As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, most people continue to eat at home rather than dine out at restaurants, which means grocery store food is still in high demand. The result: Many of your regular meal staples are consistently sold out.
“The good news is that there isn’t anything that can’t be swapped,” says Joan Salge Blake, Ed.D., R.D.N., nutrition professor at Boston University and host of the health and wellness podcast Spot On! “You just have to shop a little differently.”
These smart supermarket swaps will make meal planning, grocery shopping, and eating well easier through the pandemic.
In addition to meat shortages, there have been reports of rising prices on popular cuts of pork and beef. Chicken (white meat, in particular) is a similar story.
Now is the time to start experimenting with your proteins, says The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Karen Cooney. R.D. At the top of her list of proteins to turn to? Turkey and tofu.
“Turkey is not just for Thanksgiving,” Cooney says. “You can do a lot of things with turkey that you might do with chicken.” Toss it into salad or stir-fries, or roast it with carrots and potatoes.
Not quite sure what to do with tofu? “You can fry, sauté, or grill it—and it takes on whatever flavor you’re cooking with,” says Cooney. If there’s a time to finally give tofu a chance, it’s now.
To make the meat you do have go further, add leftovers (even if it’s just scraps) to salad with salsa and beans. “Add other proteins and veggies to stretch each item out,” suggests Salge Blake.
Finding popular types of fruit and vegetables has also proven difficult for some shoppers amidst the pandemic. Since options still vary from store to store and town to town, go in with as open a mind as you can muster.
“We’re used to saying that ‘fresh is always best,’ but that’s not always true,” says Salge Blake. “Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables can be just as good for you—especially frozen goods, which are frozen at peak ripeness.” Another perk: They’re already washed and ready to go.
One word of caution about canned foods: Make sure the fruits aren’t soaking in any sugary syrups and the vegetables aren’t packed with sodium. Look for products with a sodium-to-calories ratio of 1:1. A 100-calorie serving of canned soup, for example, should have no more than 100 milligrams of sodium, she says. Better yet, opt for no-salt-added varieties.
“The trick is to oomph up canned or frozen items the way you would fresh produce,” says Cooney. “If you get canned corn, for example, char it in a cast-iron skillet with a ton of seasoning. I also like frying canned artichoke hearts with olive oil and some Parmesan cheese. It’s what you do with the food out of the can that really makes the difference.”
Grains and Flours
If you’re having trouble finding traditional grains (like rice) and flours, don’t stress. With a little creativity, you’ll be back in business.
“I’ve heard a lot of people complaining about their stores running out of rice,” says Cooney. “You can easily turn to something like couscous or quinoa. I also think it’s a great idea to experiment with cauliflower rice if you haven’t yet.” Cooney loves buying frozen cauliflower rice, but you can grab a full head of cauliflower and rice it at home if the freezer aisle is wiped out.
Turns out, DIY-ing flour is pretty doable, too. “It’s actually super-easy to make your own flour,” says Cooney. “All you have to do is grind up grains in a food processor.” One easy option: Process rolled oats to make oat flour.
If a lack of eggs has been messing with your stay-at-home baking game, don’t throw in the towel on your banana bread just yet. According to Cooney, you can swap in a quarter-cup of applesauce or half of a banana for one egg in many recipes.
You can also take inspiration from vegan baking and make your own flax egg, Cooney suggests. Simply mix a tablespoon of flax meal and two-and-a-half tablespoons of water together, and let the mixture sit for 20 minutes. The gelatinous result works well in baking.
Remember all those reports about farmers dumping milk while grocery stores ran out of it? Another example of the food distribution issues caused by the pandemic, milk has been hard to find in certain areas in these last few months.
If your grocery store is running low—or you’re looking for something that will stay fresh longer than regular dairy milk—opt for nut milks.
“You can make dairy-free milk at home,” says Cooney. “Soak whatever nut you want—cashews and almonds work well—overnight in water. In the morning, rinse them off and throw them in the blender with water.” Four cups of water per cup of nuts is a good place to start. If you want your milk thicker, add more nuts. “You can also add a dash of salt, vanilla, or even stevia if you like milk a little sweet. After you blend it, run it through a strainer to get any bits out,” she says.
Yeast is pretty hard to go without in baking, but all is not lost. “The only thing I have found that works is dissolving together half a teaspoon of baking soda mixed with half a teaspoon of lemon juice,” Cooney says. “You need some acidity to help whatever you’re baking rise.”
And, no, nutritional yeast is not the same thing and cannot be used as a replacement. (It’s best used as a cheesy-tasting topping in pasta dishes or vegan cheese sauces.
How To Make Your Supermarket Swaps Last
Because so much of the food stocks are hyperlocal—and even change depending on what time of day you head to the grocery store—shopping for food is all about getting creative. That means thinking beyond the actual food you’re buying and planning to make it last.
“I love to cook once and eat twice,” says Salge Blake. “If I make meatballs, I’ll double the recipe and freeze some for the end of next week. That way, I’m saving myself some time but I also won’t get bored by eating the same meal a few days in a row.”
In fact, freezing is a huge way to optimize your grocery trips and extend the time between trips. “You don’t want to over-shop and then just toss food,” she says.
If you can’t find frozen berries or greens but can find fresh ones, for example, rinse them, dry them, and stash them in freezer bags, says Salge Blake. Keeping the freezer top of mind is a great way to prevent food waste.
Ultimately, while grocery shopping may remain stressful for right now, being flexible and creative goes a long way.
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