By Reed Mangels, PhD, RD
As an older person living in a state with ever-increasing
cases of COVID-19, I try to limit my errand to those that are essential. I’ve
chosen to continue to physically going to the grocery store but am doing my
best to minimize both the number of trips I make and the time I spend in the
store. I recognize that I am very fortunate to have enough space to store food
and the money to buy several weeks’ worth of food at a time. Also, I’m only
shopping for myself and my husband, not for a large family, which makes things
easier. That said, I hope that some of these ideas that allow me to limit grocery
shopping to once or twice a month will be helpful to others.
Spend more time
planning in order to spend less time in the store.
Gone are the days when I planned the menu for that night or
even for the next few days as I walked through the food store, zigging and
zagging from the produce department to the pasta aisle and back to produce.
Now, while I don’t extensively plan 2-3 weeks’ worth of meals, I have a sense
that I will need 6 packages of tofu, 10 cans of assorted beans, some quinoa and
rice, 5 cartons of soy milk, a couple of jars of peanut butter, and so forth. I
think about recipes I might want to make and if there are any specialty
ingredients I’ll need to get for them. I estimate how much fresh fruit and
vegetables and bread we’ll need. I look at staples – are we running low on soy
sauce or spices or flour? Are there some things I should buy a bit extra of in
case plans change – like canned tomato products or pasta?
Make a list.
When I make my grocery list, I do it with the store’s
lay-out in mind so that I don’t have to double back and pick up something I
forgot. Like many stores, the one where I shop has one-way aisles, adding to
the challenge of going back to pick an item I missed on the first pass. Because
I never know which shelves will be bare, I try to think of alternatives before
going to the store. If there’s no pasta, do we have enough rice or other grains
that we can use instead, or do I need to pick up more of these in place of
Fruits and Vegetables
Unless you belong to a CSA or go to a farmer’s market, it
can be challenging to buy enough fresh produce to last 2 or more weeks. Here’s
the way that I approach it.
I think of
produce in 2 categories:
that should be used within a week or 10 days – including lettuce, stone fruit,
most leafy greens, summer squash, herbs, peppers, bananas
produce that can last for 10 days to 3 weeks or longer – such as cabbage,
carrots, winter squash, onions, cauliflower, melon, citrus fruit, apples, beets
For the first week
post shopping trip we focus on food from the first category. We might have
lettuce-based salads most days; later in the cycle salads will be coleslaw or
longer if stored properly. The Ecology Center has a helpful handout
on produce storage. If I notice that vegetables are starting to look tired
before we can eat them, I often make a pot of soup or another dish that can be
frozen or refrigerated. If all the fruit ripens at once, some can be sliced and
frozen to use later in crisps, smoothies, or on oatmeal. Having some frozen
vegetables on hand, like frozen sliced peppers or frozen spinach, can add
interest to meals when fresh produce is running low.
When I think
about grocery shopping pre-COVID-19, I realize that many of our trips to the
store were to pick up cartons of soy or almond milk or a loaf of bread. Now,
I’m more likely to buy shelf-stable packages of plant milk for cooking and use
the refrigerator space for the refrigerated cartons my husband likes for
cereal. We freeze bread before the use-by date, so it doesn’t get moldy and
bake our own if we want fresh bread. These ideas aren’t unique to the current
situation. They’re ways I can minimize the time I spend on food shopping and
minimize food waste.