Grocery Shopping Now–During the Coronavirus Pandemic

I am terrified of going to the grocery store right now, even though–as a professional organizer–grocery shopping is usually a kind of sport for me. I LOVE to organize pantries. Have you met me?

A few days after my kids were sent home from school, I planned an epic shopping trip to minimize my exposure to coronavirus. This was before the US had registered thousands of deaths, before we learned that the virus could spread by just breathing, before we were cautioned to wear masks in public.

Grocery Shopping Now--During the Coronavirus Pandemic

My family of four was in the habit of packing our lunches and eating most meals at home even before this started. We have a pretty well-honed grocery routine. I usually spend about $120 when I shop every two weeks. Sometimes that alone gets people’s attention. I don’t have an extra freezer, just the bottom part of my fridge. And my pantry is a small-ish walk-in with just a couple of shelves. Hopefully my advice will help you in the weeks ahead. Don’t just run to the store when the milk jug is empty like you would when things are normal.

Things are no longer normal.

How to Shop During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Shop small. My favorite store is Aldi and has been for over 20 years. There are many things to love about Aldi, but today I love it because it’s small. There are five aisles. Getting in and out is easy. There are usually only a few people in the store at a time. Smaller store, smaller crowds.

Buy two. Buy more of your favorites, so you don’t have to go back often. You can give me crap for this, since I usually tell you to stop buying in bulk, but there ya go. Don’t buy gajillions. Just buy double what you normally buy.

Yes, beans. Dried beans are nutritious and a good value. Right now, you have the time to soak beans and cook them in your slow cooker or Instant Pot.

French toast. Milk. Eggs. Bread. Assuming that you have some meal planning skills, it’s still the milk, eggs, and bread that are the problems, as they have a shorter shelf life. So bulk up on canned goods when you go, and think about these solutions for the big three by using things probably already in your pantry and easy to find in regular stores.

You can freeze milk. Who knew? Also, boxed milk alternatives last nearly forever in the pantry, soy milk, almond milk and the like. Good luck finding powdered milk, which is great to use in recipes. Did you forget you have protein powder? That might work in a pinch, and can definitely be used in smoothies and recipes. Evaporated milk is canned milk that has half the water removed; find that in the baking aisle. You might not chug any of those, but they can work in a pinch.

Bread–I feel like most of the world has been training to go without bread for years, so maybe this isn’t a hard one. Think outside the bun. Use a baked potato, tortilla wrap, or cracker if you’ve got em. Buy flour, which lasts longer, and make your own bread. It’s time to make that old bread maker in the basement earn its keep. You finally have time to stay home and keep an eye on your rising loaf. Another option is to head to your local bakery if it’s still open. Fewer crowds and fresh bread. (Bonus points if they are also selling milk and eggs.)

Eggs seem like a harder item to store or substitute. Apparently, you can also freeze eggs, but you have to break them out of their shells first. Here’s a surprising tidbit: “Aquafaba, the drained chickpea liquid in a can or a pot of cooked beans, can be whipped like egg whites into meringue or swapped out for eggs entirely in baked goods.” per  Since we all loaded up on dried and canned beans, maybe you’ve got some chickpeas in the pantry? I haven’t seen a powdered egg substitute, but Bob’s Red Mill makes one. In recipes, I usually just take my chances and add extra oil if I’m short on eggs, or an avocado, or a little applesauce.

But back to protein for a second…with a caveat that none of my family are teenage boys. There are a lot of protein sources that you might be forgetting. Canned tuna, salmon, and chicken can get you through an entire week. Canned salmon is fantastic, especially to make salmon burgers or tacos. I really wish I knew how to use anchovies and sardines, also very nutritious. If you have ideas, please leave them in the comments. Vienna sausage, tiny canned hot dogs, are kind of gross on their own, but chopped and added to an omelette? Not bad. Don’t forget, black beans are protein, too. Yes, we’re back to the beans.  And here’s a shocker…corned beef hash! Skillet fried and served over (boxed) mashed potatoes, my kids loved it. We got as much lunch meat, bacon, and frozen chicken and fish for the freezer as we could. Yes, you can eat for a month from a regular freezer compartment. More eggs than you would usually buy; they last for a few weeks. Also, quinoa, that hard to say (keen-wah!) but easy to cook grain also packs a high protein content. Add that all up, and there’s enough protein for a month in one, maybe two big shopping carts.

Plan ahead, but not too far ahead. You might guess that I write an elaborate meal plan before shopping, but I don’t. I usually write a short list of 5-10 possible meals, and buy ingredients for that list plus store specials that look good on the day I’m shopping.

Plan dinner at breakfast. I plan dinner the same way I get dressed. In the morning I figure out what kind of time we have, what we already have on hand, and what the weather will be. I start slow cooker meals in the morning, or I pull freezer items into the fridge to defrost a little and to remind me what I’m planning for dinner. Yeah, I know this “plan dinner at breakfast” concept is hard on a regular day. But lucky you, things aren’t regular anymore, and you can actually do this now!

Simple three. Dinner at our house is simple: protein + fruit or vegetable + pasta/grain/rice. I usually start with the protein and build around that, but not always.

