foods are chosen because they will maintain their quality and safety longer than others.


→Print-friendly, 1-page “Basic Kitchen Foods List”

I chose the most conservative storage times given for some of the following foods.  You may find they last longer. NOTE: Freezing foods at 0 degrees F keeps them safe indefinitely; however, the quality may lessen over time. The “Best if Used By” date label on foods indicates when a product will be at its best flavor and quality, not of safety. Read more about how FDA advises to interpret this label.

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  1. Canned meat: tuna, salmon, chicken, etc.; low sodium versions are often available.
  2. Canned beans: i.e. kidney, garbanzo, black, soybeans, etc. Lower sodium versions are often available; rinsing removes about 40% of sodium of regular canned beans plus helps remove substances that contribute to gas. One type of bean can usually be substituted for another in recipes. More information on cooking with dry beans 
  3. Packaged dry beans: Check here for information on cooking dry beans from scratch …

    NOTE: If someone in your household has problems with beans and gas: (1) Rinse and drain canned beans or rinse dry beans after soaking and cook them in fresh water. (2) Drink more water. (3) Increase the amount of legumes slowly. (4) A commercial over-the-counter product, Beans®, may help (according to directions on the package, it should be taken with your first bite or up to 30 minutes after your first bite).

  4. Lentils: may be available cooked and canned or as packaged dry lentils. Unlike dry beans, they do not need soaking before preparation.
  5. Nut and seed butters: almond, cashew, peanut (technically a legume), sunflower seed; refrigerate nut butters after they are opened.
  6. Nuts: 1/4 cup of nuts (about a handful – i.e. walnuts, almonds, etc. ) has approximately the same protein as 2 tablespoons of a nut butter. To keep nuts as fresh as possible, store them in an airtight container or package, in the refrigerator for up to 6 months, or in the freezer for about a year. Because of their high fat content, they can become rancid if stored too long at room temperature.
    NOTE: Sprinkle chopped nuts over cereal, mix into baked goods for a quick addition of protein and satiety. A handful of whole nuts makes a quick and excellent snack!

Refrigerator / Freezer 

  1. Ground beef or turkey
  2. Beef stew meat
  3. Chicken breasts: boneless, skinless chicken breasts also can be cut into strips for stir fries and chicken nuggets
  4. Pork chops
  5. Pork tenderloin
  6. Frozen fish fillets
  7. Other meat, poultry, fish as desired
  8. Edamame: Edamame beans are soybeans that are harvested before becoming fully mature. They are most often found in the freezer section of the grocery store in either the pod or shelled form. The Produce for Better Health Foundation provides these 10 quick ways to enjoy these green soybeans.
  9. Eggs: According to the American Egg Board, refrigerated shell eggs can be safely eaten 2 – 3 weeks beyond the “Sell by” date. The “sell by” dates on eggs are not safety dates but a guide for how long a store should keep the eggs on their shelves before selling them. Store eggs in their carton on a middle or lower shelf where the temperature will fluctuate less than on the door.
    → NOTE:  Most baking recipes call for “large” eggs.

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  1. Canned diced tomatoes: useful in a variety of recipes such as soups, stews, casseroles, sauces, Sloppy Joes, etc. Lower sodium forms of tomatoes often are available.
  2. Canned corn, peas, carrots, green beans: These vegetables can be used in a variety of recipes. Canned foods usually are picked and processed at their peak of freshness and may be more nutritious than fresh veggies stored in the refrigerator for a period of time. Lower sodium versions are available for many vegetables.
  3. Sweet potatoes, other potatoes, onions and garlic: UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center recommends storing garlic, onions, sweet potatoes and potatoes in a well-ventilated area in the pantry. Other options include a kitchen cupboard (other than a cupboard area under a sink or an area that has water, drain or heating pipes passing through it), a closet or a basement.
    → NOTE: Sweet potatoes and other potatoes will last about 1 to 2 weeks or more at a normal room temperature and a month or more in a cooler temperature (45 to 55 degrees F.) Onion and garlic will store well for several weeks. A ceramic garlic holder makes a handy, counter-top storage container for garlic.
    →  NOTE: Protect potatoes from light to prevent greening; do not store near onions. If you don’t have a dark area (basement, pantry,closet, cupboard), store potatoes in a loosely closed paper or cloth bag that blocks out light yet allows air circulation.
  4. Whole winter squash (i.e. acorn, Hubbard, butternut, spaghetti): Stored on the kitchen counter, winter squash should last 1 or more months. .


