If you are feeling a little stressed and overwhelmed about having to go grocery shopping I'm here to help! This is a learning curve for many, including me. I am used to shopping for food several times a week so now I am forced to be much more organized, which is a good thing! Below I'm sharing some tips and strategies to hopefully help you shop smart during a pandemic (a post I never in a million years thought I'd be writing!)
First Get Organized
This is the first, and most important, step to a successful shopping trip. If you don't know what you have or what you need you will end up doubling up or throwing things out because you didn't have a plan for it. This applies especially to fresh produce.
- Make a list of staples: We all have things that we consume on a regular basis like coffee, tea, milk (or milk alternatives), bread, eggs, etc. Many of those things don't need to be bought every time. Then there are also non-food items like dish soap, laundry detergent etc. I like to make a list of those items to check your stock before you go.
- Take stock of what you have. If you have a bag of dried beans, for example, that you don't know what to do with, figure out something to make with them before you go shopping. Look up recipes here and online to get ideas then add any ingredients you need to your list. If you have a lot of said beans, look for more then one recipe. Perhaps a salad and a soup, or curry.
- Make a plan. First decide how many days you want to go between shopping trips. Make a rough draft list of meals and snacks, writing down what you will eat at those meals. You don't have to be too specific. For example you can add that you need "X" number of protein options for "X" number of meals. Think about the vegetables and salads to accompany those proteins and make your list. Keep in mind some things can be used as leftovers for future meals. Think soups, stews and chili, or roasting a whole chicken...or two if you have a bigger family. Make a flexible list so if a specific item isn't available you have alternatives. For example, you decide you want to buy bags of pre-shredded coleslaw (because it has great lasting power) but they don't have any left. Pick up a head of cabbage and some carrots instead to make your own. You don't have to decide specific meals for specific days but as long as you have accounted for all the meals, you will have a more successful shop.
- Include some convenience meals. This is important because sometimes plans or moods change and you don't have time or feel like making that soup or roasting that chicken. Pick up something pre-made to have for those occasions. Preferably something that can be kept in the freezer or is shelf-stable like soups, chili etc. Look for things that contain all natural ingredients and are still on plan. The organic section is a great place to look for these things.
Most importantly, try not to stress. You don't have to be perfect and sometimes you will forget things. It isn't the end of the world if you have to make an extra trip to the store as long as you are doing your best to avoid that.
Below is a list of items that I find helpful to have around. Foods that last, that are versatile, and can help enhance your meals in both flavor and nutrition.
Of course there are many other fruits and vegetables then what I've listed here. These are things with the most lasting power and versatility. Other fresh produce would be added to your list as you need and want them.
- Cabbage is always at the top of my list! On program it is considered both a vegetable and a leafy green so you get more bang for your buck! It's super versatile and lasts a long time in the fridge. It can be eaten raw, tossed in a salad, and as a coleslaw. It can be sauteed, steamed, braised and roasted. Throw some in a stir fry, soup, stew, chili or have it roasted as a side dish. Even the bags of pre-shredded coleslaw mix are excellent. Just be sure to check the expiry date so you aren't cutting it close.
- Spinach is a leafy green I find very easy to use up and it seems to last forever! Especially the large bags as apposed to the clam shell packs of baby leaves. Make a salad, saute some and have with any meal, toss it in soups, stews and chili to bump up those greens! Frozen spinach is also an excellent thing to have on hand. You can't make a salad with it but you can toss it into anything you are cooking. Spinach and cheese omelette for dinner is quick and easy!
- Arugula, also known as rocket has incredible lasting power. It's also delicious raw and cooked so can be used in the same ways as spinach.
- Carrots and Celery. Obviously these make an easy raw veg. snack with your favorite dip or nut butter but they can also be added to salads to bump up the veg. quota and are the essential start to stocks, soups, stews and chili!
- Onions and Garlic. Be sure to have a good stock of these to boost flavor in pretty much everything you cook. I always have some basic cooking onions , white are my preferred choice but Spanish and yellow onions are great as well. I also like to keep a red onion around to toss into salads. Store unused onion in an airtight bag or container in the fridge and it will keep for at least a week.
