Provisioning for a pandemic


Plans are swirling: only a few days since I speculated about impact to our routing for the South Pacific, stringent regulations are being implemented across island nations. Our plans remain uncertain, but are taking shape. We have time to wait and watch, then make an informed decision instead of a hasty one.

rainbow turns washington state ferry into pot of gold
Bainbridge ferry = pot of gold… hard to believe this is just two weeks ago!

Whether we sail thousands of miles to the South Pacific or remain in Mexico to self-isolate in the Sea of Cortez, it’s time to deeply provision Totem. It turns out that provisioning for the passage is much the same as provisioning for the pandemic: we must be self-sufficient with what we have on board for an extended period of time. Our process is highly transferable, and can be used by land-based folks planning to sequester for a while.

I didn’t expect to do our provisioning for the South Pacific for another week. This changed the way I prepared, as it was a very last-minute effort; probably much the same as people on land who are suddenly faced with the prospect of stocking up on short notice. While the mood here is mellow, I expect that to change and wanted to get all my provisioning done before the panic-buying we’ve seen happen elsewhere starts locally.

empty aisle and pallets of toilet paper
Stacked pallets of TP and empty aisles in Coscto: Puerto Vallarta, a few days ago

Instead of working through a detailed spreadsheet that calculated out my anticipated needs for a range of staples, I followed my basic plan for passages:

  1. Make a meal list: breakfasts, lunches, dinners (add one for snacks, too)
  2. Create a shopping list based on ingredients for those meals
  3. Increase quantities to accommodate months instead of weeks of stock on hand
  4. Go shopping!

It is deceptively simple, yet very effective. It works whether you are heading to distant islands on your boat, or stocking up at home to minimize exposure and help flatten the curve of the virus’ impact. As long as you cook at least sometimes, is pretty easy to do in a quick brainstorm vs needing an extended planning process.

One key twist for my quickie COVID-19 provisioning: I used pantry meals as the basis for planning. What’s a pantry meal? It’s what you can cook from shelf-stable or long-term stores, vs relying on fresh ingredients. Cook today, tomorrow, or next month; all the same! Freshies are great, but have an obvious time limit; we’re anticipating self-sufficiency for months instead of weeks.

Below is precisely the list of meals (followed by shopping list) I used as the basis for my planning, with a few notes added to help. The shopping list is cumulative: for example, if I listed tortillas in our breakfast section’s shopping list, I didn’t add it again under the lunch list.


  • Pancakes (maple syrup is one of the deep stash items we hoard! Delicious local honey with lemon juice squeezed in a nice alternative)
  • Oatmeal with raisins (easy single-serving: pour ½ c boiling water over ¼ cup oats in a mug; cover to ‘cook’ for five minutes)
  • Breakfast pudding: mix chia seeds, oats, and thinned yogurt or coconut milk; this sets in the fridge overnight. Add spices, dried fruit as desired, drizzle honey on top.
  • Eggs and toast or skillet biscuits (1 c flour / 1 Tbsp baking powder / water to make a stiff batter)
  • Fritatta: if no fresh veg to add, try preserved options like sun dried tomatoes
  • Granola and milk/yogurt
  • Pan fried cornbread (half the reason I make cornbread for dinner is to fry it for breakfast!)
  • Muffins: when feeling ambitious enough to bake
  • Breakfast burritos: eggs, salsa, onions, cheese in a tortilla
  • Chilaquiles: plain tortilla chips stir-fried with a can of enchilada sauce, topped with an egg

Shopping list:

  • Flour
  • Cornmeal
  • Baking powder, soda
  • Chocolate chips (for the pancakes OF COURSE)
  • Yogurt for starter (we’ll make our own continuously from a starter)
  • Rolled oats
  • Chia seeds
  • Dried fruit
  • Walnuts, almonds
  • Honey and sugar
  • Granola
  • UHT milk, powdered milk
  • UHT media crema (half cream) or cream
  • Tortillas
  • Enchilada sauce
  • Spice rack staples: cinnamon, cloves, cumin, chili powder
  • Maple syrup (or, honey + lemon)             
  • Pantry staples: sun dried tomatoes, pickled onions, artichoke hearts, olives
  • Long-life freshies: eggs, butter. We’ll by multiple flats of 30, we’ve kept eggs 6+ weeks unrefrigerated without issue; just flip over the container every few days.


