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Self-isolation advice for families

The whole of the UK has been instructed to stay indoors as much as possible, and those experiencing symptoms, or in contact with those who have symptoms, are to self-isolate completely. To reduce stress, we've compiled Mumsnet user advice on how to prepare for a period of self-isolation.

By Tina Williams | Last updated Mar 10, 2023

woman sat on chair

It may feel as though the world has stopped. Our daily routines have been turned on their heads and normal activities paused indefinitely because of COVID-19, better known as coronavirus.

Self-isolation means a prolonged spell indoors with no access to shops. It can be a challenging time, especially if you have young children. To reduce stress, we've compiled Mumsnet user advice on what you might need to prepare for a period of self-isolation, and how to help your family cope.

In this article we'll cover:

Read next: The best face masks for children.

Food checklist

Supermarkets have been rationing items to ease the pressure on suppliers and ensure there's enough food for everyone. Many stores have pledged to increase capacity of delivery drivers, so if you and your family do need to self-isolate, you should be able to order food online.

Also, don’t forget that in difficult times it’s important to ask for help if you need it. If you can’t get to the shops, ask a friend, neighbour or family member to go for you.

If you’re not currently self-isolating, it may be worth buying some store cupboard items so that you’re prepared for the possibility of self-isolation. Here are some things you might want to consider:

Store cupboard essentials

  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Lentils
  • Pulses
  • Cereal and oats
  • Soups
  • Fruit and vegetables – fresh, frozen and tinned
  • Tins of fish
  • Tinned meat
  • Powdered / UHT milk
  • Baby food
  • Pet food

Pasta is a great emergency food, as it’s filling and goes with almost anything lurking in the back of the cupboard – the same goes for rice and potatoes.

With the whole family at home, there’s no doubt that you’ll go through more food than normal. While raiding the snack cupboard will be tempting, costs can quickly add up. And, if your snack cupboard is anything like ours, it's probably not the healthiest idea either. Cereal, oats and breakfast bars are better alternatives.

Soups are easy to store and ideal if someone in your family gets ill. Tinned soups are largely gone from the shelves, but fresh ones in the chilled section are still available in many shops. Try your local newsagents and independent grocers too.

  • Tinned and frozen vegetables and fruit – baked beans, tinned pears and everything in between
  • Tins of fish – sardines on toast make for a great lunch or snack and are packed with Omega 3
  • Powdered / UHT milk – admittedly this won’t make the best tea you’ve had in your life, but it’s a great back up. Alternatively, try herbal teas.

Read next: Mumsnetters' tried and tested store cupboard recipes.


  • Paracetamol
  • Thermometer
  • Basic first aid kit

Pharmacies will remain open as normal, so you should be able to collect regular prescriptions without problems. Speak to your pharmacist if you have any concerns.


  • Batteries
  • Cleaning products – not just soaps, and enough supplies to keep the bathroom and kitchen germ-free

Read next: The best eco-friendly and homemade cleaning products »

Easy alternatives to household items that are out of stock

Can’t find what you’re looking for in the supermarket? We’ve pooled together Mumsnet user advice on some easy swaps.

Beef mince for bolognese or chilli

“Lentils can be used to bulk out bolognese and chilli. You can usually use tinned veg too without being able to taste the difference.”

“Dry lentils will take around 20 minutes to cook. Rinse red split lentils then add to the sauce. They'll take about 20 mins to cook down.”

“Brown/puy/green lentils would probably need pre-cooking if dried, but if tinned you can just add them to the dish and warm through.”


“Pearl barley is a good one for bulking or for eating as a grain substitute.”


“Gnocchi is good with most pasta sauces, and it doesn't seem to be selling out.”


“Tinned chickpea juice is a great egg replacement in baking – about three tbsp = one egg, so you don't need much.”


“Use or make tortilla wraps instead of bread for sandwiches. They're very easy to make from scratch and the kids like them, too.”

“Unleavened breads (matzo, chapatis, rotis etc) can be made as long as you have flour, water and oil, and they're all easy enough to make.”

“Scottish bannock is another alternative for bread. It’s traditionally made with oats, so that's another option if you run out of flour or want to save it for other things.”

“Flatbread is easy to make and tastes great. Get one cup of plain flour, two tsp baking powder, and mix with natural yoghurt until it makes a dough. Roll out and spread melted butter/minced garlic over one side. Heat a non-stick frying pan hot (no oil) and cook butter side down until browned, then flip to cook the other side (this takes two to three minutes). It's delicious and I prefer it to normal bread. Great for dipping in soups and stews to bulk a meal out.”

Yeast for bread making

Consider making soda bread or flatbread if you can’t find yeast. Mumsnet users recommend this Jamie Oliver recipe for flatbread.

Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, have a go at making your own sourdough culture scratch with just flour and water – it'll take a few days, but will allow you to make sourdough breads, pizza bases, etc onwards.

Pre-made sauces

If you normally buy pre-made pasta sauce, have a go at making you’re own. It’s easy to do, and you might even prefer it.

“Add cumin, paprika and garlic to fresh or tinned tomatoes to make a delicious chilli sauce”

“Tinned anchovies smashed up with garlic and chilli flakes works really well with pasta”

Read next: Support and childcare bubbles: the latest rules to follow »

Tinned tomatoes

“The local supermarket was out of tinned tomatoes so I bought passata instead. It's very similar for sauces but often comes with a bit of basil.”

