I keep seeing photos of groceries with empty shelves and queues to the cashier as long as the eye can see. People are buying SPAM, corned beef and instant noodles in bulk to prepare for lockdowns (“community quarantine” in some cases).
Well, when you’re faced with the reality of limited trips to the market and grocery in the coming weeks, and the possibility that there will be food shortage, you buy in bulk. Plus, there’s the realistic expectation that food consumption in the house will be heavier because everyone’s home.
You’re stuck in the house with not much to do. Are you really going to simply open a can and reheat its contents or boil instant noodles to feed yourself and your family? With so much time on your hands, why not do more?
If you’re willing to exert some thought and effort about meals in the midst of lockdowns and community quarantines, read on. There are smarter ways of buying and storing food. I’m throwing in a few things too on how to use your food supply to create tastier meals.
Let’s start with vegetables.
You can’t store a month’s supply of fresh vegetables
Some people are so perplexed with the hoarding of the least nutritious food when it’s really a time to eat healthy. I read a comment that fresh malunggay (moringa), kangkong (water / swap spinach) and munggo (dried mung beans) should be preferred over SPAM, corned beef and instant noodles. Someone replied, quite correctly, that in the case of instant noodles, it’s about affordability. I was about to say something about perishability but I opted to write everything here instead.
Vegetables start losing their freshness the moment they are harvested. That’s why vegetable sellers want them transported to the markets fast. Unless you own a dehydrator or you have a room in your house with controlled temperature and humidity, fresh vegetables will not last very long.
Fresh leafy vegetables have a short shelf life
That’s the first reason why it’s a bad idea to store malunggay and kangkong, for example. Even in the refrigerator, you have to consume them within a day or two. Keep them longer and they will start to go bad. So, you can’t buy bags and bags of fresh leafy vegetables to last for a month.
Non-leafy vegetables have a longer but still limited shelf life
Tomatoes, green beans, cucumber… these will last a few days longer than leafy vegetables in the fridge. But just a few days longer. Other non-leafy vegetables that don’t require refrigeration like potatoes, sweet potatoes and other root crops will last for about a week if you’re careful to keep them in a cool, dry place away from the sun.
Frozen, dried, canned and pickled vegetables will last for a month or longer
Granted that preserved vegetables are not as nutritious as their fresh siblings. Neither are they as tasty. But if you choose well, you will be able to serve meals that are more palatable and a few notches more nutritious than nothing but SPAM or corned beef straight out of the can.
Think frozen peas, store-bought kimchi, canned baby corn and dried mushrooms. Dried mushrooms, especially, because there are so many varieties, each with a different flavor and mouth feel. Mushroom is such a versatile ingredient for cooking.
Storing meat and seafood
If you have a large freezer and you’re assured of uninterrupted power supply in these uncertain times, you can store enough meat and seafood to last for a month.
If you don’t, should you forget about meat and seafood? It is this conundrum that leads people to buy SPAM and canned corned beef in bulk. I have nothing against canned meat. It’s practical to keep a stock for extreme emergencies. But to eat them everyday? I don’t think so. There are alternatives.
Think salted dried fish. Think dried shrimps. You can add them to vegetable stir fries, soups and stews.
Think preserved fish that come in jars (they retain their natural flavor and texture better than canned sardines). There are so many varieties these days — in oil, spicy, whole, flaked… Even canned tuna is a more natural food than SPAM.
Rice, grains, noodles (including the much-maligned instant noodles)
If you’re storing rice, make sure that it isn’t newly harvested rice which contains plenty of moisture that shorten its shelf life.
Grains (flour, starch, oats, etc.) will last at room temperature for a month. But once you open a package, transfer the contents into an air-tight container or resealable bag, and keep in a cool place away from the sun.
Now, about instant noodles. I have to admit that used to be such a snob with regard to this convenience food. Not anymore. Not since discovering that you can actually make a pretty good meal with a pack of instant noodles. You’ll need a few other ingredients though aside from what’s inside the package, and a little work. Watch this.
That was made with instant noodles. Now imagine substituting canned or frozen vegetables for the fresh ones used in the video, and adding dried shrimps or mushrooms (rehydrated, of course!) instead of chicken… Instant noodles can become a good meal with a little imagination.