Dairy is wiped out. There are two packages of chicken left. The vegetables are mostly gone.
These are the sights that have met Americans in grocery stores across the country as fears about the coronavirus pandemic have led to panic shopping. The absence of staple food products — like bread, eggs and chicken — is stressful for everyone, but particularly hard on those people who follow special diets for medical reasons or personal preferences.
When canned beans or pasta aren’t options for you, it may seem like getting through a long stretch of social distancing might be impossible. But there are ways for those who follow vegan, gluten-free or keto diets to make it through with substitutes, home cooking and a lot of patience.
For vegetarians and vegans
Go for long-lasting produce. Root vegetables, cabbage, squash, apples and citrus fruits will stay ripe longer than many greens and berries.
Make your own nut butters and milks. Whizzing nuts in a high-powered blender or food processor can replace almond butter from a jar.
Embrace vegan baking. Cookies made with aquafaba (aka, the liquid leftover from a can of chickpeas or other legumes), vinegar instead of eggs and butter in cakes, coconut oil instead of butter or lard in pastry — many vegan baking tricks are more shelf stable than their traditional counterparts.
The good news for those who must avoid gluten is that gluten-free products are less in demand than the regular wheat varieties, so you may not be facing shortages at your local store. But if you are, here are a few tricks.
Try veggie substitutes. If there is no gluten-free pasta at your store, grab some zucchini and make zoodles (with a spiralizer, or use a vegetable peeler to make long strips that resemble fettuccine) with your favorite pasta sauce. An eggplant or portobello mushroom can be a burger bun.
Try gluten-free baking, but don’t stress. There are hundreds of gluten-free baking recipes online, but many require specialty ingredients. But you can make simple edible cookie dough by grinding nuts in a food processor to use as flour, for instance; see more baking substitutes here. Sourdough breads can be easier for people with gluten sensitivities to eat.
For the keto diet
In addition to being a popular diet for weight loss, people follow the ketogenic diet for a number of medical conditions, including epilepsy, diabetes and polycystic ovarian syndrome. The extremely low-carbohydrate diet relies mostly on meat, dairy, non-root vegetables and some nuts and seeds. Dairy in particular has been hard to acquire in many stores. Here are a few tips.
Pick long-lasting vegetables that are keto-friendly. Eggplant, spaghetti squash, cabbage and cauliflower are all low in carbohydrates and last for weeks when stored correctly.
There are some shelf-stable keto products. Coconut milk and cream, plain nuts and seeds, canned vegetables, chicken and beef broth, low-carb protein powder (great for making low-carb bread substitutes), canned pumpkin, ghee, coconut oil and pork rinds are among products worth investigating. Full-fat coconut milk can be used to replace dairy products in most recipes.
Make cheese or yogurt at home. If some dairy is available and some isn’t, grabbing milk, heavy cream and live culture yogurt can set you up to create other dairy products at home. To make ricotta or paneer cheese, you need only distilled white vinegar or lemon juice, whole milk, heavy cream and salt. Milk and a little yogurt (with live cultures) can make much more yogurt (very easily if you have an electric pressure cooker).
Try new meat, or new ways of preparing it. Meat is disappearing from shelves, so now is the time to be creative. If ground meat is sold out, try grinding chicken thighs or a cut of beef in a food processor (freeze the meat for 15 minutes first, to help prevent the meat from getting mushy). Tinned chicken, meat and fish can be brought back to life with the proper recipes (chicken salad, fried canned meat, Caesar salad dressing).
Add more fat to your meals to make them more filling. Coconut oil, butter, mayonnaise and other fatty condiments can make a keto meal more filling without requiring another trip to the store for more chicken. Adding butter or coconut oil to coffee has long been a filling keto trick.
For anyone struggling to get their usual groceries
Try smaller, independent grocers. Asian and Latin markets, bodegas and other stores that aren’t national chains may have a larger selection of products right now. Online markets that sell specialty ingredients are also viable.
Make smaller meals for the people in your family with dietary restrictions. If everyone usually eats gluten-free, but only one family member has celiac, try saving the gluten-free products specifically for that person, and let the rest of the family go through the pasta.
Lean on your spice drawer. If you can’t vary your meals too much (they only had rice so you’re eating a lot of rice now), vary meals with different spice combinations. Ingredients like soy sauce, anchovies and Worcestershire sauce can be added to many recipes to increase savory, umami flavor ( anchovies in pasta sauce, it’s not crazy).
Ferment everything! Kombucha, pickles, peppers, onions — fermentation will help keep your food good for longer. It’s also a fun hobby you might keep long after social distancing is gone.
Make big batches, freeze leftovers. Doubling a casserole and freezing the extra portions will give you easy, microwavable meals later.
Keep it simple and low waste. Rely on meals that are easy to prepare and don’t create much waste. Save meat bones and vegetable scraps for making stock later. Use up vegetables in a frittata or soup before they go bad, fruit in a smoothie or dessert. You can even plant vegetable scraps if you have a backyard.
Sources: Bon Appetit, The Kitchn, The Pioneer Woman, Healthline and USA Today research.