“It’s not an alternative as such, but both our local large Asda and Sainsbury's are completely out of tinned tomatoes and pulses unless you go to the ethnic food section, where the shelves are full.”

Fresh fruit and vegetables

“Look out for tinned and frozen fruit and veg.”

“Buy fresh fruit juice when it's available and freeze it into ice cube trays, then put them in a box in the freezer and repeat. Ice cubes can later be allowed to melt in a glass as one of your five a day.”


“There are lots of good reusable nappies available to buy online in bulk order kits. If you’re on a budget you can buy them second-hand from eBay. You could also contact your local council to see if you get a 'real nappy' voucher (often about £50 worth of nappies).”

Baby wipes

"Cheeky Wipes or a number of other companies, do reusable wipes. You can wash them at 60 degrees and they're fine for faces, hands and bottoms.”

“If you’re on a tight budget, cut old towels into six-inch squares and store in a Tupperware tub. Cover with cool boiled water and use as necessary. Bung in the wash at 60 (no softener), and line dry.”

Hand soap

“Emollient, bar soap and a gentle washing up liquid are all good alternatives if you can’t find hand soap in the supermarket.”

“If the shelves are really bare, you could even use shower gel.”

Tampons and sanitary towels

“Consider reusable sanitary products. Obviously things like the Mooncup, but also period knickers. I tried Sainbury's Love Luna one, for £10-12 each, and had no leaks. You just wash and wear.”

Loo roll <let’s all hope it doesn’t come to this>

“DH's grandfather used squares of newspaper instead of toilet roll…”

“Use a jug of water and a clean flannel if you've got no toilet roll.”


Staying indoors with your family 24/7 will be challenging. To cope, try to make a plan together. You may want to set a routine of regular jobs, exercise, learning, alone time and family entertainment.

  • Disney+ has just launched in the UK, with a huge selection of Disney, Pixar, Marvel and of course Star Wars films and series. Ideal to keep the kids entertained while you fend off work calls.
  • Audible – just because we’re no longer in the office, it doesn’t mean the working day is going any quicker. You can listen to a huge range of ebooks and podcasts here.
  • Amazon Prime and Netflix offer thousands of films, tv shows and documentaries for children and adults

Read next: The best family films on Netflix.

Ideas for things to do at home with children

If you're feeling well, time in self-isolation can feel endless. We've rounded up a list of useful ideas, tips and resources to help keep the peace at home

Other things to consider when self-isolating


Can you budget for any higher bills or expenses? Will you save money from lower transport costs that you could spend elsewhere?


Can you work from home or not? If not, what are your rights to payment or benefits?


Do you have enough medication or a way to get more?


Can you reorganise any planned therapy or treatments? Some appointments can be held online.


Can someone else help you care for any dependents, walk your dog, or take care of any other commitments?


Have you checked the contact details of the people you see regularly, like their phone numbers or email addresses?


Can you create a routine or timetable for yourself? And if you live with other people, should you create a household schedule? Do you need to agree on how the household will run with everyone at home all day?


Is there any physical activity you can do inside your home, such as going up and down the stairs, using bean tins as weights, or exercises you can do in your chair?


Have you thought about how you could access nature? Can you get some seeds and planting equipment, houseplants or living herbs?


Have you got materials so you can do something creative, such as paper and colouring pencils?

child looking out of a window

What does self-isolation mean?

Staying at home reduces the risk of spreading coronavirus. Advice on who should self-isolate is changing rapidly, so please check the NHS guidelines for the latest updates.

Self-isolation means you should:

  • not go to work, school or public areas
  • not use public transport or taxis
  • not have visitors, such as friends and family, in your home
  • not go out to buy food or collect medicine – order them by phone or online, or ask someone else to drop them off at your home
  • you can use your garden, if you have one. You can also leave the house to exercise – but stay at least two metres away from other people.

If you’re not sure if you need to stay at home, use the coronavirus NHS service. The NHS also has guidelines on how long you should self isolate for in different circumstances. Visit their website for the latest information.

Read next: 11 easy exercises to do at home.

How to reduce the spread of infection in your home when you’re in self-isolation

  • Wash your hands with soap and water often, for at least 20 seconds
  • Use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
  • Put used tissues in the bin straight away and wash your hands afterwards
  • Clean objects and surfaces you touch often (like door handles, kettles and phones), using your regular cleaning products

How to do your cleaning and laundry when self-isolating

Use your usual household products, such as detergents and bleach, when you clean your home.

Put used tissues and disposable cleaning cloths in rubbish bags. Then put the bag into a second bag and tie it securely. Wait three days before putting it in your outside bin.

Dispose of other household waste as normal.

You can wash your laundry in the washing machine in the usual way. Laundry that has been in contact with an ill person can be washed with other people's items. Don’t shake dirty laundry, as this may spread the virus in the air.

If you don’t have a washing machine, wait for three days after your stay at home has ended before taking your laundry to a launderette.

How to look after you and your family’s health and wellbeing when self-isolating

  • Drink lots of water to stay hydrated – drink enough so your pee is pale and clear
  • Take paracetamol to help ease your symptoms
  • Stay in touch with family and friends over the phone or on social media, to help you avoid feeling low or lonely
  • Try to keep yourself busy – you could try activities like cooking, reading, online learning for your child (or online learning for you), and watching films
  • Do light exercise, if you feel well enough to.

Latest NHS advice on Covid-19 and self-isolation