Cooking through COVID-19


With a bit of planning, you can eat healthily at home and extend time between visits to the grocery store.

Photo: Brandon Fuller

Grocery shopping in a pandemic is a lesson in patience and perseverance. Keeping six feet apart, resisting the urge to buy all the peanut butter, and getting in and out of stores as quickly as possible is a challenge. And shortages of some staples—where has all the white rice gone?—require home cooks to get creative.

It’s enough to make you reach for the take-out menu. Again.

But with planning not only can you make healthy, nutritious meals but also save yourself money and trips to the grocery store, says Samantha DeMello ’13, registered dietitian and nutrition counselor at Nutrition in Motion, LLC. These days DeMello is counseling clients via Zoom Telehealth and recently developed a webinar, “Meal Planning During Stay Home: How to Make the Most of What You Have on Hand.”

Meal preparation in the time of COVID-19, DeMello says, is all about learning to work with what’s available—in your kitchen and at the grocery store. Knowing the basics of cooking and outfitting your kitchen with basic equipment—frying pans, saucepans, a stockpot, set of good knives, cutting board, and food grater—makes the meal preparation process quick and painless, DeMello says.

“I’ve always been fascinated by food. I took a sports nutrition class in high school, which was taught by a dietitian,” DeMello says. “I found URI’s program and met with the director of the department. She gave me a tour of the campus and I was sold.”

URI offers a bachelor’s degree in dietetics as well as one in nutrition. It has an accelerated bachelor’s to master’s degree program and a minor in nutrition. For the graduate student, the University offers other master’s degrees, including a master’s in dietetics online, a master’s in nutrition, and a doctorate in health studies.

Ask yourself two questions

DeMello’s advice to self-quarantining cooks is simple. To begin, ask yourself two questions:

  • What do I have on hand?
  • How much time do I have?

A good meal-preparation plan can reduce your exposure to the grocery store, DeMello says. Once you calculate how many meals you need to plan, make recipe selections in one of two ways: by choice of protein or cooking method, e.g., crockpot, baking, grilling.

Create a shopping list that is mindful of the way your local supermarket is laid out. Such a strategy, DeMello says, deters impulse buying and makes for a faster shopping experience.

“Taking care of yourself isn’t all that hard if you do a little planning.”
Samantha DeMello ’13

Be aware of the shelf life of your food. Avocados, berries, and bananas have a shelf life of about a week whereas apples, pears, and oranges last twice as long.

Investing a little time in developing a master list of recipes will also serve you well, DeMello says. Researching recipes online is a good option. When it comes to planning dinners, she suggests making enough for lunch the following day. When DeMello works with clients, she shares her favorite recipes and provides guidance on the best the online cooking community has to offer.

“I’m passionate about people taking care of themselves,” DeMello says. “And taking care of yourself isn’t all that hard if you do a little planning.”

chopped kale