11 tips to make your Easter or Passover special during coronavirus

April 3, 2020

The coronavirus outbreak has drastically changed millions of Americans' ability to travel and grocery shop.

By Maura Hohman

Between bans on large gatherings and grocery shortages becoming increasingly common due to the coronavirus outbreak, Easter and Passover will undoubtedly be celebrated a little differently this year.

But just because parties are smaller doesn't mean they still can't be special. There are plenty of ways to feel festive and connect with loved ones, even from afar.

Chefs, food bloggers and nutritionists share their top tips for keeping meals manageable and memorable while enjoying the spring holidays.

1. Prep a dish together via video chat

Even if you're not physically with that creative cousin who has all the best cooking secrets, you can still have their dish on your table. Set aside some time to make the recipe together virtually and ask for tips, recommended Natasha Bull, who runs the popular food blog Salt & Lavender. Bonus points if it's something you grew up eating — you could become your family's next expert on a beloved tradition!

Download the TODAY app for the latest coverage on the coronavirus outbreak.

2. Scale down the number of dishes you're making

Your instinct may be to cook more than normal because hey, what else is there to do in quarantine? But that can get overwhelming fast. Bull told TODAY that an appetizer or snack, one main course, two side dishes and a nice dessert is enough to celebrate without too much added stress.

3. Make a list of backup recipes

There's nothing worse than getting excited for a certain dish and not being able to make it. That's why Bull suggested putting together a list with some backups to avoid any last-minute panic. Make a backup grocery list, too, to cut down on spending too much time in the store.

4. Prepare some ingredients ahead of time

Don't forget about the mise en place! Barry Tonkinson, director of culinary research and development at the Institute of Culinary Education, told TODAY that he often chops onions, garlic and other ingredients that don't deteriorate in the fridge beforehand. Spices can also be measured out ahead of time.

"That way, on the day of, you're not switching between the cutting board and the stove," he said.

5. Have fun with desserts

Baking essentials, like flour, baking powder and vanilla extract, are pantry staples for many people. So if you've got enough on hand, you can get creative. Bull suggested experimenting with recipes like cookies are a great way to involve kids in the action.

6. With main courses, think outside the box

Right now, some stores may be running low on ham, lamb and brisket, so plan your main course based on what's available. For example, if you can only get ground lamb, consider making a shepherd's pie, Tonkinson suggested.

If you can only get a small ham, chop it up and use it in a pasta to stretch out the portions, Bull added.

7. Look out for grocery store gems

Since people are stocking up on goods that tend to last a long time or are more filling, many store shelves still have a lot of items in stock that pack in a lot of flavor, but aren't necessarily quarantine staples. Food Network star Anne Burrell recommended adding a few, like capers, herbs and ground spices, to your cart.

8. Keep it simple

When cooking, you should "think about sweet, salty, spicy, acidic and texture," chef Michael Schulson told TODAY. "If you combine those elements, you’re generally going to have a good thing." For beginner chefs, he advised against choosing complicated recipes even if you think you have plenty of time.

9. When in doubt, order in

If no one in your family really feels like cooking a big meal or you want to add something special to the table, it's totally OK to order in. Support local businesses and get delivery or takeout in a way that complies with social distancing.

10. Prioritize leftovers

Consider throwing your remaining ham into a split pea soup, or save any chicken bones for a hearty stock, Burrell suggested. If you're already cooking, consider making a double portion of a favorite family dish so people in the house can enjoy the leftovers for a few days.

11. Be flexible with your expectations

"To me," Burrell said, "taking care of yourself in a physical and mental capacity is even more important than the food." So if planning a big meal isn't your thing, then don't feel obligated.

"At this point, I’d just say ... do what you can and what you feel good about," she added.