Why a Flexible Meal Plan Is Super-Helpful for Grocery Shopping Right Now
Grocery shopping in a global pandemic certainly has many of us on edge. Hopefully, you're doing your part and staying home if you're sick, washing your hands before and after you go to the store and keeping a safe distance from other people in the store (here are our best tips to stay safe while grocery shopping).
The other thing we should all be doing, is shopping less frequently. The fewer trips you make, the better, as far as protecting yourself, your family and others. Now is not the time to run to five different stores looking for one specific ingredient. With that in mind, most experts recommend purchasing one to two weeks of groceries. The best way to do that and make sure you can actually make meals (and not just eat cereal or tuna) is to have a plan!
That's right—we've always been big meal planning fans at EatingWell because they can help you save money, eat more vegetables and take the stress out of wondering what dinner will be. Now more than ever, having a flexible plan, can help you feed yourself (and your family) and stay safe. Here are my tips for making a plan that can help.
Brainstorm some meal ideas
Whether you're used to meal planning or this all feels brand new, some basic ideas for what you're going to eat can get you started. When I meal plan, I include pizza night, pasta night, stir-fry night and go from there. Of course, in order to write down your ingredients you'll need to get a bit more specific (what toppings do you want on your pizza?) but breaking it up like that helps me get some ideas down and make sure we have enough variety. Look up specific recipes if that helps you, and then you'll be able to take inventory of your pantry and list out what you need to buy. You can also plan on a night or two of takeout if restaurants in your area are still open for pickup or delivery.
Don't forget breakfast, lunch and snacks
Since many of us are home (or packing up food for work—thank you essential workers!) for the whole day, don't forget about these meals. Write down some ideas for breakfast (eggs, bagels, cereal, oatmeal), lunch (sandwiches, leftovers, salads, soups) and snacks (dried fruit, nuts, energy bars, etc.) so you don't leave those items behind.
Write down the ingredients you need
Now that you have a loose plan in place, take inventory of what you have and write down what you'll need to make it happen (and to make sure you don't need to go back to the grocery store for another week or two). To make it easier for yourself, organize your list by section—produce, deli, frozen, etc. You'll save time and also some laps around the grocery store.
I've been using my phone for grocery lists for a long time. But, some experts are advising that you only bring into the store what's necessary right now. It may be overkill, but it's probably not a bad idea to just bring in a payment method and your paper list that you can throw away, to reduce what you need to touch before you can wash your hands.
Have some backup ideas
Let's say you want to make a beef and broccoli stir-fry but your store is out of fresh broccoli. You could swap in peppers, cauliflower or frozen broccoli. If your store has no more steak—try chicken thighs, chicken breast, ground pork or tofu. Planning on brown rice but there's only quinoa—why not? If you need a lemon but there are only limes, go for it. I know not everyone is a culinary expert, but having some basic substitution ideas in mind can help you still cook the meals you want, without going back to the store. You could also plan a few pantry or freezer meals as backup—like boxed mac and cheese night or frozen pizza dinner night (two quarantine kitchen classics).
Hopefully, these tips for having a flexible meal plan will help you stay safe and well fed during these uncertain times.
Welcome to The Beet. A weekly column where nutrition editor and registered dietitian Lisa Valente tackles buzzy nutrition topics and tells you what you need to know, with science and a little bit of sass.