NOTE: Store vegetables in a separate crisper drawer from fruit. Wash produce before eating vs. when you bring vegetables and fruits home from the store.

  1. Whole carrots, beets, parsnips, radishes, turnips: Fresh whole carrots (not baby carrots), and these other root vegetables can be stored in the fridge for about 2 weeks.
  2. Fresh leafy greens: These may last about a week; some packages say to use their product within 2 to 3 days of opening the package. You might eat fresh leafy greens one week and then frozen ones the next week.
  3. Bagged coleslaw: Look for the one with the furthest out freshness date.
  4. Red peppers: Fresh, whole red peppers keep about 1 to 2 weeks. Chop and add to salads, saute and use in stir-fries, add to cooked pasta, etc. Tray-freeze any extra chopped or sliced peppers for use in cooked dishes.
  5. Other fresh vegetables as desired: Storage time varies.


NOTE: Vegetables will maintain good quality for about 8 to 12 months; however, if kept constantly frozen at 0 degrees F, they will be safe indefinitely.

  • Leafy greens
  • Corn
  • Peas
  • Mixed vegetables
  • Other vegetables as desired

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  1. Canned fruits: Sweet and nutritious … whether eaten as part of the main meal or for dessert. When your fresh fruit supply is gone and your freezer space is limited, there is always room for more canned fruit on your shelves.
  2. Dried fruits: Dried fruits may last 6 to 12 months at normal room temperature. After they are opened, if they are stored in a tightly sealed container or heavy, freezer-quality plastic bag. After opening, you may wish to store dried fruits in the refrigerator for best quality, especially if you live in a hot, humid area.


NOTE: Store fruits in a separate crisper drawer from vegetables. Wash produce before eating vs. when you bring fruits and vegetables home from the store. This list includes those fruits that last the longest in the refrigerator.

  1. Apples: Apples may last 3 to 4 weeks or longer in the fridge.
  2. Citrus Fruits: Oranges, lemons, limes and tangerines (mandarin oranges) can last 3 to 4 weeks in the fridge.


Fruits will main good quality for about 8 to 12 months; however if kept constantly frozen at 0 degrees F they will be safe indefinitely.

  1. Berries: Frozen berries can be eaten thawed, work well in many baked and cooked products (crisps, pancakes, muffins) and can be used in thickening milk and yogurt for smoothies.
  2. Other fruit as desired

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NOTE: There are lactose free forms of most dairy products. If they aren’t available in your grocery store, you may be order to order some of the shelf stable ones online.


  1. Instant nonfat dry milk: If it has been a long time since you used “powdered ” milk, you may be pleasantly surprised at how quickly it reconstitutes and how the taste has improved.  → NOTE: For the best flavor for drinking, mix it a day in advance and let it chill overnight. Add a little bit of chocolate syrup or other flavoring and you may barely notice the difference. Many people like to use powdered milk for cooking and save their fresh, liquid milk for drinking, where it is hard to notice any difference at all.
  2. Shelf-stable milk: This milk has been pasteurized at very high temperatures and can sit out, unopened, for about 3 months (may vary by brand). After opening, refrigerate and treat the same as other milk,
  3. Evaporated milk: Evaporated milk has been thickened by evaporation, with about 60% of the water removed. It is sealed in cans and is shelf stable until opened; after opening a can, transfer any unused milk to a different container and store in the refrigerator.
    NOTE: Use  in recipes developed for evaporated milk or add an equal amount of water and use as a substitute for regular liquid milk in cooking. For example, if a recipes calls for 1 cup of liquid milk, use 1/2 cup water mixed with 1/2 cup evaporated milk.
    NOTE: Find several full-strength evaporated milk recipes at the Carnation website and in the search section of “Find a recipe” – type “evaporated milk.”


