We have all been thrown into extraordinary circumstances during this past week with families put under unusual pressure, not least of all in providing food and sustenance for everyone suddenly finding themselves confined to the house.  With schools closed and many people in isolation, my first thoughts go to those who are vulnerable and key workers, but we mustn’t forget the self-employed or people on their own.

For lots of people the thought of providing three meals a day for everyone in their house for the unforeseeable future is daunting and challenging. I spent the first 24 hours blindly carrying on with my normal routine of doing what I usually do, but I very quickly realised this wasn’t going to be sustainable. I’m a total control freak, so my reaction was to take stock of what I have and get that control back! This is hopefully where I can help, by sharing some ideas and tips on how we can cope.

It is heartwarming to see businesses pulling together in this time of crisis. Locally to me I’ve seen pubs, shops and restaurants go to extraordinary measures to help the community. Pubs and restaurants are offering food parcels and take away options. Bread is being baked and staple items being offered to those who need them the most. Faced with adversity, we are all capable of adapting and this what we have to do.

So what can we do to make our meals more sustainable and easy to plan? Admitedly we are not going to be able to source our usual plethora of ingredients, but we have become over used to being able to get what ever we want, whenever we want it. This aside, we have to make the best of what we do have and adapt.

I maintain that planning is the key to success for many things. When I plan my weekly menus, I firstly feel in control (there’s that control issue again!), but mainly the benefit is that everyone knows where they are. It is less wasteful and much better for you to ensure you getting a nutritious diet.

I would advise the following steps in facing the challenges ahead:

Take stock of what you have

For me this meant taking the drawers out of my freezer and sorting them out. I made a list of possible meals I could make from what I have already. You will be amazed by what there is lurking in your freezer or store cupboards! I sectioned the possible meals into lunches and suppers so that I could then begin to write a menu plan. Obviously if you find things out of date, or unidentifiable parcels these need to be ditched but you should quickly begin to see what you have to work with.

In my store cupboard I found things which could be adapted. OK, I might not have kidney beans but I do have black beans and caneleni beans. No tinned tomatoes, but there’s ketchup and jar of sun dried tomatoes at the back of cupboard.

Organise

For both my freezer and store cupboard, I organised these into sections. I have a drawer for vegetables, one for fish, another for meat and a separate one for ready made items. This is helpful when other people in the house are trying to find something. When faced with possible isolation, I wanted to be able to give a clear plan and instruction to others, so putting these things in order is helpful.

Freezer Tips

If it can be frozen – then do it! I freeze my bread, milk, sauces and bulk cooked soups and meals. Sliced bread can go straight into the toaster, or defrosted slice by slice when needed, and it does mean less waste. I found some breaded chicken (both homemade panko and ready made) yesterday, and a half open pack of Katsu sauce. I put these in a bag together so my family can make a chicken Katsu meal easily, as this is something they will eat and can make themselves. Frozen fruit and vegetables are your friends at times like this. If you can manage to buy them, then keep a packet in your freezer for when fresh are not available. I often buy soft fruit if it’s on offer and freeze this to use in porridge or smoothies. If frozen on day of purchase, it’s fine. There are lots of excellent products like frozen cauliflower cheese bake (Aldi and Lidl), leaf spinach (Waitrose and Tesco), Cauliflower rice (widely available) or steam fresh vegetables to discover.

Menu Plan

This part may not necessarily be your favourite but I assure you that once you get going, it’s very easy! Make a chart if you can and scan and copy it so you can use it over again. List the day, date and make columns for each meal and divide this into separate columns if you need to. For example, in the coming weeks my children are at home and my husband and I will be out at work. These meals are separated. I still do a weekly fast day on a Monday, so my food on this day is shown separately. Everyone can look at the chart and see what’s planned. You won’t get the “what can I eat??” or “What’s for lunch??” queries over and over.

Next write in the meals you are going to have based on what you have available to you. Under normal circumstances I would base this on seasonal ingredients or recipes which I know I’d like to make. Feel free to look at some of the recipes on my site for things like Mexican Lasagne, or soups. I hope to add some more staples here soon. Obviously you are going to be limited by ingredients available, but be creative! Now is the time to try different foods and make the best of what you do have.

I will be posting a weekly menu of what we are eating in our house on my INSTAGRAM page, so keep an eye out for this and feel free to use any of the ideas there.

Good luck everyone and stay safe and healthy!