10 Pantry Staples to Stock Up on Now, Before Flu Season Starts

published Sep 10, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Cooler weather is on the horizon, which means it’s time for cozy sweaters, warm lattes, and sniffles, sneezes, and sore throats. While fall and winter are filled with magic and merriment, they’re also prime time to get sick.

There’s nothing worse than being unprepared for cold and flu season. Because it’s extremely important to stay home when you’re not feeling well, do your future self a favor and stock up on seasonal essentials that will soothe your symptoms and help you feel as comfortable as possible while you recover. If you need some inspiration outside the go-to over-the-counter medicines and cough syrups, take a cue from the experts. Doctors, nurses, EMTs, and pharmacists shared the products and rituals they rely on so you can stock your medicine cabinet and kitchen with their faves this season.

1. Honey

Dr. Michael Richardson, a provider with One Medical, looks to the kitchen cabinets for relief when he’s not feeling well. “Honey is a lifesaver for sore throats, coughs, and laryngitis (losing your voice). It can also fight off bacteria and is scientifically proven to help with upper respiratory illnesses,” he says. 

2. Salt

Another great choice for a scratchy throat is salt. “Having some salt on hand to mix with warm water can be helpful for sore throats and remove excess mucus from post nasal drip,” Dr. Richardson explains. “It’s something that my mother would always recommend when I was young, but I didn’t fully appreciate it until I went to medical school and saw the science to back it up!”

3. Ginger

If your stomach is bugging you, try real ginger alongside your go-to ginger ale. “Ginger can be your natural go-to for upset stomachs,” Dr. Richardson shares. “Research suggests it may stimulate your digestion and promote stomach emptying, which can help reduce feelings of nausea or an upset stomach.” There are several ways to enjoy the benefits of ginger without worrying about that knob in your fridge drying out, including chews and lozenges, or as a supplement. Stock up now so you worry less when you need it.

4. Fruits and Vegetables

Produce is chock-full of important vitamins and minerals to nourish your body. Dr. Darria Long, an emergency room physician in Atlanta, recommends filling up on both when you’re not feeling well. “[Buy] fruits and veggies to make up your favorite smoothie or soup when symptoms start,” she says. “I love a big smoothie filled with ingredients like antioxidant berries, kale, and mango. These can often be bought and kept frozen to make prep and storing easy.”

5. Gatorade

If you’re dealing with an upset stomach or the stomach flu and aren’t able to eat without discomfort, Dr. Long recommends a childhood favorite: Gatorade! “[I like] powdered Gatorade or Powerade to make for sipping for upset tummies who don’t feel like eating,” says Dr. Long, who  also likes to keep a “steady stream of Popsicles” available for sick day hydration and to soothe a sore throat.

6. Hand Sanitizer

Many people have been using extreme amounts of hand sanitizer over the past year and a half, but it’s an easy way to kill germs. That said, constant sanitizer use can seriously dry out your hands. Olivia Johnson, a medical assistant in Brooklyn, and Andrea Spano, a community pharmacist in Pittsburgh, both love Biossance Squalane Hand Sanitizer, which hydrates alongside zapping germs. “It’s my ultimate favorite because it doesn’t dry me out,” explains Spano. “It lives next to my computer.” Johnson also recommends Weleda’s Skin Food Original Ultra-Rich Cream to soothe dry, cracked hands.

7. Vicks Vapo-Rub

Sometimes the oldest trick in the book works like a charm when you’re feeling sick. Zoe, an EMT and student in Minneapolis, is a big fan of the old-fashioned Vicks-and-socks trick. “I coat my feet with Vicks and put thick cotton socks on,” they explain. “Oversized cotton slouchy socks make me feel sort of cool when I’m drowning in my own snot.” The mentholated balm helps cool your body and open up your sinuses.

8. The Fancy Tissues

Spano recommends splurging on the more expensive facial tissues; your nose will thank you. “Buy the Kleenex with the lotion built in,” says Spano. “It’s the little luxuries.” 

Kelly Rowender, a CNA in Minnesota, agrees. “There’s nothing worse than a runny and chapped nose,” she says.

9. Ingredients for Soup

Chicken soup is the ultimate sick day comfort, but many pros recommend making your own instead of going for canned due to the sodium content. Maria, who works in memory care for clients with dementia, opts for plain chicken broth when she’s under the weather, and Emily Moen, a nurse in Minneapolis, likes Pacific Foods’ Sipping Chicken with Lemongrass Bone Broth. If you’ve never made your own soup before, this simple recipe from the Kitchn is a good starting point.

10. Plenty of Beverages

Several medical pros recommend stashing a few different beverages for cold and flu season, including lots of tea, orange juice, and, of course, water. “I like chamomile tea with lemon and honey and orange juice with apple cider vinegar,” says Jamie Haller, a RN in Minnesota. Rowender likes mint tea and also advises grabbing some cough drops or hard candies to suck on when a sore throat or cough strikes.

“I think anything that makes you feel comfortable and helps you rest is the key,” says Chelsea, RN/BSN, a physician liaison in Washington, D.C. “I usually don’t have an appetite but I always want soup, tea, juice, and water.” She likes Bigelow’s Constant Comment tea and adds a bit of lemon to her cup for a soothing sip.