  • Hearty chip & dip: One jar each of black beans, corn, and salsa; season with some cumin and salt, eat with totopos (tortilla chips) or tostadas
  • Tuna sandwiches: we actually make these vegetarian style with garbanzo beans instead! Extra good on fresh bread
  • Sandwiches with salami and cheese (shelf-stable sausage, cheese always a top priority for us)
  • Corn fritters (can of corn, flour, egg plus whatever random veg is left and seasoning – liquid if needed to make a drop-biscuit consistency),  fried in a skillit
  • Fresh focaccia bread (basic bread recipe; smear with tomato sauce or thinned tomato paste; bury olives or sundried tomatoes on top).
  • No-lettuce salads: add a grain to any of these, like quinoa or couscous or wheat berries, to make it extra hearty.
    • garbanzos/tomato/onion/herb in cumin-scented vinaigrette
    • marinated beets (canned) /minced onion/feta with Dijon/garlic vinaigrette
    • shredded carrots and cabbage (the last two veggies standing after multi-weeks away from stores) with Asian style peanut dressing (we always have peanut butter). Crumble in ramen noodles.
  • The “Farmer’s plate” is a family favorite, spreading finger-food out for sharing: cured meat, cheese, dolmas (rice wrapped in grape leaves; canned), tear of hunks of fresh bread and dip in seasoned olive oil
  • Soup (packaged, or make your own from veggies still in the fridge) & salad

Shopping list:

  • Black beans (dried or canned)
  • Corn (canned)
  • Salsa (Herdez cans in Mexico are good)
  • Refried beans (prepared, shelf stable)
  • Bouillon
  • Garbanzo beans (dried or canned)
  • Pickles
  • Salami / summer sausage
  • Mayonnaise (favored on Totem: Mexican chipotle (smoked chili) mayo!)
  • Peanut butter
  • Soy sauce
  • Sesame oil
  • Tabasco / Valentina / Cholula / hot sauce of choice
  • Quinoa
  • Couscous
  • Wheat berries
  • Dried mint
  • Roasted peanuts
  • Ramen
  • Tomato paste
  • Pickled beets
  • Dolma tins
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Dijon
  • Crackers
  • Long-life freshies: cheddar cheese (prioritized in fridge!), feta, cabbage, onions, oranges, limes.


  • Dal bhat – lentil stew and rice. A jar of chutney makes it more interesting!
  • Simple curry: jars of prepared curry sauces like Patak’s go a long way; you can add chick peas to them, or canned chicken… thin them out with coconut milk or a can of diced tomatoes, depending on the type and your taste… serve with rice or couscous.
  • Colcannon: one-pot potato / cabbage goodness. Good with gravy on top (instant mushroom gravy makes it easy); we keep instant mashed potatoes on hand for passages and meals like this, but potatoes are easy too and store for ages
  • Pasta (if passage making: pre-cook pasta, add some oil to prevent sticking and save in fridge in Ziploc – or save for calm days) with…
    • Jar of pesto, bonus if you have parm for the top.
    • Puttanesca sauce (all ingredients are pantry items: anchovies, olives, capers, etc.)
    • Chick peas, garlic, olive oil, cracked pepper
    • Can of artichoke hearts, plus parm, butter or olive oil, use a can of evap milk if you want a creamy sauce
    • fresh garlic bread (warm, fragrant bread totally wins over a hangry family)
    • spaghetti alla carbonara (eggs last ages; bags of shelf-stable bacon from Costco make this an anytime treat)
  • One-pot pressure cooker pasta (throw ingredients in, bring up to pressure, done)
  • Veggie burgers (our recipe is based on oats and walnuts – pantry friendly!)
  • Moroccan style chick peas over couscous. Couscous is a dream in the tropics because, just add boiling water (less heat in galley).
  • Enchiladas stuffed with rice, beans and cheese; add any veg left standing, even if it’s just grilled onions. Packaged tortillas keep for a scary long time, have I mentioned that.
  • Canned chicken (get at Costco) isn’t bad, and is the ‘meat fix’ the Totem carnivores often need. Can add into so many things, from pasta dishes to enchiladas, or just serve over instant mashed potatoes.

