Meal Planning and Cooking

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Here are some great tips from Ottawa Public Health on grocery shopping, meal planning, and cooking during COVID-19.

Meal Planning and Budgeting

When planning your meals and grocery lists, aim to have some foods at home that are non-perishable and/or have a longer shelf life. It is important to have extra food at home that can provide adequate nutrients and energy. These will come in handy if ever you were to become sick and can help limit your trips to the grocery store.

Avoid Panic Buying

You do not need to rush and “stockpile” supplies. The goal is to be prepared and purchase items gradually. Some staple food items to consider buying as a part of your emergency preparedness checklist include:

  • Fresh veggies with a longer shelf life: beets, carrots, parsnips, rutabaga, turnips, potatoes, yams, cabbage, squash, onions, etc.
  • Fresh fruit with a longer shelf life: apples, melon, oranges, grapefruit, etc.
  • Frozen vegetables and fruit, canned vegetables and fruit, dried fruit, applesauce, tomato sauce, 100% vegetable and fruit juice
  • Grains with a longer shelf life:  rice, couscous, quinoa, bread (tortillas, pasta, cold dry and hot cereals, bread rusks, crackers)
  • Frozen and canned meat and fish, soup, stews
  • Yogurt, eggs, hard cheese, non-refrigerated milk and plant-based beverages, milk powder, evaporated milk
  • Canned and dried beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, seeds, nut butters
  • Flour, oil, butter or margarine, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, jam, honey, sugar, granola bars, cookies, bouillon cubes, spices, condiments
  • Infant formula (if applicable)
  • Meal replacements (if taken for specific medical conditions)
  • Pet food and supplies

Budgeting

Healthy eating is important for everyone, and with a little bit of planning, you and your family can eat delicious and nutritious meals economically. Take a look at the Everybody’s Food Budget to learn various tips and tricks on how to save!

Shopping

There are many strategies that you can use when grocery shopping to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Here are some safe shopping tips:

  • Avoid going to stores if you are sick, even with mild symptoms. Try to have a person who is well go for you. If you become unwell while out shopping, leave the store immediately. Always cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your arm, not your hand.
  • If you are not sick and are going to a public place (e.g., grocery store or pharmacy):
  • please use masks as City Council has made masks mandatory in indoor public spaces.
  • Make a list before you go to minimize your time in the store and avoid shopping during peak hours.
  • Offer to purchase food items for others that might be self-isolating (friends, family, or neighbours).
  • See if your store has specific times blocked off for older adults and individuals with a weak immune system/who are at risk. You can also use a grocery delivery service or click-collect (curb pick up) to avoid going into stores.
  • Go shopping alone. Do not bring family members with you. This will help reduce the number of people in the store and help with physical distancing.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before and after entering a grocery store, as well as after unloading your groceries. If soap and water are not available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • If possible, clean your grocery cart with a sanitizing wipe. Some stores will provide this option upon arrival.
  • Practice physical distancing and maintain a 2 metre (6 feet) distance from others. This includes while shopping and standing in line.
  • Avoid touching your face. Avoid licking your finger to help open plastic produce bags.
  • Try to only handle foods, including vegetables and fruits that you plan to buy. This will reduce the spread of germs.
  • Reusable grocery bags can be used while shopping and do not increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission if individuals follow recommendations about hand hygiene. Staff should wash or sanitize their hands after handling bags or other products touched by customers. If you choose to use reusable grocery bags, clean your bags frequently to help eliminate bacteria and reduce the risk of food-related illnesses. While some locations may only allow the use of single use plastic bags that are provided by the store, OPH has not recommended that single-use bags are necessary.
  • Tap to pay rather than paying with money. This reduces the surfaces you touch and limits the spread of germs.

Storing Food

There are no specific precautions needed when storing foods. COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus. Although there are still things we are learning about COVID-19, we do know that other coronaviruses do not survive very long on surfaces like cereal boxes or canned foods. Coronaviruses are usually spread through respiratory droplets (for example when someone coughs or sneezes).

There is currently no evidence that people have become infected with COVID-19 through items bought at a grocery store. It is possible that the item you handled or bought was recently touched by someone who had coronavirus on their unwashed hands. Even though viruses like COVID-19 can survive between a few hours to a few days on foods and on surfaces before dying, you do not need to wash all your purchases. Here are the best ways to protect yourself:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water
  • Wash your hands when you arrive home, once you have put away your groceries, and after touching potentially contaminated surfaces (e.g. cardboard, stainless steel, or plastic).
  • If you want, you can wipe down non-porous cans and cardboards with soap and water or disinfectant wipes as an extra precaution.

If the virus is on a surface of a food item and then stored (cupboard, fridge, freezer) there is no evidence that it will grow and multiply. Currently, we do not know if COVID-19 can survive in the refrigerator or in freezer temperatures.

Preparing and Cooking Food

Cooking Food at Home

There is currently no evidence that the COVID-19 virus can grow on food or can be transmitted by ingesting food. However, the virus can be transmitted by touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.

Coronaviruses can be killed by practicing cleaning and sanitizing, and by cooking foods at safe internal temperatures. There is no evidence that touching or eating raw vegetables and fruits can spread COVID-19. It is important to continue practicing good hygiene and food safety during food preparation and meals.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water before preparing food/cooking and eating. Always wash your hands with soap and water before washing veggies and fruits and between handling different kinds of foods.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your arm, not your hand.
  • Clean and sanitize your tools, utensils, and kitchen surfaces before and after preparing food.
  • Wash your fresh vegetables and fruits thoroughly under running tap water as per normal when preparing foods. Use a vegetable brush to scrub food items that have a firm skin (e.g. carrots and melons). Do not use soap, bleach, or other strong chemicals to wash your produce. Wash your produce under running water rather than letting them soak in the sink.
  • Be sure to cook your food at safe internal temperatures. Use a thermometer when cooking to ensure that your food has reached the correct temperature.

Visit Ottawa Public Health’s Keeping foods safe (clean, cook, chill, separate) for more information on how to avoid foodborne illnesses, as COVID-19 is not a foodborne illness.

Ready-to-Eat Foods and Foods Prepared by Others

Currently, there is no evidence that touching or eating contaminated food will transmit COVID-19. It is not a foodborne illness. If someone is infected by COVID-19 and they touch or cough on food that is served to other people, there is a potential risk of spreading the infection. However, to date there are no such reported cases of transmission. However, it is best if someone infected with COVID-19 avoids preparing foods for others. Everyone should practice frequent hand washing with soap and water to reduce the risk of transmission and avoid touching foods with their bare hands (e.g. use utensils, napkins, etc. to handle food).

Trying New Recipes

Cooking is a skill, the more you practice, the easier it becomes. Preparing healthy homemade meals can be simple, budget-friendly, and even fun! Check out these cooking videos, they will show you step-by-step how to make various new recipes. Looking for more? Canada’s Food Guide also has various recipes for you to try out!

Additional Resources

Ottawa Public Health: Emergency Preparedness Checklist

Ottawa Public Health: Everybody’s Food Budget

Ottawa Public Health: Shopping Etiquette

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