Our Vegan Dietitian Shares Her 5 Quarantine Cooking Secrets

by Molly Hembree, MS, RD, LD

Last Updated: May 6, 2020

With nearly all of us spending more time at home this year, we find ourselves with extra foot traffic in our kitchens. Stay-at-home orders from the coronavirus pandemic have propelled us into a new norm, and that includes our food habits. It may also mean that, not only is our food routine different than it was before quarantine, but it may continue to look a little different for the foreseeable months. This grants us a unique opportunity to brush up on cooking skills with a fresh look at some new food ideas.
  1. Get comfortable with non-dairy sauces.
    Whoever said creamy is synonymous with dairy? Plant-centric ingredients get the job done too! And sometimes, with even better versatility and richness. Non-dairy sauces usually rely on shelf-stable ingredients, which eases the burden of your weekly trips (okay, maybe now it’s every other week with pickup!) to the grocery store. Alfredo sauces, 3-ingredient béchamel white sauce, or vegan nacho cheese sauce are full of “cheesy” goodness that won’t make you miss dairy.
  2. How about egg alternatives?
    The term “aquafaba” (directly translated to “bean water”) hit airwaves around mid-2015 and lit up many health and food publications as a way to add fluffiness and leavening to desserts and other dishes alike without the cholesterol. Aquafaba is the protein-rich liquid from a can of beans (preferably garbanzo beans). The formal introduction of aquafaba was a sort of dawning of a new era in egg substitutes. Since then, egg alternatives have picked up more steam and you can find ways to use everything from flaxseed to avocado to banana to chia seed in place of eggs for a recipe.
  3. Become breaducated.
    Browse social media channels during the coronavirus pandemic and you might catch some excitement around sourdough starter kits, the surging sales of active yeast, or the emergence of unique bread flours. Much of this stems from a temporary lag in supply of prepared bread loaves when shoppers scurried to supermarkets to load up on food staples once news broke about the virus in the U.S. Sounds like it’s time to dust off that bread machine and try some bread recipes from the comfort of your home like: rye bread, whole-wheat sourdough bread, and appealing to everyone’s secret hope that bananas will go “bad” quickly: banana bread.
  4. The spice of life is sodium-free.
    Controlling sodium intake is a big deal when it comes to taking care of our health and preventing or treating chronic disease. Salt is a popular flavor enhancer in foods, but thank goodness there’s plenty of savory-ness to be unlocked from herbs and spices instead. We’re guessing you have more dry herbs and spices than you know what to do with, so let’s experiment, while we have the extra time at home, with new mixtures to replace the common seasoning blends that usually contain salt. Try out these top substitutes: taco seasoning mix, fajita seasoning, Cajun seasoning, or an all-purpose salt-free seasoning blend. Get to know the taste that certain herbs and spices impart on foods: did you know dill and parsley are a winning combo for ranch-inspired cold dishes? Or how about smoked paprika instead of adding extra soy sauce or BBQ sauce to meat analogs for a subtle but savory “burnt” taste? Or how about sprinkling oregano on basically anything you want to turn immediately into an Italian-tasting dish?
  5. Make a top-ten list.
    Find ten top easy recipes that you know you can quickly turn to most weeks, especially when life gets back to being a little busier. Try printing out a list of these meals and sticking them to the fridge. You’ll find you’ll eventually have them memorized. We’re talking super-simple meal starters like easy falafel patties, pizza bagels, French toast, easy pad thai noodles, or a taco bowl (feel free to sub canned beans for lentils to shave off 20 minutes on prep in this last one). Keep many of the canned and dry ingredients for these recipes on hand so you’re not scrambling to put it together come mealtime.

There’s never been a better time to experiment with new, nutritious ways to make the foods you love. Even beyond the pandemic, you will reap the health rewards of incorporating more plant-based foods into your weekly rotations. It’s not “all or nothing;” all of us can become a little more plant-based by following these simple tips to get started.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.

Molly Hembree, MS, RD, LD

Molly Hembree, MS, RD, LD

Molly can help you simplify eating, all while building excitement around good food and freeing up time for all the things that really matter in your life. With a knack for food labeling and regulations, weight management, food intolerances, and plant-based eating, Molly is ready to help you make sense of food again. When not on the clock, Molly can be found hip-hop dancing, cuddling up with her two mischievous cats, playing trombone, or honing in on her food photography skills.