Shopping list:

  • Lentils (red or green)
  • Instant gravy
  • Instant mashed potatoes
  • Pasta varieties
  • Vacu-packed bacon
  • Anchovy tins or anchovy paste
  • Capers
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Canned chicken (I can my own, not hard and it’s much tastier)
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Coconut milk
  • Curry sauce base
  • Chutney
  • Canned pork
  • Rice
  • Monterey jack cheese
  • Long-life freshies: potatoes, garlic, ginger tomatoes (yes, really, see below)
How do you know much should you buy? After writing out the shopping list, go back and put a tick next to each item based on how many meals you expect to use it in. Take your family’s typical meal quantity, multiply by ticks, and BAM! You have your quantities.
Conveyor belt full of food at busy warehouse store
A portion of my cartS and conveyor belt of goods in line at Costco yesterday

Ours and yours

Of course, this is uniquely our family’s list, and reflects our limitations. For example, I don’t count on freezer space; we have one, but it’s tiny. I’ve been canning meat to make up for our inability to store fresh meat for my crew of carnivores, and have jars set aside with pork, chicken, and beef to add to everything from pasta sauce to enchiladas. But those aren’t even mentioned above, as they’re optional; these meals are overwhelmingly based on items on a shelf or in a locker that don’t require Super Prepper Skills like home canning! And yes, we may supplement with fishing – in fact, we really hope to (see: capers, butter, and citrus in the list), but I’m not counting on it.

woman in car stuffed with food
My friend Karri in the car we packed with provisions. Yes, that’s a brick of TP.

I’ll top this off with a round of “normal” shopping, so we’ll have lots of fresh fruit and vegetables on hand that get us started. As a cruiser we’ve had the chance to build skills over time that help us handle this with relative ease, and lower stress – and hopefully, those skills can now help our friends more accustomed to convenience. And so in the spirit of the cruising community, we offer from what we have – and our hope that this time can be in our collective rearview mirror soon, and that we each help as we can along the way to that eventuality.

Palm trees reflect on water at sunrise
Beautiful calm: our morning view in the La Cruz marina.

Further resources

My good friends Nica Waters and Carolyn Shearlock, bloggers and podcasters, have relevant resources to help.

  1. Eating Well with a Tiny Fridge: this book was written for RVers and boaters, but the tips are good for everyone! Carolyn’s offering this at a special, pay-what-you-want scale to help people self-isolate – or, free! Details at the link. Want to know how to have fresh tomatoes for a month? You need this book.
  2. Provisioning course: free! Nica has rejiggered her provisioning course to help land and boat based humans prepare. Her approach is VERY much like mine – in fact, this post is almost like a real-world illustration of the methodology! She’s currently offering it for free. See: Stocking up Sanely.

Hopefully this offer idea starters for your own planning: whether you’re preparing to self-isolate for a while, to quarantine at home, or sail across an ocean.

34 Responses

  1. By the time you get to the south pacific you might be the only person left alive. The rest will have killed each other over TP. (and perhaps a few died from the virus).

  2. Really good article, even though I do not live on a boat—but I have a very small kitchen and am definitely thinking about bringing more efficiency to shopping and my space at hand, especially during self-quarantine.

        1. No canned bacon around, but we keep vacuum sealed bacon for a very long time in the cold part of the fridge, and an emergency bag of shelf-stable bacon bits from Costco.

  3. Great post! And some yummy menu ideas. We load up heavily (home or boat) on dried things: rice, beans, split peas, lentils. I recently discovered how fantastic freshly cooked garbanzos are! A drizzle good olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, and some pepper. I also love Asian rice noodles. Have fun! Good luck!

  4. Behan, Thanks for sharing some of your ideas on how to provision and sail during a Pandemic. Odds are, there will be more. Great idea doing “pantry” provisioning. Your blogs are a wealth of information of all things cruising. We hope that you can soon slip off into the Pacific and will be following along. Stay safe and have a great time! Jim and Joann

  5. I wouldn’t leave a good Mexican port for the vagaries of the South Pacific at this time. Where you’ll be allowed in and where you’ll be allowed to go once there is becoming more restrictive. I’m in Tonga now where they’re not letting yachts in at all. I’m thinking of sailing to Fiji before they impose similar restrictions, but getting crew into the country is a logistical nightmare. I don’t think waiting even a couple of weeks is going to see any improvement to the situation, so I’m starting to think in terms of sheltering in place until next season. That strategy looks like nabbing a local expat to crew with me to Fiji and getting a cyclone mooring there rather than attempting to get all the way to Australia as had been my plan for the year.

    1. How do you store your canning jars on the boat?? I’m a canner and have been wondering how I would do this on a boat. I love having home canned stuff and wouldn’t want to have to forego that to sail.

      1. hi Paula- the canning jars are mostly sitting on a shelf in a locker. I have them stacked two-high based on the lids and which can nest. You don’t have to forego canning! The only jars I’ve broken in 12 years were dumb mistakes (air bubble inside, I think, and cooling too quickly another time) – not from the boat / storage.

  6. One of our favorite recipes, which is great at home or on a passage is Lopia Plaki, a vegan Greek dish made with large lima beans (we have served this to people who say the only food they dislike are lima beans and they have loved this meal).

