These are surreal times, to say the least. On a recent trip to Portland, Oregon, my family and I went from dining out in restaurants on Saturday to relying on Caviar deliveries to our hotel room on Monday. No doubt your food options may be changing very quickly too as restaurants close their doors to onsite dining and you hunker down at home.

It’s important, though, to stay calm and keep your perspective in these pandemic times. Our supplies of food aren’t likely to run out anytime soon, but there will be disruptions to our choices and availability for some time to come. Here are some ideas for what we can do to all stay well and well-nourished.

Eat better food to stay healthy. In times of stress, it’s all too easy to reach for junk food or go through fast-food drive-thrus. While that’s okay once in a while, what our bodies and immune systems really need to ward off viruses and bugs are extra vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients—which fresh fruits and vegetables provide most abundantly. What we eat and staying hydrated can make a huge difference not only in how we physically feel but mentally too in these uncertain times.

Learn how to cook! With the disruption to restaurant dining that many of us are facing, this is the perfect time to brush up on your cooking skills—or learn how if you’ve never tried it before. It’s also a great opportunity to get your kids, if they’re home from school, involved in the kitchen and learning valuable lessons that’ll last a lifetime. But cooking with fresh produce can be intimidating or challenging, especially if we’re stuck in a rut of making the same thing every time. Our own Bounty from the Box: The CSA Farm Cookbook gives step-by-step advice on preparing over 90 different fruits, veggies, and herbs in more than 360 delicious recipes. And we’re offering a special discount until the end of June—enter the discount code COV20 to get $7 off the book when you order here.

Make food in batches and freeze it. Your freezer is your friend! Along with cooking is the opportunity to make extra portions of recipes or buy larger quantities of staple ingredients and freeze them for later. Here are some great tips and ideas from our friends at The Carrot and the Leek and The Accidental Locavore, as well as Bounty from the Box’s own recipe archives.

Frozen Vegetables in the Freezer

Get educated on how to store your perishable fruits and veggies longer. Most of us have seen grocery store shelves running out of dry goods like rice, beans, and pasta, but it’s vital to eat plenty of fresh produce to get the nutrition we need. But we often don’t know how to store our fruits, veggies, and herbs properly, so they spoil prematurely and we end up needlessly wasting precious food and money. Our storage guide—It’s in the Bag—or Not!can help. View a sample excerpt here (scroll toward the bottom). Again, enter the discount code COV20 to get $2 off—just $5.99 when you order it from our website.

Wash or rinse your produce thoroughly. Both the European Food Safety Authority and the FDA have confirmed that food and food packaging does not transmit coronaviruses, as they require a host animal to live on or in, and it cannot grow in food. If you’re worried that your lettuce or apples have been sneezed on or touched by somone with the virus, wash them thoroughly in soap and water (regular dish soap is fine) or just under plain cool running water. Avoid washing in water that is dramatically hotter than the produce, as that can actually suck in contaminants, according to Jason Bolton, an associate extension professor and food-safety specialist at the University of Maine who ran a study testing different washing methods. Expensive veggie washes and other solutions are not any more effective, and there is no need to use bleach or any strong chemicals, which can do more harm than good. Equally important is making sure that all your cooking surfaces (countertops, knives, cutting boards) are properly sanitized with plenty of hot, soapy water.

Washing Lettuce

Practice social distancing at farmers markets. We’ve all heard the term “social distancing” by now, which means no handshakes, staying six feet away from one another, and minimizing direct contact in every way. Many farmers markets are closed, but some are handling online orders and doing curbside pickup only, while others remain open but are stepping up their hygiene procedures. Please, please support these markets, as their vendors depend on us shoppers for their livelihood. But wear gloves, use common sense around others, and don’t go out if you’re feeling sick. (This also applies to grocery stores!) And if you’re ill, use online delivery only and refrain from directly interacting with drivers.

Support local food. More than ever, it’s important to support local farmers and producers. Part of the reason is so that you know where your food comes from and you’re less dependent if your grocery store has shortages, but it also keeps money flowing in the local economy and your community. Another is that many farmers depend on the income from selling produce to restaurants that may be shut down partially or entirely, so the more we can support them, the better. Sign up for that CSA now, take advantage of delivery box services when possible, and shop at your local farmers market and food co-op. And don’t forget to support your local restaurants by doing take-out or delivery, or purchase gift certificates for yourself or someone in need!

Grow your own—plant a garden. It’s a perfect time to consider growing your own food. With the weather warming up, start sowing seeds and planting starts either indoors or outdoors now, depending on what your growing zone is. It can be as simple as a few herb seeds in a pot on your windowsill or deck, or as involved as planting an entire garden or a set of raised beds in your backyard or a community garden. And gardening is a fantastic opportunity for kids stuck at home to learn more about nurturing nature and where their food comes from.

Donate to those less fortunate. If there’s one positive side to COVID-19, it’s the potential for us to be less divided, step up together as a community, and help one another in ways we might not have considered before. Countless people—especially service workers in the restaurant and hospitality industries, as well as retail and small business owners—may be hurting more than you can imagine, trying to figure out how to pay for rent or health insurance, let alone groceries. Consider donating to your local food bank, supporting small businesses with gift certificates and other purchases, and figuring out bartering arrangements. It isn’t just generosity—we’ll need to get creative in these unprecedented times to help ourselves and others through them.

Elderly Woman Eating

Build community for food and grocery delivery and supply. Physical isolation is one thing, but we all still need to eat. Lots of folks, especially the elderly, the sick, the poor, and the very young need help getting groceries, food, and sometimes just enough to eat. Use online community bulletin boards like Nextdoor to offer donations of time to pick up and deliver groceries, premade meals, medication, and supplies for others, or find out what needs your community has that aren’t being met. Consider starting or assigning parts of a community garden to help feed vulnerable folks in the neighborhood. Find creative ways to help feed hungry children who can no longer access school meals. Even just cooking extra food for a neighbor can help.

Be extra-nice to your fellow shoppers and grocery store workers! Be a good citizen and don’t hoard—leave enough for others. Workers in grocery stores are especially under siege now as they deal with multiple sanitation issues, empty store shelves, and shoppers who are sick, angry, and stressed-out. Many grocery store workers are also struggling with childcare issues and flexing schedules. We could all use more kindness between one another; no matter how crappy we’re feeling or what a bad day we’re having, know that someone else is feeling it too and would benefit from a smile, a joke, and genuine caring.

And remember to take a deep breath and relax…someday this too shall pass. In the meantime, take care and stay safe.

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