Pandemic proofing your food stores: How to stock a larder to last any lockdown

Photo by Martin Lostak on Unsplash

When the coronavirus pandemic first started to make its way over here, I remember walking into our local supermarket and being taken aback by the empty shelves. There were massive gaps where all those things you need to make a good meal had just disappeared -- no baked beans, no bread, no tinned tomatoes (not to mention the disappearance of toilet roll!). Most of the fruit and vegetables had been cleared out too.

Happily, at the start of the year, I'd completely restocked my kitchen cupboards to healthy levels, expecting that the uncertainties around Brexit would disrupt food supply. That meant that for the worst of those first few weeks when coronavirus threw everything up in the air, I could dip into my supplies and dodge going to the supermarkets altogether. Given we don't really know how the rest of the pandemic will play out right now -- maybe there's a second wave on the way or perhaps a vaccine will solve our problems -- I thought I'd share my tips on keeping a well stocked kitchen that can keep you nourished throughout even the toughest of times.

When I was a kid, my mum was always sniffy about UHT milk, but I'm a big fan. I always try to keep 8 or so cartons of UHT soy milk in my cupboards. It doesn't need to be kept in the fridge and it's got a long life, so you can stash healthy amounts safe in the knowledge you've got enough to last for weeks. Similarly, you need to make sure you've got a couple of packets or jars of tea and coffee, depending on your preference. If you like fruit tea or fancy tea of any kind, don't forget to put some of that aside as well. And then add a couple of cartons of fruit juice while you're there -- orange juice is a breakfast classic, but pineapple and tomato juice are not only good for breakfast, they're also handy for cocktails too. Just sayin'.

If you're a cereal eater, make sure you've got the biggest box you can find. I always keep a couple of packets of porridge in stores as well, because not only is it the breakfast of champions, you can also use it to make flapjacks and other sweet treats, as well as bread if you run out of flour.

I'd also recommend having a bag of gram flour -- it can make great vegan versions of eggy dishes like scramble and fritatta.

Basics for making meals
I'm vegan, so of course I'm going to say you need loads of beans, pulses, and lentils in your store cupboard. I always have as many types of each to hand as I can find: black beans for gallo pinto, pinto beans for refried beans, kidney beans for chilli (kidney beans in chilli sauce make a quick cheat chilli starter), black eyed beans for gumbo, haricot beans for soups, cannelini beans for pasta dishes, and flagolet for salads. Of course, there needs to be loads of chick peas for, well, everything. For lentils, red, green, brown and yellow are all great to have on hand for making Indian dishes.

Other things that I'd recommend stashing a couple of are packets of falafel mix, sausage mix, and TVP. Sure, they might make you think of old school veganism, but when there's no vegan sausages and mince on the shelves, knowing you can make some at home is a massive relief.

And... baked beans. Of course you need baked beans. You knew that already, right?!

Don't forget to have a stash of oil on hand for cooking everything -- I got one of those engine-oil sized tins when it was on special and it's lasted for a good few months.

Different sorts of carbs
Of course, you need rice. But a few different types of rice are a good idea if you've got space and inclination -- white rice for when you're pressed for time, and brown for a nice nutty flavour. (I've really been missing sushi since the lockdown, so I'd put a box of sushi rice aside too!)

Cous cous is handy too for tagines and salads, and I'm a big fan of noodles, so I've stashed packets of wheat noodles for stir fries, rice noodles for buns and pad thais, and udon for ramen. Polenta's a good standby too, not only does it make a nice side for rich tomato ragus, but you can use it for polenta chips and even in desserts too.

And, of course, you need pasta. If you've got room, a few different types are good -- spaghetti for your bolognaise, fusili for pasta bakes, and maybe orzo or something similar for salads. Wraps or tortillas are versatile too, and it's good to keep a couple of packets on standby for burritos and sandwiches.

I also put a bag of semolina aside. Not really worked out what to do with it though -- not every one of my stockpile staples has worked out completely!

Photo by Muradi on Unsplash

Long life fruit and veg
Vegetables are one of the hardest things to store in the long term, but there are ways around that.

Obviously, if you're preparing a lockdown larder, you need loads of tinned tomatoes, I don't need to tell you that -- you know they're super handy for making sauces among other things. But don't forget to put aside some tomato paste too, for boosting the tomato power.

