Registered nutritionist Claire Turnbull reveals the unexpected foods we should be stocking up on

With COVID-19 sweeping the globe and panic setting in, we're all beginning to realise we should have some food in the pantry, in case Uber Eats ceases for good. 

In 2014, Stats NZ found just 22 percent of New Zealanders had food and water for three days, along with a household emergency plan in case of disaster. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, it seems people are compensating for that lapse, emptying supermarket shelves of rice, tinned foods and other long-life products. 

Registered Nutritonist Claire Turnbull from Mission Nutrition says this is the time she sees people gravitating to large amounts of one type of food - starchy carbohydrates with a long shelf life.

"I'm seeing people buy lots of one type of food, with no variety," she told Newshub.

She recommends people diversify their supermarket selection and start stocking up on some more nutritious options.

"That way if you don't use it, you haven't got masses of one thing," she adds. 

For the freezer 

"You know I'm seeing a lot of people do the 'pantry thing' but I haven't seen a lot of people stocking up in the fresh produce," Turnbull says. "This is the time you want to make use of your freezer. There are good things, nutritionally dense foods, you can store in there."

Turnbull says if people are stuck at home, the key is to be focusing on foods to help support the immune system. 

"That's those three key nutrients: Vitamin C, zinc and iron," she says.  

"Obviously Vitamin C you'll find in your fruit and veg, whether that's canned (in juice) or frozen. This is a great time to head down to the frozen foods and get a few bags of frozen berries. 

"Grab a couple of bunches of bananas too, and if they ripen, throw them in the freezer." 

Frozen vegetables are key, she says, and everyone should have a few bags of veggies stored in the freezer to throw into meals. 

But the freezer can be a great place to store those everyday foods you may not have thought of, especially if you have a large chest freezer with plenty of space. 

"You know milk freezes really well," Turnbull reveals. 'If it's in a [plastic bottle] it expands, so pour a little out of the top and stand it upright. Then let it defrost at room temperature when you're ready to use it."

Great news for cheese fans - you won't have to go without either.

"Cheese also freezes really well - grated cheese is obviously easier to get out and use than a massive frozen block," she says. Just take out handfuls and defrost as you need it.

grated cheese
Did you know you can freeze cheese? Photo credit: Getty.

It's also a time to crank out the crockpot, with Turnbull recommending we all do a little bulk cooking this weekend. 

"This is a time to cook up your mince dishes, casseroles, soups - having all this stuff cooked and frozen in the freezer is not going to you any harm," she says. 

"You'll have it there for the winter. Plus if you get sick and you're feeling like utter rubbish, you have food on hand with all your veggies in there - your iron, Vitamin C and zinc."

While it might not be thought of it as a 'pandemic' food, Turnbull says she herself pops two dozen eggs in the trolley at the supermarket, just in case.

"Just check the date on them and keep them in the fridge. You can whip up an omelette or a frittata - just easy and nourishing stuff." 

For the pantry

Turnbull says those pantry staples like bags of legumes and tins of pulses are great to have on hand. "You can get a bag of lentils for under $2, a can of chickpeas for $1.50" she says.

"Make a dip with that, or keep some curry paste on hand. You throw curry paste, chickpeas and a couple of tins of tomatoes together you've got a curry."  

Nuts and nut butter are other fantastic options, Turnbull recommends. 

"If you're not feeling well often you can end up losing a bit of weight. So you want foods that are going to be super nourishing, and give you heaps of energy," she says. 

"Go to the supermarket and grab yourself a couple of jars of peanut butter."

Nut butters are high in nutrients and energy.
Nut butters are high in nutrients and energy. Photo credit: Getty.

Powdered yoghurts are helpful to whip up in a hurry, and of course having some basics - flour, baking powder - to make your own bread and scones is always helpful, and easy enough even if you're not Nigella in the kitchen.  

Then there are the obvious basics - stock, oil and some tins of tomatoes. 

But most of all, Turnbull recommends that we use this time to do a bit of a stocktake - we all have those jars of cumin in the pantry that went off in 2014. 

"You know, this is not a bad time to do some bulk cooking and take a pantry stocktake, have a sort through," she says.

"It's a positive thing people can do for themselves to get ready for winter, and if does all go wrong you have stuff prepped.

"If you're making a casserole or curry, double it and freeze half. It will be brilliant on a busy night, and its there if you get sick. Or if a friend gets sick, you can drop a container off at their front door."

And of course: before cooking, always wash those hands. 

Claire Turnbull is the Registered Nutritionist behind Mission Nutrition. She's doing a live workshop at Auckland's Go Green Expo later this month.