Food News

4 Practical Ways to Prepare Your Home for a Pandemic

A helpful list of staples to stock up on.

April  6, 2020
Photo by James Ransom

The Center for Disease Control is currently monitoring the outbreak of coronavirus throughout communities in the United States. For one thing, coronaviruses are actually pretty common—usually manifesting as mild sicknesses, like the common cold. But a novel strain, COVID-19, has been said to cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (symptoms include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath—though the illness has also been reported to cause body aches, sore throat, vomiting, and diarrhea), and can be fatal for those with already compromised immune systems.

Because it is possible to be a carrier of COVID-19 without showing symptoms, it is imperative that we all practice excellent personal and household cleanliness, stay home as much is possible, maintain at least six feet of distance between ourselves and others, and to wear a cloth face covering if you must be around others. There is no vaccine to prevent the disease, and so the best way to prevent and slow the spread of illness is simply to avoid exposure.

This is, undoubtedly, a very stressful, anxious, and fearful time for many. The CDC writes: "Stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones," "changes in sleep or eating patterns, "difficulty sleeping or concentrating," and worsening of existing health problems.

And so, they recommend taking regular breaks from listening, reading, and watching the news, including social media; taking time to take care of your own body (physically and mentally); and maintaining a well-balanced diet, sleep, and exercise schedule.

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Top Comment:
“Also pick up some frozen and canned protein while you are grocery shopping for the items above. Peanut or other nut butters, canned tuna and/or sardines, canned chicken or ham, frozen fish, seafood, divide bulk packaged fresh chicken or ground beef into family-sized portions and freeze. ”
— Gammy

In moments like these, we feel it's important to think practically—of course, not to be alarmed, but to be well prepared. Because most people will be able to recover from COVID-19 at home, we've put together some tips and tools for readying your family and home, should this become a serious issue in your community. (Many of these items are good to keep around, in any case.)

With all things on this list, opt for the bulk version, if you can. There's no need to purchase more than you would use in the next two weeks anyway, but buying in bulk is kinder to the environment (less packaging) and eliminates multiple trips to the grocery store, thereby limiting time spent in crowded, public areas.

1. Stock up on Versatile Staples with a long shelf life

Buy products you like and would eat even outside of these circumstances—but, again, only enough to sustain your household for a couple weeks. Dried grains, pastas, and beans, for example, all maintain their nutritional value throughout their long shelf life. If possible, consider online grocers and grocery delivery to limit your exposure to other shoppers and workers.

As for us, we're stocking up on:

  • Canned, boxed, or tubed tomato products, such as whole peeled tomatoes and tomato paste
  • Cultured dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir; aged hard cheeses, like Parmesan and Pecorino
  • Dried fruit and nuts (the latter of which can be frozen for an even longer shelf life)
  • Dried grains, such as rice, wheat berries, and farro
  • Dried pastas
  • Dried or canned legumes, like white beans, black beans, lentils, and chickpeas
  • Frozen vegetables with many uses, like spinach, peas, broccoli, and corn
  • Preserved or pickled items, like kimchi, sauerkraut, olives, and pickled cucumbers
  • Produce with staying power, such as root vegetables (potatoes, yams, and winter squashes) and alliums (garlic, shallots, and onions)
  • Versatile meats that can be sealed and frozen (for example, chicken pieces and ground beef)

2. brew soothing Stocks, Broths & Teas

Nutrient-rich vegetable stock and bone broth—whether store-bought or homemade—can help to hydrate and soothe symptoms of a respiratory illness. Mugs of steamy tea will help, too.

All kinds of stocks and broths freeze well for several months, so after buying or making a big batch, you might consider portioning the liquid in airtight, freezer-safe containers and stashing away for later.

