If you are like me, the thought of heading out to the grocery store makes your heart pound a little, and for good reason during this Coronavirus pandemic.
Everyday errands have suddenly become dangerous as an invisible enemy lingers in the air and grocery shopping has become and anxiety ridden necessity.~ Marla Smith, No Qualms Mom Contributor
It is a bit surreal, trying to move through the masked and gloved masses while trying to maintain your six feet of personal space and keeping your paranoia in check. No easy feat!
To help you, reduce your risk, here are tips to reduce grocery store trips to every 10-12 days:
- Clean out your fridge; make room for the new. Since we only shop every 10-12 days now, this not so fun chore of cleaning out the fridge has become a little easier, as our fridge gets pretty bare as we near shopping day. Nonetheless, even if your fridge looks sparse, do a quick once over and toss anything out that is past its expiration date or unusable. You will need as much space as you can get to pack your fridge after a big shopping. Plus, this will also allow you to see what you have so you don’t panic buy what you don’t need.
- Make a meal plan; organize your shopping list by department. This is probably your most important step. It may seem tedious to sit and write out ten to twelve days worth of meals, I hear ya! But, this this is crucial to spacing out your trips. No need to match your days to meals just yet, instead, brainstorm ten to twelve meals, and you can go back later and plug them into your calendar after you shop. After your meal list is made, organize your master shopping list by trying to group your items by department so you aren’t constantly zigzagging around the store. Think of it as a map, the less time you spend there, the better, and doing it in one fell swoop instead of many little trips will be worth it in the long run by organizing and prepping your shopping list well. No Qualms Mom founder Elizabeth uses the free Our Groceries app (all the time) to reduce her shopping time because she ordered ingredient categories to match how her grocery store is laid out.
- Pick meals in your meal plan that will feed your family 2-3 meals from. For 1-2 dinners out of your meal plan, pick a meal that can be reinvented throughout the week. For instance, a hunk of pulled pork can be made once, then be reinvented for a couple days worth of meals by serving it as bbq pulled pork sandwiches, carnitas, or a pork hash with potatoes and eggs. A roast chicken can later be made into a Caesar salad, a pasta dish, or a quick teriyaki stir fry with frozen vegetables. These types of meals ease up traffic in the kitchen, and are easy on the pocket book as well. Weaving them into your meal plan will help stretch out your dinners so you don’t feel like you are cooking a big meal every night. (No Qualms Tip: freeze cooked meat in order to use it after 3-5 day use by recommendation; even the smallest left overs can be useful in fried rice or quesadillas. Just seal cooled left overs up removing maximum air, label and date).
- Buy fresh; but also, buy keepers. Are you a salad aficionado? Stock up on your favorite sturdy lettuce such as romaine, kale, and iceberg as they keep longer than the more delicate greens. Skip the garden mix unless you plan to eat it up right away. I always buy a head or two of red and green cabbages as they keep very well and will last for up to two weeks so I always have something green and crunchy in the fridge. Carrots, apples, cauliflower, celery, pears, oranges, and potatoes all are great to stock up on and are great keepers to have on hand during your grocery trip stretches. Remember, milk, cheese, and bread freeze well, so you can split bulk buys of these items and freeze half for the following week to use.
- Resist impulse buys and hoarding. Last time I shopped, I wore a mask, which doesn’t bode well for someone who is a bit claustrophobic. I must have looked panicked when I asked for help to reach me the Juanita’s tortilla chips, with my hair somewhat disheveled, eyes wide, breath quick. Being short, they are always frustratingly just out of my reach, and the young girl giggled at me a little as she helped reach them for me.
Do I scoop them all into my cart? Maybe grab two and leave just one? Well, even though I wanted them all just in case, I took just one bag and left the rest. I really didn’t need three bags right now, plus, it would take up a lot of space in my pantry. Almost empty shelves shouldn’t signal a panic purchase, so be a good neighbor and just take what you need for your family during that trip. There will be more stock later, maybe not soon, but these are times of adjustment and patience that call to the kindness of sharing and caring with your community.
“This is a chip emergency!” she exclaimed, jokingly. Well, it was, kinda. You see, there were only three bags left next to a big wide space where many more many should have been. They were completely out the last time I was here.
- Cook with your fresh ingredients first. If you bought food that will perish quickly, make meals that use those items first. The system I use goes: Fresh/ Pantry/ Frozen. Fresh salads, fresh veggie sides, and fresh meats are eaten during the first third of the meal plan, then pantry based meals such as pasta, sandwiches, and bean based meals the second half, then frozen meals the third half, so nothing goes to waste. This system has served us well so far, and might stay in place for the long term.
- Plan for leftovers. When meal planning, plan a night or two of straight up leftovers to ease up your meal planning. Good meals for this are lasagnas, tacos, chili, soup, and curry. Using leftovers as meals will definitely lengthen those trips, and give you a much deserved night off from cooking.
- Create a leftover (and other) zones. One key step in avoiding waste is to organize the refrigerator by zones and always use clear containers for leftovers. If you can’t see it, I can almost guarantee you won’t use it. Also, mark open dates (on things like chicken broth) and cook dates by using a grease pencil or masking tape with sharpie labels (note: I tried dry erase markers and they inevitably get wiped off). The bottom shelf above our produce drawers is our left over and pre-prepped ingredient zone. If you do not want to buy clear containers, at least big all capital lettered labels so that every item in your left over zone is clearly marked.
- No need for fancy. If there ever was a time to be easy on yourself, this is the time. Shelter in place has suddenly and quickly upended our lives. We all are on this ship, white knuckling it through the waves riding out the storm together, gradually trying to find our new normals. If you love cooking and are looking at this time to be able to dive into some new recipes, please, by all means, do it! If cooking isn’t your thing, or, you want the ease of an easy meal, don’t feel guilt about feeding your family their second frozen pizza of the week, or the third straight evening of having sandwiches for dinner.
Do the best you can do with the tools you’ve got and don’t stress it! Nachos, quesadillas, ramen, canned soup, tuna fish and crackers are all perfectly fine meals to stretch out that time between shopping trips. Ultimately, the whole purpose of this is to keep you and your family as healthy as possible, and that means staying home as much as you can and limiting social places during this quarantine. I hope these tips help you on your next shopping trip, stay well, my friends!
Feature photo by Antonio Diaz / Adobe