How to Eat in A Pandemic
Updated: May 23
If you’re feeling stressed, anxious, and scared with all the news lately about Coronavirus, you are in good company. I am too! I work at a hospital full time and I feel like I've been holding my breath for a few weeks now, waiting for the storm to hit. I am in no way thinking the world is going to end or anything like that, but I do worry about how a massive influx of sick patients will overwhelm our current hospital system.
I think it is completely normal to feel this way when we are faced with a new and scary virus that has the potential to touch all our lives in such a dramatic and deadly way.
As of the time of this post, many of our US cities have been taking measures to minimize spread and exposure to Coronavirus: canceling large events and large gatherings, encouraging travel reduction, and encouraging us to stay at home if feeling ill.
Our routines and our sense of normalcy is all out the window. We have to now take each day, one at a time.
One of the big anxieties I want to address is over food.
Here are some questions you may have, and my best answers with the information we have right now.
Do I need to stockpile? For how long?
According to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) each household should have at least 3 days’ worth of food, water, and supplies for each member of the family- just normally.
With the Coronavirus, if you have the ability (time, budget, energy) to get ~14 days of food and supplies for each family member (and pets)- this would allow you to have enough food at home if you needed to self-quarantine or needed to stay home to take care of a sick family member. At the very least, it helps avoid extra trips to the grocery store, which can be crowded and risk exposure to the virus.
Since this virus is not a natural disaster (i.e. a flood, hurricane, or earthquake), a loss of water or power is not expected, so buying excessive bottles of water is not currently recommended.
What should I buy?
There are lots of lists online you can check out.
You want to buy food you would eat normally and enjoy. Please don’t buy peanut butter or any food for that matter if you hate it!
Generally, the recommendations are for dry and canned goods. These types of foods are shelf-stable and last a long time. You should buy frozen and refrigerated foods if you have the extra room and would eat those foods already.
As an example, my pantry currently has: rice and beans (dried and canned), spaghetti and a few jars of sauces, canned tuna and chicken, oats, dry cereal, jelly, peanut butter, Oreos, licorice, shelf-stable soy milk, coffee, honey, dried mango, and roasted cashews.
I would pay particular attention to getting a few items for your supply that are energy dense- for example, vegetable oils, honey/syrup, jam/jellies, nut butters, dried fruits, and regular coconut milk. The reasoning is- if your food supplies do dwindle and you aren't able to get more- you want stuff that has a lot of bang-per-bite.
Is there any food I can eat or supplement to take to protect myself?
There is a lot of misinformation about this. It is true, there are specific vitamins and minerals that have roles in the immune system (what keeps us healthy from infections). However, research does not support taking supplements (like 1000 mg of Vitamin C a day) is of any benefit to the general population. A multivitamin should be adequate as part of your food storage plan. Remember, some vitamins can spoil, so monitor the expiration dates.
What does matter?
Eating enough food, specifically, eating enough to provide your body with energy and protein. If you are in any type of restrictive eating pattern (dieting, elimination of food groups, intermittent fasting) your body simply DOES NOT have enough of the nutrients it needs to function normally. I see this every single day at work in the hospital. People who do not eat enough get sick more easily and stay sick longer.
During this scary time, talk back to the voice that tells you to eat less, to leave food behind, or to use this an opportunity to lose weight. Remind yourself: I am eating to be strong. I am eating for my immune system.