With many restaurants closed or only offering takeout due to the coronavirus pandemic, many of us are cooking at home more than ever.
That said, long lines and various protective measures have made grocery shopping quite the ordeal—and figuring out how to get the most out of every haul can be stressful in itself.
The key here: planning ahead. Preparing for grocery store trips and planning your meals can help ease the anxiety of making the trip and make your food last longer. As a result, you can minimize your trips to the store and stress about figuring out how to use all of the canned foods you stocked up on.
Here, nutrition pros share their best 15 tips for shopping smarter and planning meals efficiently so you can maximize your food during quarantine.
Before You Shop
Making the most of your food means heading to the store with a plan. Consider this your pre-shopping checklist.
1. Take Inventory
“Clean out your fridge every few days and take inventory of what is going bad,” says dietitian Emily Meador, R.D.N., owner of Lettuce Thrive. “If you notice fruit is going bad, throw it in the freezer or cook it into a dessert! If your vegetables are going bad, steam and freeze them to use in casseroles, soups or smoothies. Use herbs to make pesto, an aioli, or chimichurri.”
Taking a regular inventory of what’s in your fridge will help you utilize your food before it goes bad—and before you think about purchasing more.
2. Create A Simple Meal Plan
Though you don’t have to plan every single thing you’ll put in your mouth, creating a basic meal plan will help you shop (and cook) more efficiently.
“You don’t have to be overly ambitious, but having an outline of your meals for the week can be immensely helpful so you don’t stare blankly at your refrigerator when you’re hungry,” says dietitian Chelsey Amer, M.S., R.D.N., author of The 28-Day Pescatarian Meal Plan and Cookbook.
Read More: 9 High-Protein Breakfasts That Aren’t Eggs
“Write down a loose outline of what you’ll eat for one or two meals per day,” Amer suggests. “This will give you some structure and ease stress come meal time.”
As planning becomes more natural, ramp up to planning all three meals of the day.
3. Search For Freezer-Friendly Meals
To ensure none of your future eats go to waste, search for recipes that are easy to freeze for later. That way, if you make too much, you’ve got a plan.
Plus, “meal prep can mean making a double portion of grandma’s famous lasagna and freezing the second portion for a lazy night!” says Meador. “Search Pinterest for ‘freezer meals’ and you will get a whole list of creative ideas.”
4. Research How To Store Your Food
Once you know what meals you’re making and have a grocery list in mind, consider how you’ll keep your food as fresh as possible once you’re home. “Learn the proper ways to store your produce so you can extend its life as long as possible!” says Meador.
For reference, this list breaks down the types of produce that last the longest—and how to properly store them.
5. Create A Shopping Game Plan
To make your grocery shopping as quick and efficient as possible, commit to purchasing only the ingredients you need, plus any non-perishable staples and snacks.
From there, consider organizing your list by section of the supermarket, so you can get in and out without much wandering.
6. Call Your Grocery Store About Specific Items
If you’re concerned about inventory or need specific items, ask your grocery store when they restock and go as early as possible on those days, if you can, suggests Meador. (Most large grocery stores get shipments every other day.)
“By shopping in a well-stocked store, you will be more likely to get all the items on your list, which means you will have to take fewer trips to find any items you missed,” she adds.
At The Store
Once you get to the grocery store, it’s showtime. Use these tips to make the most of your trip.
1. Buy In Bulk (Strategically)
“The more you can buy in bulk, the fewer trips you need to take to the market,” says dietitian Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet. “Even if you live alone, instead of buying one chicken breast, buy four and freeze what you don’t use immediately.”
Same goes for nonperishable items and other ingredients you know you use often.
2. Stock Up On Healthy Snacks
Even in you’ve got your meals planned, don’t overlook snacks. To prepare for mid-afternoon snack attack, “fill your cart with healthy, well-balanced, and satisfying snacks,” says Amer.
Purchase extra carrots, apples, bananas, nut and seed butters, and whole-grain bread—all of which last a while.
3. Grab Frozen, Dried Or Canned Fruits, And Vegetables You Enjoy
If you want to go weeks between trips to the supermarket, you can’t rely on fresh produce alone.
“Frozen fruits and vegetables, although texturally different, retain almost all of their nutrients and are picked at peak to ensure maximum flavor,” says Meador. (She loves using frozen fruit on oatmeal and frozen vegetables in soups.)
One tip for the canned stuff: Rinse the contents before using them, since they’re typically high in sodium.
4. Have Backups In Mind
“You don’t want to be fumbling around if your desired item isn’t in stock,” says dietitian Monica Auslander Moreno, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition. “List out three suitable alternatives for each item. No oatmeal? Get buckwheat. No pears? Look for plums. No pasta? Look for farro.” This way, you can more or less stick to your meal plan despite any inventory issues.
After You Shop
Once you get home, taking a few prep steps will make whipping up meals easier later.
1. Chop Veggies As Soon As You Get Home
“Nobody wants to open the fridge and see a whole bunch of celery. You’re not Bugs Bunny, so you’ll never just grab it and eat it,” says Auslander Moreno. “You’re much more likely to eat your veggies if they’re prepped.”
Before you put produce away, chop or slice anything you know you’ll need to cut up later, then stash it.
2. Prep Meal Components
If you don’t have the time (or desire) to prep your full meals in advance, just whip up the different components your meals will need.
“Roast sweet potatoes, cook some quinoa, sauté mixed vegetables, air-fry some tofu, and then use those different prepped ingredients to make your meals,” says Meador.
Not only does this make prepping your meals later a lot quicker, but also gives you a variety of ingredients to throw together if you want to mix things up.
3. Keep It Simple
“Don’t feel any stress to become a chef overnight,” says Gans. “If you’re unfamiliar with your way around the kitchen, keep it simple.”
A jar of pasta sauce, your favorite pasta, some frozen veggies, and Parmesan cheese are a great place to start, she says. Meal planning and prepping are supposed to make your life easier, so if they just add stress, take the pressure off.
4. Get Creative To Stretch Your Ingredients
With a little imagination, you can find ways to use all sorts of ingredient odds and ends to use instead of throwing them away.
“If you used to toss broccoli stems, for example, chop them up and add them to a stir fry,” suggests Amer. “Or, stretch a batch of bolognese sauce by adding finely-chopped vegetables, like mushrooms and carrots.”
Diggin’ What’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook community, Eating Healthy, today!