Self-isolating? 7 creative ways to improve your diet with pantry staples you already own

The coronavirus pandemic means many of us are opting to self-quarantine, and avoiding a trip to the shops if we can help. Dietitian Susie Burrell shares her creative tips on how to boost your daily diet with the pantry staples you probably already own. 

With the prospect of being stuck at home for 14 days (or more), plenty of Australians are rushing to grocery stores to stock up on more than just toilet paper. When it comes to pantry staples, in professional opinion, there are much better options to be bulk-buying than pasta and pasta sauce.

With many of us facing the prospect of an extended period of time without easy access to the fresh foods we are used to consuming, as well as more time than usual sitting down, I’d like to remind the country that there are more nutritionally-dense foods we can turn to – and that they may already be sitting in our pantries.

The below long-lasting foods are calorie-controlled to compensate for the reduction in activity levels (because we probably won’t be going to the gym), rich in key nutrients such as iron, zinc and vitamins and minerals to support optimal immune function, and can be utilised in numerous meals and recipes.

My advice? take a look in your pantry and see which of my favourite nutritious long-life foods you may already own – and learn how to use them.

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Frozen fruits and vegetables

When we have limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables, most likely we are not getting anywhere near the two to three cups of vegetables and salad we need each day for optimal metabolic function. Vegetables in particular are exceptionally rich in key antioxidants, vitamins and minerals which all play key roles in immune function, plus they are low in calories – which is important considering we will be burning far less energy, if we are mainly confined to the house.

Frozen vegetables retain their nutrients as long as they are not overcooked. Many fruits can be frozen too, so if you have some fresh berries and bananas that are on their way out, freeze them to use in smoothies – or dig that packet of frozen fruits out of your freezer for when your fresh supplies have run out.

Tinned fish

A rich source of protein, zinc and selenium, tinned fish can be used as a meal base, or added to crackers or toast – and as an added benefit, it keeps for a long period of time.

Whilst tinned tuna is popular, it contains far less omega-3 fats than tinned salmon or sardines do, so if you enjoy a range of fish, use this time to enjoy the oysters, mackerel, mussels and sardines you may have stacked up in your cupboards – and reap plenty of extra nutritional benefits that come from a diet rich in omega-3 fats.


I’ve always got a few tins of legumes such as chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils on hand, because not only are they cheap; but they are fibre and nutrient-rich and a lower-calorie protein alternative to meat and chicken, helping to keep your overall energy intake down, when you are moving less. Use them to cook chilli, vegetarian tacos and lentil/ bean soups for cheap, low calorie, filling, nutritious meals.

Long-life milk

Fresh milks and yoghurts are tricky when we have limited access to the shops and are trying to minimise social contact as they will generally last just five to seven days once opened, and do not freeze overly well.

The best alternative to ensure you still get the calcium you need is to opt for any long-life milks you may have squirreled away, which you can find in all varieties of dairy and plant-based milks. While the vitamin B content of long-life dairy milk is slightly lower than that of fresh milk, the protein, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus contents remain fairly similar. If your milk choice is plant-based, always make sure it contains added calcium.


While you can stockpile tinned soups, an even better option nutritionally is to actually make your own soups at home. This way you can ensure you are maximising your nutrition by adding loads of fresh beans and vegetables – and even lean protein such as casserole beef or chicken breast – and then you’re able to freeze large quantities so you have meals for weeks.

If you don’t have a lot of freezer space, it’s easy to add leftover veggies and beans with your stock and cook up a large pot of soup that can last up to five days (if kept refrigerated). For this reason keeping a supply of stock on hand is crucial. It can also be used to flavour other dishes and form the base of casseroles, soups and marinated meat dishes.

Wholegrain crackers

Forget the dinner parties you had them saved up for – cracker biscuits are hugely underrated as a long-life, wholegrain alternative to breads than can be used as a light meal or snack option and teamed with spreads, cheese or canned fish.

Crackers are also a lighter alternative to breads from a calorie perspective, which means they work well for light lunches when you are working at home (indefinitely!).


One of the most versatile superfoods that can literally be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the beauty of eggs is that they can also be frozen (yes, when raw) – which means you can have protein-rich food on hand for weeks.

You can cook and bake with them; make them into frittatas and quiches, enjoy them with crackers or beans, or scramble or fry them for protein and nutrient-rich meals. Plus, they don’t take up a lot of room when freezer or fridge space is tight.