    Soak lima beans overnight. Sauté onions (celery, parsley and carrots if you have refrigeration) and garlic in the pressure cooker in olive oil. Add lots of dill (plus any other herbs that you like) and canned diced tomatoes. Add the soaked beans and water (or chicken bouillon) to cover. Cook at pressure for about 20 minutes or until beans are tender. Salt to taste. Also delicious chilled the next day.

    Good luck, Behan. We send you and your family our very best wishes and warmest regards.

    1. I’m so glad you posted this, I think I’m going to try it very soon! we have a couple bags of those beans stashed and after nearly six weeks since grocery shopping, I’m expecting celery in a delivery today. 🙂 Parsley is on the list but may be too much to hope for in Baja.

  7. Pretty excited about the corn fritters and I’m going to have to try them- thanks! 🙂

    We are holed up in New Hampshire right now, by the water but unlike your water ours is still quite frozen. I guess we will be here awhile to watch it melt, I’m hoping sooner over later so I can get out a kayak.

    Stay safe!

  8. First on your list was pancakes and stashed maple syrup. For all my life I’ve lived on syrup made from sugar dissolved in water flavored with “Mapeline”. McCormick Inc still produces it and you can order it from Amazon. A two oz bottle goes a long way as 1/2 tsp goes into 2 cups of syrup. Not real maple syrup, but much better than anything else from the store.

    1. I’ve never heard of that! Thanks Daniel! I can’t tolerate commercial “maple flavored” syrup but maybe your recipe would be the trick!

  9. Hey Totem Crew!

    Great post Behan – gonna use some of your provisioning tips as we’re practicing self-isolation. Island is virus free atm but taking all precautions. We’re also gonna try that corn fritters recipe out! Stay safe.

    Much love from St Helena
    Sharon & Darrin

  10. Thanks Behan, great ideas! After all of our planning we’ll probably not go ahead to the SP this year but we look forward to following you wherever you go. Safe travels.

  11. I’m so glad you wrote this! I was thinking about you guys (I took one of your classes in Seattle last year at the boat show) and that stocking for a passage has to be quite close to a pandemic. Thank you so much for this and all your provided resources. Stay safe and good luck choosing the right move (or lack of such) in the coming weeks.

  12. Mexico clearly has way way more provisioning options than Galapagos (or even Panama)…
    We take a similar approach. One issue you don’t mention…which has been a problem for us is the appearance of little creatures…. especially in red lentils, pasta and rice. We had to throw out a few packs before arriving in Galapagos (potential for being turned away if we didn’t). We started to experiment with placing these items in direct (equatorial) sun to kill any latent eggs….but found the pasta cooked. Rice and lentils survived the experiment. We have all these products stored in zip lock bags.
    Any thoughts or advice on this, anyone? Best to bin infected stores? Or retain for emergency use?

    1. Panama City is decent provisioning, but Mexico really has great variety in population centers and if there’s a wealthy or expat/snowbird community, you have the added benefit of a range of products not typically in a Mexican diet. Happy to be restocked in fish sauce and thai curry paste. 😉 I still keep a ‘wish list’ of things for anyone flying in to bring! Re: killing bugs, the best I think (which we can’t do) is to freeze them for 24 hours. Bug eggs aren’t visible and easily inside packaging and this kills them. We have killed eggs by cooking in our solar oven, which would just be a sped-up version of placing in the sun (it’s not a very hot oven, more like a slow cooker).

  13. But where do you put all that food on the boat? Do your have a Mary Poppins option ? Our kelp the kids in the dinghy until you’ve eaten enough? Truly a great article, B.

  14. Love reading about your plans during this Pandemic. Hope you keep us informed as things change all around. I’m making a new grocery list!
    Best wishes to all on Totem!
    Jenny (social distancing in Santa Fe, NM)

    1. Whoops! That was meant to be just ‘tomatoes’ – and ‘see below’ should have more overtly referenced Carolyn Shearlock’s awesome book, linked a bit down, which has the BEST tips for making fresh food last longer.

  15. Hey thanks Behan !!

    Well i don’t actually need to stock up, beeing locked up alone in well-provisioned Buenos Aires,
    but as a cross-check for my naval architecture stuff …

    Would you have a rough idea about how this translates to weight per day ?

    All the Best, DvD

    1. This is such an interesting question! offhand, no, although one of my planning spreadsheets tracks weight. but you can probably come up with a pretty good proxy based on the things that you eat, if you’re curious.

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