Cooking Is … Not My Favorite. Here’s How I’m Eating While I Shelter in Place.

updated Apr 23, 2020
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A person standing in front of an open refrigerator inside a kitchen
Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

I’ve never been much of a cook. I live alone and, before the pandemic, I’d generally work late at night and then grab something from the prepared food section at the grocery store for dinner (a total luxury, I know!). So when the stay-at-home order came last month, I knew instantly that I would be in trouble, as it meant no nightly trips to the store for a hot meal for the foreseeable future. I think that there are a lot of people like me out in the world; Americans now spend more than half of their food budgets on eating out, over groceries.

Many people are using this prolonged time spent at home to learn how to cook, or to take up more time-intensive cooking projects. But with the stress of everything going on in the world right now, it’s just not a priority for me. Cooking feels like more stress, not stress-relief.

My Food Strategy: Grocery Staples That I Don’t Need to Cook

So, obviously, although I don’t cook, I still need to eat. So I’ve been stocking my pantry and fridge with grocery essentials in order to nourish myself and not get too bored with my options. I’ve been mostly relying on refrigerated, long-lasting staples. (I don’t even currently own a microwave, so warming up food that way is out.) Here are the things that have helped me, a person who does not cook.

  • Greek yogurt: I have three large containers, from three different brands: Siggis (flavored), Icelandic Provisions (the creamiest and thickest), and Fage (the tart, more sour one). 
  • Cheese: I have the following six kinds of cheese: burrata balls, Gouda, mild cheddar, half mozzarella and half cheddar, light part-skim mozzarella, and fresh whipped ricotta (I get two of these from Whole Foods each week).
  • Cottage cheese: Good Culture low-fat, 2%. It’s thick and my favorite. I have large containers.
  • Kefir: I have three types from Lifeway brand: strawberry, plain unsweetened, and blueberry. I drink this like water. 
  • Nut butters: I have peanut and almond butter.
  • Canned fish: Salmon and tuna pouches, in all different flavors and seasonings.
  • Dark chocolate: I have a few different options, like dark chocolate with ginger, dark chocolate with peanut butter, and 90% dark chocolate, among others. 
  • Roasted Brussels sprouts (cooked): I get a huge container from Whole Foods each week. 
  • Lentil salad from Whole Foods: It is prepared and packaged. I have about 10 in my fridge currently — I basically eat one a day. 
  • Tomatoes and sun-dried tomatoes.
  • Protein add-ons from Foxtrot: This market is two blocks away from me and has to-go carry-out. So I’ll buy 4-ounce pieces of panko-crusted chicken or roasted, cooked salmon for add-ons for my lentil salad or for with my Brussels sprouts.  
  • Turkey and beef jerky: I have New Primal turkey sticks and CHOMPS beef sticks. I’ll eat a few a day.
  • Mango: I pick up two big containers of pre-cut mango from Whole Foods each week so I have some fruit each day.

Here’s What I’m Making with These Grocery Staples

Although those items may seem disparate, they all work surprisingly well together. Here’s how I’m building them into meals. 

Breakfast: I might have the creamy Greek yogurt with some mango and a scoop of almond butter. Or I’ll pair the more “tart” yogurt with dark chocolate and peanut butter. Or, maybe I’ll ditch the yogurt and go for cottage cheese instead. Either way, I am getting in protein, good fats, and some antioxidants and vitamins, as well as bone-building calcium (which I need, as I have low bone density). 

Lunch and dinner: I can pile the lentil salad with Brussels sprouts, canned tuna, sun-dried tomatoes, and burrata balls. Or I can top that lentil salad with diced Gouda, fresh heirloom tomatoes, and the panko-crusted chicken add-on from Foxtrot. Another option? I can serve that same lentil salad with creamy ricotta cheese, diced mango for sweetness, and canned salmon.

For each dinner recipe, I am “making” something somewhat different and interesting. And I am still meeting the mark for protein, fiber, and good fats. 

Dessert: Dark chocolate. I’ll pick a type I want — there are many options, remember. Oh, and perhaps a glass of red wine while watching a movie or having a FaceTime date.

I’m Making the Most of Things Right Now, Even If It’s Not Perfect

Bottom line: I am making this work. Is it boring at times? Yes. And while I will occasionally order from a restaurant or splurge on pizza, for the most part I haven’t had warm, homemade food in over a month. I don’t quite remember what steak or tacos taste like. The cravings are bad

I do know that once quarantine is over, I would like to take some cooking classes or have cooking nights with friends who can actually teach me a few great recipes in person, so I can get more comfortable in the kitchen myself. It’s a valuable skill to have — especially in these times, where no one could’ve imagined this happening or known to prepare in advance.

In the meantime, I am getting through quarantine and making the most of my grocery essentials that fit into my own routine and schedule, dietary preferences, and current cooking abilities.

Do you cook at home? How has your relationship to cooking changed during this time?