3. take inventory of your home supplies

Again, no need to keep an unnecessary amount on hand, though toiletries, diapers, home cleaning supplies, and medicines—like feminine hygiene products, toilet paper, your usual prescribed medications, as well as over-the-counter fever reducers and cold medicines—are often offered in 3- or 6-month supplies, and are worth considering if just for the convenience and slightly gentler impact on the environment. Though the lead and processing time may be a bit longer, consider mail-ordering these household supplies and medications.

As the CDC recommends, being extra mindful about cleanliness can only help. Dish, hand, and laundry soaps are often offered in larger formats and will ensure that you’re ready for more frequent disinfecting. Travel-sized bottles of hand sanitize are always smart to tote around, should you find yourself with limited access to a hand-washing sink.

4. Be good health citizens

In addition to stocking up on nonperishables foods and essential supplies for the home, the CDC has shared a list of everyday actions that can help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases:

  • Use cloth face coverings, reserving surgical and N95 masks for healthcare workers and medical first responders
  • Practice social or physical distancing—staying at least six feet away from others in public
  • Avoid unnecessarily touching commonly used surfaces; as well as your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Cough and sneeze into tissues (and dispose these upon using, please!), or into your elbow.
  • Wash your hands regularly and well.
  • Avoid close contact with those that aren't feeling well, but most importantly, stay home when we aren't feeling well.
  • Avoid time spent unnecessarily in public, crowded areas (especially if there are people at higher risk for getting sick in your community); limit nonessential travel.

Beyond this, we can be good health citizens by resisting the spread of discrimination and stigma, and offering social support instead.

This article will be continually updated to reflect current information. For more information about COVID-19 prevention and treatment, visit the Center for Disease Control's website.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • MoreFoodPlease
  • Nancy
  • Dana Ernest
    Dana Ernest
  • Liz Summers
    Liz Summers
  • Gammy
Food52 (we cook 52 weeks a year, get it?) is a food and home brand, here to help you eat thoughtfully and live joyfully.


MoreFoodPlease April 7, 2020
Don't forget the soy and anchovies or Marmite...a little long-shelflife umami goes a long way when your perhaps down and some flavor-building ingedients or time, or both.
Nancy March 16, 2020
While stuck at home during this crazy time, I've really picked up on my baking. As long as I'm following rules of cleanliness and guidelines for staying healthy, is it generally safe to bake? Are there specific or different guidelines for baking now?
Stephanie B. March 16, 2020
Baking in general, or sharing baked good? I haven't heard/read anything about the process of baking, but I'm not sure I should bring things in to work to share right now.
Dana E. March 13, 2020
Good list, if you can get any of this. People in Ohio are panicking and bulk-buying way more than they need. Our stores are wiped out of toilet paper, cleaning supplies and pantry/canned goods...
Stephanie B. March 15, 2020
Right? Most of this stuff is wishful thinking. People can also be good citizens by NOT HOARDING.
Liz S. March 5, 2020
During the Fall/Winter in NW Montana, I keep my pantry and freezer full to avoid having to go out in bad weather (I work from a home office). I keep an extra dozen eggs, cabbage is a green that lasts fresh longer than lettuce and there are lots of slaws other than cole slaw, i.e. it is my go to for a bit of fresh "salad". I eat a variety of beans and grains and keep lots on hand. Plus all that @Gammy said, plus the article. My winter pantry may stay full longer than usual this year. I think a little preparation is helpful in combatting some of the fear/anxiety/panic that so much news can cause.
Liz S. March 13, 2020
One other thing: powdered milk. I like Judee brand, 2nd is Peak. Great note from @EricKim and also the link to NYTimes … thinking about others: people who might not have sick leave or get laid off, families needing larger quantities of things, housebound folks. In addition to all pulling together, I think it helps me to help others!
Gammy February 28, 2020
Also pick up some frozen and canned protein while you are grocery shopping for the items above. Peanut or other nut butters, canned tuna and/or sardines, canned chicken or ham, frozen fish, seafood, divide bulk packaged fresh chicken or ground beef into family-sized portions and freeze.