- Root Vegetables. These don't need to be stored in the fridge and will last for at least a week. Things like squash, sweet potatoes, beets, etc. Radishes are great to toss into salads and to munch on for a snack.
- Broccoli and Cauliflower. Buy these whole if you can. They last much longer then the bags of pre-cut. I have had both of these last in my fridge for over a week.
- Avocados. Believe it or not, avocados last a long time. I usually buy them in the more economical mesh bags. They are often hard as a rock but that's okay. Just leave them out on the counter until they are perfectly ripe (press your thumb into the bottom. It should have some give but not be totally soft. Similar to pressing a large orange.). Once ripe put them in the fridge. The cold temperature slows the ripening process so they can last several days. I have had some last over a week!
- Apples, Oranges and Grapefruit. These are big hitters for lasting power as far as fruit goes. Each of these will last up to 2 weeks in the fridge.
- Bananas. Chose some ripe and some green. That way when the ripe ones are finished the green ones are ready to go!
- Canned and Frozen. Don't overlook these sections. Frozen fruits and vegetables have just as much (and sometimes more!) nutritional value then fresh. Canned, although they lose some nutritional value through processing, are still a great option.
Whether you are a meat eater or vegan there are many options for protein out there.
- Whole chickens and pork or beef roasts. A whole chicken can go a long way. The bones, skin and fat from a cooked chicken can be turned into a delicious stock and the meat can be used as the main event or tossed into soups, stir fries and salads. Same goes for roasts. Buy a bigger cut and use the leftovers in a variety of ways including a ragu!
- Frozen fish and seafood. Both are fantastic and easy to toss into stir fries and curries or how about a yummy chowder?
- Eggs. Eggs are one of the most versatile foods I know. If you can find them buy them up! Not only are they great for breakfast but an omelette makes a quick and easy dinner. Or make a frittata to use up leftovers in your fridge. Add them to stir fries or make a scramble with leftover vegetables, greens and cheese, you name it! Store them in their original cartons and they will last 3 weeks.
- Tofu and Tempeh. Even if you are a meat eater don't overlook this vegetarian and vegan staple. It's packed with protein and can be frozen. Soak it in your favorite marinade and toss it on the grill, into a stir fry or curry...basically any way you would use meat.
- Canned meat and fish. Don't forget about this section. Everything from smoked oysters to spam, you have lots of options. Although spam isn't the best protein choice, in a pinch it will do.
- Dried or canned beans and lentils. Lentils are like little protein gems and beans have their fair share too. They are both economical and shelf stable so I recommend always having some on hand even when your not living in a pandemic! Dried beans and lentils are less expensive then canned and they take up much less space. One can of beans costs about the same as a large bag of dried. One cup of dried beans yields about 3 cups cooked and a bit more for lentils. Because beans require soaking and longer cooking times I recommend cooking a whole bag and keeping them in your freezer to have on hand. Since the cooking time for lentils is much shorter, and no soaking required, no need to cook them ahead.
- Hemp hearts, nuts and seeds. These can be used to bump up the protein content in any meal. Add them to salads, soups, yogurt, cottage cheese etc.
- Quinoa. Although quinoa is a grain it's also a complete protein source. Add some to any meal to bump up that protein content.
If you have a hard time planning recipes or just don't like following recipes it's a good idea to have a variety of things on hand that you can use to season any dish you prepare. Always check the labels of pre-made sauces and condiments to make sure they do not contain any artificial flavors, colors, or hydrogenated oils.
- Good quality oils for salads and cooking
- Vinegars for dressings, sauces and marinades
- Dried herbs and spices.
- Sauces for seasoning - soy sauce, fish sauce, Worchestershire and hot sauces
- Marinades, sauces and rubs - jarred curry sauces, stir fry sauces and dry rubs.
- Salsas, canned jalapenos and Chipotle peppers and other Mexican flavoring items.
- Salad dressings and dips. Quality salad dressings are often found in the produce and/or organic sections.
- Nut butters with low or no sugar and no added oils
I hope I've helped, even just a little, to make your next grocery trip more organized and less stressful. Remember, in stressful times like these it's best to follow the KISS principle. Keep It Simple Stupid. ?
As always, let me know if you have any questions and happy shopping!