As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread throughout the country, many people are limiting trips to the grocery store. It takes some strategic planning up front, but you really can grocery shop less frequently if you do the work in advance. Here are some tips to make sure you have healthy foods on hand for a two-week stint at home.
Take stock of what you have
Go through your fridge, freezer and pantry to see what items you have, as well as what you need. Chances are, you have some staple ingredients handy, but double check to see if you need to replenish your supply. See how much room you have in your fridge and freezer and determine what you need to use up to make space for your new items.
Now’s a good time to enjoy the less healthful foods that are taking up precious space in your fridge or freezer. For example, if you have a tub of ice cream in the freezer, have a family sundae night to clear out room for more nourishing foods. You can still shop for fun foods, but stick with shelf stable items since you’re limiting trips to the grocery store. It’s better to reserve your fridge and freezer space for healthier ingredients.
Develop a two week meal plan
If you’ve resisted meal planning, it’s time to get on board with it. This step is key for mapping out your upcoming needs. Here are some pro tips:
- Make sure you’re re-using pantry staples, like whole grain or chickpea pasta, brown rice, quinoa and oats. These foods are building blocks for a variety of meals.
- Schedule in leftovers. If you’re making burrito bowls, for instance, make enough to cover two nights, even if you don’t serve them back-to-back. Put as many meals and snacks on repeat as you’d like.
- Plan a low fuss night (or two). To keep cooking from feeling too tedious, make sure you slot in a few very easy meals. For example, a frozen pizza with a side of sautéed greens and beans keeps things sane and healthy enough.
- Slot in meals that use frozen and canned produce. Most fresh produce will only last up to five days; after that you’re going to need to turn to frozen and canned versions. Frozen green beans and stir-fry veggies and canned corn and tomatoes are some very versatile options.
- Keep recipes simple. A quick and easy breakfast recipe could just be with fruit and boiled eggs. Frittatas, stir fries and veggie-rich pasta dishes are other easy meals. A sandwich with a side of fruit or veggies can easily stand in at breakfast, lunch or dinner.
- Consider meal components. Instead of mapping out two weeks’ worth of recipes, you might want to cook components that can work in a variety of dishes. For example, spiced black beans or shredded chicken breasts can go over a salad one night and in a taco another. Account for all of the ways you’ll use these foods on your plan.
If you’re new to meal planning, there are both free and paid apps and services that can help make this step easier. For example, Mealime’s free version allows you to plug in the number of serving sizes, the types of meals you’d enjoy (say, flexitarian or pescatarian), any common food allergens, and foods you don’t care for. (Don’t like lamb, for instance? You won’t be shown lamb recipes if you indicate this). Then, you’ll build your meal plan from the recipes they offer, keeping the above tips in mind. Once you do, the app generates a shopping list.
Make a list
If you’re using an app, you can skip this step, but if not, it’s important to put pen to paper (or use digital notes). Don’t forget to add any herbs and spices, cooking oils, flours and single ingredient grains (like oats) after checking your pantry.
Since your fridge and freezer space will be devoted to healthier items, like frozen fruits and vegetables along with dairy foods, poultry, fish and meat, add some non-perishable snacks and fun foods to your list. Take an inventory of the pantry snacks your family eats and make sure to buy enough for 14 days.
Because you won’t be making repeated trips to the store, add your household items, like laundry detergent, to the list, too.
Resist the urge to hoard
Only buy as much as you think your family will need and use over the two-week period. If you end up with excess fresh food, it might go to waste. Two big advantages of meal planning are minimizing food waste and saving money (because you skip impulse purchases and make use of what you already have) so even if items are on sale, don’t buy what you won’t use.
Make the most of these ingredients
Certain staple ingredients will make it easier for you to eat healthfully while you hunker down for 14 days.
- Nut or seed butters. Serve in sandwiches, smothered on fruits, blended into smoothies, or whipped into dips, dressings and marinades.
- Eggs. They’re an easy source of protein and are also useful if you get the urge to bake.
- Quinoa, oats and brown rice. These each do double-duty as hot cereal as well as side dishes.
- Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables. You’ll need a lot of these, especially in your second week.
- Canned fish and canned or dried beans. These shelf-stable protein sources are among the healthiest foods and they’re an excellent choice whether you’re actively trying to cut back on meat or just low on space for a 14-day supply.
- Cheese, Greek yogurt and your milk of choice. You’ll turn to them over and over again.