  1. Milk
  2. Calcium-fortified soymilk: Soymilk is the only plant-based beverage that is considered a complete protein, like cow’s milk, and that be included in USDA’s Dairy Group. If you’re choosing a plant-based milk alternative (other than soymilk) and protein is a concern (such as for children 5 and under), be aware some may be low in protein.
    NOTE: Check on the carton whether you should shake the carton of a particular plant-based milk before pouring. Sometimes this is needed to help distribute the added calcium throughout the beverage.
  3. Yogurt
  4. Cheese: For convenience, you might buy various forms of cheese. Shredded cheese adds quick flavor and nourishment sprinkled on top of casseroles and pasta dishes. It’s so easy to make grilled cheese sandwiches with pre-sliced cheese. Cheese sticks make quick snacks for all ages. And, how about a quick “snack meal” of fruit and vegetable slices, cheese chunks (from a block of cheese), and whole grain crackers.


  1. Milk and cheese: These dairy foods can be frozen. Though their quality be affected slightly, they will still be suitable for many uses. Learn more about how to freeze milk and cheese.

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NOTE: Grain foods made totally or partly with whole grains give you the added benefit of fiber and certain trace minerals and are desirable for at least half your grain servings.


  1. Bread: Check these guidelines for storing commercially baked bread from USDA. Freshly baked artisan bread may keep best in the freezer after a few days at room temperature.
  2. Ready-to-eat cereal
  3. Oatmeal: all types contain comparable nutritional content
  4. Rice: USA Rice states there are no hard and fast rules for which U.S.-grown rice to use in any particular recipe. USA Rice gives this quick guide to the many types of rice.  Here’s how to reheat rice after it is refrigerated (scroll down the page of the link for the answer).
  5. Pasta: Different shapes of pastas may pair better with different types of sauces. One type of pasta often can be substituted for another in recipes; cooking times may vary.
  6. Crackers: Look for varieties made with whole grains
  7. Popcorn
  8. Tortillas
  9. Chips: Look for varieties made with whole grains
  10. Other dry, shelf-stable forms of grains as desired


  1. Cooked grains: for example, cooked rice and pasta


  1. Cooked grains and bread-type products: Home-frozen cooked pasta doesn’t freeze that well; under-cooking pasta may improve its quality.

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  1. Ketchup
  2. Mustard
  3. Mayonnaise
  4. Salad dressing(s): Also, it’s easy to make your own oil and vinegar salad dressing.
  5. Extra virgin olive oil: Hardens in fridge; liquefies when returned to room temperature. It has a lower smoke point than some other oils and may start to smoke if heated beyond a “medium” heat setting.
  6. Canola oil: Has a higher smoke point and more neutral flavor than extra virgin olive oil.
  7. Seasonings: i.e. salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, vanilla, chili powder, cinnamon, thyme, minced or powdered onion and garlic
  8. Butter or margarine
  9. Vinegar: i.e. balsamic, red wine, cider, and white wine or rice vinegar. Vinegar easily lasts at least a year.
  10. Chicken and beef broth or stock: Can, box or dry powder/cube forms. Consider lower-sodium versions. If you have extra broth or stock, consider freezing in ice cube trays; pop out and store in freezer bags. Add as needed to other recipes.
  11. Sauces: i.e. salsa, pizza, barbecue, spaghetti
  12. Baking soda, baking powder, flour, yeast: Check your supply of these ingredients if you plan to do any baking.
  13. Sugar, honey, syrup, jelly/jam
  14. Other oils, seasonings, sauces, etc. as desired
  15. “Personal necessities”: This might include coffee, tea, chocolate, ice cream, etc.

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Related Links

10 Tips for Successful Online Grocery Shopping
Food Safety Links
10 Ways I Limited Grocery Shopping to Once Every 3 Weeks
Basic Grocery List: Why and How to Include Milk, Cheese and Yogurt


Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended of those not mentioned and no endorsement is implied for those mentioned. The appearance of external hyperlinks does not constitute an endorsement of the information, products or services contained  therein. No editorial control is exercised by this blog over the information you may find at these locations.

This site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice. Talk with your health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. 

©2020 Alice Henneman


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