As I write this, it’s fair to say that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is causing chaos around the world, leading us all into new situations where we have no choice but to adapt.

It’s perfectly normal to be feeling anxious or scared about the unknown. I think we’ve all had a little wobble of some sort over recent days as our version of normality begins to crumble around us.

We’ve seen panic buying and hoarding on a large scale which is scary and completely unnecessary. Many people are already struggling to buy enough food to form a basic nutritious diet, while medical staff coming off 24 hour shifts can find no fruit, vegetables or staple foods left in the shops.

On the positive side, each of us is experiencing COVID-19 in some way or another and community spirit already seems to be rising. The key message being: don’t be afraid to ask for help! There’s always someone willing to support you.

As someone with decades of home cooking experience who’s used to managing on a small budget (while also working from home and homeschooling), I feel well positioned to support others through this temporary crisis. I’ve been writing a Home Cooking guide to help people feel less stressed about cooking and nutrition during COVID-19 and to ensure that even when you can’t buy your usual items, you’re able to get creative with the foods you have. In this short article, I’d like to share some of my tips and inspiration with you….

Effective home cooking stems around confidence, creativity and courage.

It’s not about being able to follow a recipe with 25 different ingredients, rare spices you’ve never heard of and slow cooked for 14 hours. The true art of home cooking centres around being able to feed your family adequately using fresh produce and staple items. Cooking this way also naturally produces less food and packaging waste and encourages seasonal eating.

The hidden bonus is that if you’re practicing social distancing or a period of self-isolation (or even complete quarantine if it comes to that), then you’ll be saving money on all your usual purchases – many of which are habit or impulse driven.

(Note: Please do support local businesses – such as restaurants and cafes – where possible, if you’re in a financial position to do so.)

The thing about home cooking is …

It doesn’t have to be perfect.
It doesn’t have to have a name.
It doesn’t have to resemble a ‘normal meal’.

It can be simple, easy to make, tasty and low cost, all the while nourishing your body at a cellular level.

Confidence – If your cooking skills are basic, always stay in the kitchen while you’re cooking and avoid multi-tasking. Watch how foods cook and soften, how they change colour or acquire a new sweeter flavour as they roast. The more often you cook, the more your confidence will grow.
Creativity – Practice chopping vegetables in different ways to make meals seem new and interesting, even when it’s the same few ingredients. For example, chop carrots into chunks for roasting, thin strips for a stir fry, long sticks for dunking in hummus, or grated in a coleslaw style salad (or in a carrot cake!).
Courage – Just try! If you’re a nervous cook or scarred by a bad experience, there are thousands of online video resources to get you started. Use this extra time at home to get over your fears and learn a few basic styles of cooking.

The main difference between home cooking in any other period in time and this current situation, is the need for spontaneity over planning, and that’s where some people may come unstuck. Many love planning (it’s in their DNA – hello Virgo), or have created a lifestyle where planning is essential because every family member is so busy. So while you may not have all the ingredients necessary to make the weekly lasagne or Thai green curry, you can adapt with the foods you have.

Top tips:

Keep your cupboards organised (maybe give them a little declutter and spring clean first?)
Keep your fridge clean and organised so you can easily see everything you have.
Organise your spices and condiments.
See what’s lurking in the depths of the freezer!
Don’t throw anything away unless it’s actually inedible – that last slightly bendy carrot can go into a soup or casserole.
Try to ensure each main meal has a portion of grains or carbohydrate rich food (potato, sweet potato, root veggies, pasta), a portion of a protein rich food (meat, fish, dairy, tofu, beans/lentils, nuts/seeds) and 2 portions of vegetables (frozen peas and sweetcorn are handy when fresh vegetables may be limited).
When you’re short on money, try low cost combinations such as rice and beans (dried beans are cheaper than canned) and jazz these up with dried Middle Eastern, Indian, Mediterranean or Caribbean spices and herbs.

Finally, remember that food can go a long way when you share it between multiple people (or meals). For example, if you have only one apple and banana left in the fruit bowl and a bag of frozen fruit in the freezer, chop up the apple and banana, add it to some frozen fruit and give everyone a fruit salad or add it to porridge, yogurt or granola. If you only have small portions of various vegetables, chop them all up and create a stir fry, curry or soup.

By Lorraine Pannetier
Copywriter and Plant-Based Home Cooking Expert