Lets talk Coronavirus meal planning. We are entering our 3rd week of mandatory “stay at home” order in Ohio, but really it’s been just over a month since we’ve been able to grocery shop as normal. What do I mean by normal? Ordering from Kroger Clicklist and not having 2 plus pages of substitutes or out of stock. Going to Costco and not seeing all the toilet paper gone. You know, going to the grocery store and expecting them to have the items you need.
We were one of the lucky ones. My husband had been monitoring the situation in China and felt this could rapidly spread here with similar results (lock downs, hoarding, etc). So starting in mid-February we started stocking up on various items we buy at Costco. We focused on things we used in a lot of meals or things we could use in a variety of recipes. I wasn’t expecting the situation to get quite this bad this fast with the grocery stores, but I did expect some Coronavirus meal planning challenges and I was determined to try to anticipate and lessen those for our family.
We also started slowly filling up our storage freezer. It’s still not completely full, but we had let it basically sit pretty empty for months. Sadly we didn’t start this part quite as early and that’s why it’s not as full. However our grocery trip this past weekend has filled it up a lot with chicken and bread. Still we easily originally purchased at least several weeks worth or meat, veggies and a few comfort items like frozen pizzas for nights I didn’t feel like cooking.
So we should be sitting pretty, right? Well yes and no. All of those meats often still need fresh items or companion items that I didn’t think about stocking up on. Also, we crave variety, right? Who wants to eat the same meals constantly. My culinary creativity is not up to par when I have to cook practically every meal. So what am I doing? Let me give you some Coronavirus meal planning tips.
Coronavirus Meal Planning Tips
- First thing’s first: Make a list. Sure you may not get all the items you want or need, but you need a place to start so make an initial menu. I use this cute pad I got off of Amazon for my weekly menu planning. I love it because it’s simple with formal plans for dinners, but more of just options areas for breakfasts, lunches, and snacks. Even though we are all home, I do not cook those meals. Formal cooking is normally limited to dinner as breakfast is a help yourself situation and lunches are ‘pick from these things we have on hand’ deal. You may not have a specific menu pad, but simply write out your menu for dinners and list options you want for breakfasts and lunches. During this time I would encourage you to plan for at least 2 weeks at a time.
- Decide where you are going to shop. This may seem easy, but we’ve had to really think outside of our normal habits during this pandemic. While we normally got to Costco once or twice a month and utilize Kroger Clicklist weekly. Kroger has been out of a lot of things and I was unwilling to pay for pickup only to find most of my items were out of stock. They have since went to free pick up, so we are once again trying them out. BUT, be prepared that you are not going to get everything you want and need from one store. We have shopped at Aldi for bread because we heard they had it while several other grocery stores were out. We’ve had to hit up a couple convenience stores to buy milk. If you can’t find a staple product at your go-to store, start thinking outside the box. Furthermore our Kroger is limiting the number of fresh meats to 3. If you have a bigger family it would make things very hard to just do one trip every week or two. So be prepared on the days you go out, to stop at more than one place.
- Get what you can, then reevaluate. So you couldn’t get the shredded lettuce you wanted for the tacos, but got everything else. Why not buy some soft taco shells instead and make quesadillas? Find ways to make your menu flexible using items you already have on hand. Most things you are going to be able to make, but if you can’t find a key ingredient, just be creative! Have fun with it! You can even get the family involved. See who can come up with the most creative use of the ingredients you do have and make the best idea.
Now that I have given you a few tips for what you should be doing, I want to discuss what NOT to do during this crazy time we’re living through. Sometimes what you don’t do is just as important as what you do.
- Don’t panic! Don’t panic, don’t panic, don’t panic. There will be plenty of food to go around. Don’t freak out just because we’re going through this unprecedented time in our lives and think if you don’t hoard 100 packages of mac and cheese that you’re never going to get to eat it again. Stocking up a little is one thing, hoarding is another. Unless mac and cheese is all you eat for every meal, no one needs to have 100 packages and honestly not even then! You may have to change your menu, but your family will have food. Take a deep breath and don’t let your imagination run away with you.
- Don’t go to the store with no idea what you want to get or need. This is a surefire way to end up with one banana, 12 cans black beans and a box of cookies. This is not the time to be ruled by your stomach or a whim. Yes you can buy some things and meal plan in reverse. BUT it’s really easy to forget that recipe you thought of requires butter and you forgot you ran out that morning. If you’re the type that never makes a list when you go to the grocery store…well now is the time my friend!
- Don’t take your family with you. This is for multiple reasons, primarily being to lower the risk of exposure to your household. Pick one person to go to the grocery every week, have a plan to wipe down the cart or wear gloves and bring supplies to sanitize your hands afterwards. If at all possible, leave those little ones at home because they just won’t be as vigilant about not touching things…or other people! They forget, this is odd to them and they just won’t fully understand the danger. They will also want every add on they can think of and you need to focus on meals and not lots of random snacks!
- Don’t pass up your favorite items just because you still have some at home. During this time where the stock of certain items are not guaranteed, if you see something your family uses a lot of or is unique, BUY IT! I don’t care if you still have a half bottle of that favorite sauce still left. BUY IT. While I don’t agree with hoarding and buying out the store of said item, it’s good to have a little back stock of anything that may be hard to find.
When you get home with all of your purchases, make a list of the things you didn’t get and then look at the effected meals and ask yourself two questions. 1. Does that meal really need that item? Can you live without corn in that casserole? If the answer is yes, no worries! If the answer is no then go onto question number two. 2. What can I make out of the ingredients I was able to purchase for that meal. Be creative in your meal planning! Try something new!
So those are my do’s and don’ts of Coronavirus meal planning and surviving the cooking challenges during this crazy time in our lives. What has your experience been in the grocery stores? Are you finding everything you need? Let me know what your tips and tricks are for menu planning during this pandemic!Thanks for reading!