How to Eat Healthy When It’s Hard to Get Fresh Food

Dinner from a can? Yes, you can!

Okay, I have to say… I never thought I’d write a headline like that. That’s because in the universe where we normally live, fresh is always best.

But we’re not in that universe right now. Instead, we’re in a topsy-turvy world where even a quick trip to the grocery store is a little scary—and if we’re brave enough to go to the store, many of the fresh foods we normally grab are gone (along with the toilet paper—sigh). This means we need to follow the first rule of survival in a crisis: adapt.

So I’m officially declaring that it’s just fine to change the rules a little right now. If you can’t find healthy food in the produce section or the meat aisle, go ahead and get it from a can. You totally have my blessing. In fact, today I’m going to share some of my own favorite canned-food suggestions.

How do I safely buy canned food?

  • When possible, buy food in BPA-free cans (or in cartons or glass jars).

  • Choose lower-sugar and lower-sodium versions of canned or frozen foods.

  • Steer clear of canned foods with artificial preservatives and ingredients.

  • When it comes to processed food, the fewer ingredients, the better. Check the label and see how many you recognize. Preservatives like ascorbic acid and tocopherol are okay, but if you can't pronounce most of them, choose something else.

What are the best foods to eat from a can? 

best foods to eat from a can

Pumpkin

Pumpkin is surprisingly low in carbs, and it’s packed with fiber and contains nutrients like vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin B-9, and potassium. Try it in shakes, pancakes, and even chili.

Beans

If you run short on proteins, you can substitute canned beans. As a bonus, these can help to boost your collagen production. Give them a good rinse before adding them to dishes. 

Fish and Seafood

Reach for canned salmon, tuna, sardines, oysters, crab, and other fish and seafood. These are high in omega-3 fatty acids and protein, and you can use them in everything from salads to soups to seafood cakes. If there are a few cans of crabmeat lurking in your pantry, try out these Savory Crab Cakes.

Chicken

I love to make chicken salad with homemade mayo—but if you don’t have the ingredients on hand, store-bought avocado mayo is just fine, too.

Chickpeas and Tahini

If you’re in the mood for a healthy snack, whip up some home-made hummus to use as a dip. This is a smart way to use up some of the veggies that are still fairly easy to find, like carrots and celery. Tahini is fantastic in salad dressing, too.

Coconut Milk

This is starting to be in short supply, but if you can find some, stock up on it. Canned coconut milk is an excellent source of healthy fat, and it’s fabulous in soups (like this Creamy Broccoli Soup), curries, and shakes.

can of coconut milk with 2 coconuts and a green leaf

Bone Broth

For the moment (knock on wood), chicken seems to be pretty plentiful in the stores. In fact, in some stores, your choices in the meat aisle are pretty much chicken, chicken, or chicken. So cook up some of your favorite chicken recipes, and then save the bones for a savory bone broth.

If you don’t have the time to make chicken broth, or you’re in the mood for beef broth instead, I’m still shipping my broth.

Olives

These are my all-time favorite snack—super-healthy, and so easy to grab when you’re in a hurry. If your store still has fresh salmon and fennel on hand, and you’re in the mood to try a new dish, check out this luscious recipe.

Pickles and Sauerkraut

Choose pickles or sauerkraut located in the refrigerated section at your grocery store, because only the refrigerated versions have live cultures—and keeping your gut flora healthy by restocking it with probiotics is extra-smart right now. Look for pickles that are fermented rather than pickled in vinegar, because the latter don’t contain live cultures. Also, select pickles that don’t list yellow dye on the label.

If you’re looking for a fun home project, you can ferment your own pickles or sauerkraut. And if you’re schooling kids at home, why not turn this into a science project?

Homemade Dressings

Have some olive oil, vinegar, collagen powder, and pantry basics on hand? Then whip up this Italian dressing. (It also makes a tasty marinade for all that chicken.)

Fruit

Go easy on this, because it’s high in sugar—but if you choose options that are packed in 100% juice, you can indulge in small quantities. Toss them in shakes for that sweet treat you deserve right now.

Tomato Products

Grab a good assortment of these if you can. They come in handy for making anything from soups, chiles, and stews to meatloaf and dips for meatballs.

can of tomatoes

Be flexible!

A few months from now (yes, I admit it) I’m going to be nagging you again about eating fresh foods from those outside aisles in the grocery store. But not right now—because this is the time for us to adapt to reality and be creative with what we have on hand.

So go ahead and grab that can opener. I’m totally on board. And if you come up with any awesome canned concoctions, share your recipes with me!

Keep Positive and Stay Healthy!

Dr. Kellyann