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Grocery shopping these days can be very anxiety-provoking. As the weeks go on, more rules are being put in place in the stores (and rightfully so!). But if you’re anything like me, being in the store right now is stressing you out big time. At the same time, it is becoming harder to order groceries online. You may have to wait over a week to receive your order or only get half of what you need. One day, I went through the entire ordering process only to find there were no delivery times available.

The good news is a little organization and planning can help lessen the anxiety. This article discusses tips on how to make the most out of pantry items you already have to create healthy meals, maximize your grocery store run, and stay as safe as possible. 

Keep Your Pantry Staples Stocked

Planning ahead can help you avoid unnecessary store visits. If finding the time to plan meals isn’t happening right now, a well-stocked pantry can relieve some of the meal-time pressure. Keep the following staples on hand for quick and healthy dishes with minimal effort.

Shelf-stable Products

  • Beans, peas and lentils (such as black, garbanzo, kidney, white and pinto beans; green, yellow or split peas and lentils).
  • Canned vegetables (such as tomatoes, green beans, and corn).
    • Note: canned products are super convenient, but can pack a lot of sodium which can increase blood pressure and hinder weight loss. Look for reduced sodium or no added salt varieties, and to further reduce sodium, drain and rinse before using.
  • Dried or canned fruit (such as peaches, pears and pineapple).
    • Note: look for fruit in 100% fruit juice, and drain before consuming to reduce unnecessary sugar content.
  • Whole grains (such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, millet and whole-wheat pasta).
  • Pouches or cans of tuna, salmon, and chicken.
  • Nuts, seeds, and nut butters.
    • Note: sunflower butter is a great option for those with food allergies. 
  • Heart-healthy cooking oils (such as olive, canola or avocado).
  • Dried herbs and spices (such as Italian seasoning, Mrs. Dash seasoning blends, garlic and onion powder, red pepper, chili powder, and cumin).

Frozen Foods

  • Vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, stir-fry veggies, and Brussels sprouts)
  • Fruit (such as berries, cherries, and mangoes).
    • Note: To extend the shelf-life of fresh fruit, you can always freeze them. For example, frozen grapes make a healthy dessert, or frozen bananas are great for smoothies (pro tip: peel before freezing)
  • Whole wheat pizza dough
  • Poultry
  • Seafood

Plan Meals Based on the Foods You Already Have 

Looking for healthful ways to reduce your trips to the store? Get creative with what you have on hand.

Check your refrigerator, freezer and pantry for foods that need to be used up. Leftover meats and veggies can turn into meals by adding them to soups, salads or sandwiches. Here are a few other ways to use them in your dishes:

  • Toppings for salads or cooked grains like rice or pasta.
  • Filling for a tortilla or stuffed into a pita for a satisfying sandwich. 
  • Ingredients to make soup, then enjoy or freeze for future use. 
  • Or simply save leftovers for lunch or a meal later in the week.
    • Note: use leftovers within three to four days and reheat to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. 

When thinking about what to make at home, consider foods that also freeze well. Casseroles, soups, muffins and breads are easy to portion out and store in the freezer in individual containers. These foods can stay frozen up to 2 to 3 months without significant loss to quality. Freeze leftovers or perishables you know you won’t eat before they spoil.

When you thaw the leftovers, continue to be mindful of portion sizes to stay within your calorie needs. Use smaller plates, bowls and glasses to help keep portions under control, and make half your plate vegetables. Being mindful of portion sizes can also help stretch out your food and result in fewer trips to the store.

Understanding the Shelf Life of Foods 

Many foods and drinks purchased at the grocery store include a “use by” or “sell by” date. These dates refer to the product’s ideal quality (not safety), so you don’t have to throw out the food.

For products that don’t require refrigeration until after opening (such as mustard, salad dressing and ketchup), it’s safe to eat beyond the date on their label. Perishable foods, such as meats and dairy products, are safe for a few days after that date, as well. The key is that foods must be stored properly at a safe temperature. 

Check the FoodKeeper App online and discard any foods that have developed an off odor or texture. A good rule of thumb is “when in doubt, throw it out”!

When You Have to Go to the Store

To help reduce the amount of time you spend at the store, create a plan before you go. Deciding on meals and snacks before you shop can save you both time and money. Check to see what foods you already have on hand to determine what you still need to buy for your recipes.

Organize your list according to the section of the store these items are located in. This will prevent you from having to run from one end of the store to the other. If you have the Amazon Alexa app, it automatically does this for you. Try to buy perishable items, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy and frozen foods toward the end of your shopping trip to reduce the amount of time they spend at room temperature.

Store Safety

Many stores offer disinfectant wipes to clean your hands and wipe down cart and basket handles before shopping, but bring your own to be safe. I keep a pack of Clorox disinfecting wipes in my car as well as hand sanitizer both in my purse and car dashboard. Wear gloves and a mask, limit touching products in the store unless you’re sure you’re buying them, and don’t touch your face! 

Remember to wash your hands when you return home from your grocery trip and put the perishable foods in the refrigerator or freezer right away.

For family or friends that are unable to leave their homes to shop for themselves, ask if food or meal delivery is an option or offer to shop for items they need. Insist if they are being stubborn!

Is COVID-19 Transmitted Through Food or Surfaces?

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there is currently no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 can be transmitted through food or food packaging. It is believed that the virus spreads from person-to-person through close contact or respiratory droplets, for instance when a person coughs, sneezes, talks, or even breathes. However, it may be possible for viruses to survive on non-porous surfaces and objects, reinforcing the need to observe proper hygiene and food safety practices.

Fruits and vegetables, even if their peel will not be eaten, should be rinsed under running water and dried with a clean cloth or paper towel. Use a clean produce brush to scrub firm produce, such as melons or cucumbers. Never use soap, bleach or commercial cleaning products when washing fresh produce.

Regular handwashing and social distancing along with routine cleaning and disinfecting remain the most effective ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

If you are feeling overwhelmed with food shopping right now and want more pantry meal ideas that work with what you have – grab my FREE Quarantine Survival Guide. Be safe and well!