If there's one thing I've learnt during lockdown, it's that canned veggies are actually really, really good. Tinned potatoes are great for just chucking into curries or stews, because they don't need any cooking, tinned spinach is perfect for vegan saag paneer and peppers in jars are great for adding to stews and casseroles. There are loads of great fancy veg in tins and jars too if you're feeling flush -- hearts of palm, artichokes, and asparagus are all good for adding variety to store cupboard meals.

And don't forget to put some tofu aside too: as well as the always-lovely silken tofu you can get in UHT cartons (great for mousses as well as adding to stir fries), if you can get your hands on some freeze dried tofu, it's a handy thing to have around.

As for fruit, I can totally understand why tinned fruit disappeared in the first weeks of the pandemic. I love tinned peaches, apricot, and fruit cocktail -- useful for puddings and cakes, and nice for just eating on its own too. Don't forget dried fruit though -- figs, prunes, and apricots are equally useful for cooking sweet dishes, or just for adding to your porridge.

Spices and flavourings
Now you've got your carbs and your meal bases, you need something to make them taste different when you're using them for meal after meal. Salt and pepper are a good start, and then add some of your favourites to your cupboard: for me, it's cumin, coriander, paprika, oregano, chilli, bay leaves and curry leaves.

Ginger and garlic are also the cornerstones of many a dish, so keeping a long life supply on hand is great. Buy a couple of jars of both, and add other 'lazy' type jars as you like -- chill's not a bad shout too. I'm a firm believer in the power of soy sauce, so I have a litre around for flavouring.

And, for when you can't be bothered to put your own spice mixes together, keep some readymade mixes to hand, either in packets or jars. I reckon you can't go too far wrong with some taco type packet mixes, as well as some harissa. Most things taste great with harissa.

And if there's one thing to make sure you definitely have a good supply of, it's stock cubes or bouillon powder. Not only are they great for making soups and stews, they're really handy for adding extra flavour to your cooking. (Side note: yeast extract does the same job, and it's good on toast too! Why not add some to your store cupboards? It lasts for decades too.)

Making your own bread and cakes
I love making my own bread, and I came very close to running out of bread flour recently. I was not happy. At the start of lockdown, I had five or six packets in my cupboard, about half white and half wholemeal, and if I was restocking again, I'd put a couple more aside too. If you're feeling fancy, why not stick a bag of rye in the cupboard as well, just to add a bit of variety. And, above all, don't forget the yeast! Luckily yeast keeps for ages, so put a couple of tins in your cupboard along with the flour.

On the sweet side, self raising flour, plain flour and baking powder, cocoa powder, sultanas, vanilla essence or extract can all be configured and reconfigured to make cakes, biscuits, pancakes, and all things in between. Add them to your larder in generous amounts!

A few readymade treats
Custard powder, or readymade UHT custard (thanks Oatly!), as well as UHT cream are complete necessities for drenching your homemake cakes in, so a few packets of both are definitely a good idea.

And if there's one thing that I've learned over these last few weeks, it's that -- even with the best stocked larder -- sometimes you just can't be fussed to cook at all. Make sure you have supplies in to deal with that too. For me, it's Amy's chilli and soups, Mr Organic or Terra Vegane pasta in a box, vegan katsu sauce, Sainsburys tinned vegan spaghetti bolognaise, readymade pesto, and Oggs cakes have all kept me going when the idea of turning on the oven seemed a bit too much.

And everything else
Coconut milk. Just get loads. You'll definitely use it.  Same with nooch. You need that to get through the dark times. And if you want to, why not get some miso and liquid smoke for good measure.

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  1. One thing I found when panic mode descended upon our shops is that there are lots of small local shops the still have plenty of supplied. I agree with you on most of the canned vegies except asparagus but would also add frozen peas which is one of my must have vegies at any time. I hope we don't go through a second wave but if we do it will be interesting to see what we have all learnt from the first wave!

  2. Your larder sounds very well stocked! I was happy to have a plenty in my cupboards at the start because although it wasn't as hard finding things here, I was able to go a few weeks without going to the shops as I still had my veg box delivered every week and was able to make meals with that plus everything else from the cupboards.

  3. Thank you for this wonderful blog!


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