Waste not. My meal planning process isn’t driven by fancy menus. It’s driven by what’s already in the fridge. My family needed reminding that we do not waste food on a regular basis, and we sure aren’t wasting it now. I plan meals based on what is on hand:

  • Leftovers first
  • Open packages second
  • Unopened perishable items third
  • Canned and boxed groceries last

Tapas. About once a week we end up with enough leftovers for a little taste of everything, but not much of anything. This becomes a dinner tapas buffet, and each can choose his or her own dinner.

Rethink “fresh” vegetables. Pantry staples can be fresh, too. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, parsnips, and winter squash like acorn and spaghetti squash store really well in the pantry for weeks. Cabbage, celery, and carrots last forever in the fridge. Frozen broccoli is better tasting and easier to prepare than fresh, in my humble opinion. Frozen veggie mixes can be a healthy and exotic treat.

Spices. Experiment with spices already in your cabinet. You probably don’t want to panic buy spices since they can get pricey. But if you are buying, make sure you have salt, pepper, and your faves on hand. For me, it’s chili powder, basil, cinnamon, and garlic salt.

Kernel popcorn. Best. Snack. Ever. Real popcorn, not the microwave kind, is also a pantry forever food. It’s easy to pop in your microwave with a bowl you already own and a plate.


Nuts. Yes, we’re all a little nuts right now, but that isn’t my point. Nuts can be a satisfying snack with high nutrient value. Maybe swap out a sugary snack for some nuts.

Chocolate, coffee, and wine. Buy dark chocolate, even if you don’t love it. It has almost no sugar so you don’t get the sugar craving and bloating, and just a bite satisfies the chocolate craving. Maybe get a jar of high-quality instant coffee in case you run out of those pods almost everyone uses these days. Learn to drink it black to make the milk last longer, or buy cream which lasts up to a month. And buy the box of wine. It’s more space-efficient and always on tap, which is exactly what we need right now, am I right?

Pets need groceries, too. Be sure to stock up on their supplies, too. You could also have pet food and supplies delivered. I’ve been using Pretty Litter since we adopted our cat a couple of years ago. Here’s my affiliate code if you want to try PrettyLitter, delivered right to your door each month.

Meds. As long as you’re out, stock up on both prescription meds and over-the-counter meds. The way to get through this coronavirus mess is to get sick and develop the antibodies, so you want to be prepared for your entire family to have the flu at once.

Cleaning supplies. Oddly, I’ve read that plain old soap isn’t selling all that well. To clean, sanitize and disinfect your house, you don’t need a nuclear arsenal. As serious as this virus is, experts tell us that it’s really fragile. Buy enough soap for your body, your dishes, your laundry, and probably the same household cleaner you usually buy.

How to Store Ridiculous Amounts of Food During the Coronavirus Pandemic

You know those videos you’ve been seeing explaining how to disinfect your groceries? Doesn’t that look exhausting? Here’s an easier way…Pack your own groceries in the store, and separate fridge and freezer food from the pantry food. When you return home, the pantry food can sit in bags in some forgotten corner for a couple of weeks. The virus cannot live without a human host, so just park your groceries and forget them. The CDC says the virus can only live on cardboard for about 24 hours, and plastic and shiny surfaces for about 3 days. But, you know, I’m cautious, so I didn’t touch my pantry items for two whole weeks. I washed my fridge and freezer items and put them away immediately. We covered the bags with tablecloths to keep curious kids and cats out. My dining room looked like this below. Probably not what you thought a pro organizer’s house would look like but, yeah, we’re all doing the best we can. When your pantry is full and you are shopping for a month, and you don’t have a prepper’s pantry in the basement (you know who you are), this will do just fine, thank you very much.

coronavirus grocery shopping

See that mess on the buffet? It took me a couple of days, but I have a lovely, much more attractive system for disinfecting mail now. Check it out here. 

Of course, we’ve got a list going on the fridge for things we’ll need during the next grocery run. Wear a mask the next time you go. Ask if your neighbor needs something when you head out to the store. Don’t panic. Be prudent.

My goal was to give you some long shelf-life alternatives for your next grocery run. If there are one or two ideas to help you shop smart and stay out of the stores for the next few weeks, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments below.

Also, if you love these ideas but still need more space, maybe it’s time to organize your kitchen in a big way. Check out my book, Organizing Your Kitchen with SORT and Succeed. If you already own it, thanks for clicking to leave a glowing review.

Organizing Your Kitchen with SORT and Succeed

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Holly Corbid

    Great tips!

    1. Darla

      Thanks, Holly. Sounds like it’s the same where you are. Be safe.

  2. Gail

    Thanks again for all the good advice!
    I recently made a simple pesto out of canned avchovies, garlic, olive oil and grated parmesan. The salt’s already in the fish and cheese. Add enough oil so that it mixes easily into hot pasta.
    I used a magic bullet, but can also be done by hand. Not bad!

    1. Darla

      Thanks for posting the tip on anchovies. I don’t have any in the pantry, but will put them on my shopping list.

  3. Karen Kempf

    I usually grill a loin of pork one day, add it to my favorite Trader Joe’s frozen vegetable fried rice one night, then add the rest of the pork to Trader Joe’s organic lentil soup and a can of organic diced tomatoes the next night!! I do have a hungry teenage son, so I try to stay one step ahead of “Mom I’m hungry” ugh

  4. Sue

    Great popcorn video. We have tried doing it on the stove and I believe we bought a vented bowl designed to microwave popcorn.

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