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A Complete Guide To Grocery Shopping During COVID-19

The country may be reopening soon, but that doesn’t mean that things are going back to normal. With cases of COVID-19 spiking in various cities across the U.S., many are rightfully concerned that we’ll see a swift resurgence (just like how experts predicted if we loosened quarantine restrictions too soon). While we have no idea if that means city officials will go back on their phased-out plans to open businesses back up, it’s smart to stay vigilant and be as careful as possible.

But even if you choose to stay at home, you still need to buy food (and other necessities like cleaning supplies, shampoo, and pet food). Services like Instacart, Shipt, and Amazon can be a great option, but if you prefer to do your shopping in person (or have no choice in the matter), there are definitely ways of doing it smartly and safely. While these tips aren’t entirely foolproof (it’s nearly impossible to stay 100 percent safe — even if you get your supplies delivered, you don’t know who’s touched the products or where they’ve been), they’ll ensure that you’re doing your shopping trips as quickly, efficiently, and cautiously as possible, which helps minimize overall exposure.

1. Try to get two week’s worth of food and supplies at a time.

Decreasing the number of shopping trips you take per month is super beneficial. The fewer times you go to Target or your local grocery store, the less likely you are to get sick (or get others sick). This is easier said than done since it’s not easy to shop for fresh produce this way, but one useful trick I’ve found is trying to buy as much sturdy produce as possible (like beets, carrots, apples, and oranges, for example). Unlike bananas or lettuce, they stay fresher for longer (two weeks or more), and you’re not totally depending on frozen food to get your nutrients in. But frozen food is always a great way to supplement your fruit and veggie intake, so don’t rule that out, either. Grab a few frozen bags of broccoli and spinach for stir fry or casserole recipes and frozen fruit for smoothies. Frozen produce is usually not the most ideal as a standalone side (taste and texture-wise), but it’s just as good for you as fresh — you just need to know how to use it. 

2. Plan your meals around easily perishable ingredients.

You’ll get the most out of perishable ingredients if you plan your meals based around them, versus the meals themselves. For example, cilantro goes bad easily, so for three days in a row, I planned to make Mexican, Indian, and Thai food. Monday was carne asada tacos, Tuesday was butter chicken (this Food52 Instant Pot Butter Chicken recipe is legit life-changing, FYI), and Wednesday was tofu and mango Thai salad — all of which called for copious amounts of cilantro. The rest of the week, I had leftovers, so it all worked out perfectly. This way, you save money, get the most out of your ingredients, and you avoid letting food go to waste. 

3. Organize your shopping list by aisle.

When you’re at the store, try to be in and out. As much as I very much miss leisurely exploring the aisles of Trader Joe’s and debating for ten minutes whether or not I need cookie butter, I know I need to make my trips as hasty as possible.

The best way to set yourself up for success, is making your shopping list aisle-based, rather than meal-based (after you’ve already figured out what you’re making for the week based on ingredients, of course!). Group all your baking aisle, produce aisle, snack aisle (you get the idea) needs, and then organize those groups by how your grocery store is laid out. It’s a bummer, but this isn’t the time to be discovering new grocery stores (as I learned when I went to Aldi’s for the first time a couple of weeks ago and was distressed to learn I woefully did not understand where anything was). Only visit go-tos for now, since you’re most familiar with them. A lot of stores have a maze-like set-up anyway, so it’s a lot harder to go back a couple of aisles for just one thing.

4. Try to grab products from the back of the shelf.

Chances are, these items have been in contact with the least amount of folks, so you’re reducing the odds of grabbing something that might be contaminated. But also, don’t stress *too* much about this, since the CDC did just announce that COVID-19 doesn’t spread easily from surfaces. (Still be careful, obvs.)

5. Go shopping during the week if you can.

In my experience, stores are still pretty busy over the weekend, even if a lot of people are working remotely or are unemployed and have the time to shop during the week as well. Make your life a little bit easier by going grocery shopping on a Tuesday morning or something — odds are, the store will be way less crowded, and you’ll have a far less stressful experience.

6. Use an app like Nextdoor to see what’s going on at the store.

Neighborhood apps like Nextdoor (free to download) can give you intel from your community whether or not it’s even worth going to a store for something. You might get alerted from somebody that there still isn’t any flour at your local market, but that Target finally got a huge shipment. This way, you waste less time and risk less exposure for no reason.

7. Check out local farmer’s markets that have gone digital.

This requires online ordering, but it’s seemingly safer than going to the farmer’s market, and you still get to support local farmers.

Ordering a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box will get you local produce at a reasonable price, but there are other ways you can get produce from the farmer’s market delivered to your doorstep (just google farmer’s market delivery + your location). And! If you live in the New York City area, I recently learned about a new online Asian market local to Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, so if you love exploring your local Asian stores for sometimes hard-to-find ingredients, this is a cool resource you can use. I have my fingers crossed someone will create the same thing here in Los Angeles.

8. Try to use a contact-free payment method.

If you can use Google or Apple Pay, you’re decreasing your risk of touching surfaces that may have been contaminated, and you’re also checking out just a little bit faster (which I’m sure your grocery store employee will be thankful for). You’re safest if you thoroughly wash your hands at home (you’ve most likely been touching items that have come in contact with others anyway), but this is at least one proactive step you can take to protect yourself and others.

9. Stock up on plenty of Plan B food, but make it hard to resist.

To avoid last-minute trips to the grocery store if you’ve run out of food, can’t deal with leftover chili the fourth night in a row, or have ingredients unexpectedly spoil on you, stocking up on canned goods, pasta, boxed mac ‘n cheese, and sauce will be a life-saver. Try to make your “Plan B” options as appetizing (and easy) as possible, so that you’re not tempted to order takeout instead. If you have the budget for it, spend a little extra on the fancy, handmade pasta and sauce (still cheaper than ordering Italian — just make sure they don’t go bad quickly), or some nice cheese and crackers you can pair with those Fuji apples you’ve been meaning to eat. 

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Hopefully, if anything, the pandemic will teach us how to be better, more sustainable grocery shoppers. I know I’ve been a lot more mindful about spending less money and using up what I have before going out for more (and not being grumpy about it, either).

Gina Vaynshteyn is an editor and writer who lives in LA. You can find more of her words on Refinery29, Apartment Therapy, HelloGiggles, Distractify, and others. If you wanna, you can follow her on Instagram or Twitter.

Image via Pexels

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