Nutrition Diva listener Kate writes:
I have been trying to shop only every 2 weeks, but I’m finding it almost impossible. How should I adjust my menu and shopping plan to avoid running out of food or ending up with odds and ends that don’t really make a meal?
If you’re used to stopping by the grocery store every few days, trying to think and shop for two weeks at a time may be a challenge. You may find that you’re running out of certain things too soon, or struggling to use things before they spoil. Even for those who are used to planning and shopping ahead, the stakes suddenly feel higher. Running to the store for a forgotten item feels like a much bigger deal right now.
Planning menus for 14 days may feel completely overwhelming, but how else can you ensure you’ll have the ingredients for all of those meals? And when you do mask up for that grocery store trip, chances are good that some of the items on your list won’t be available. What then?
Coping with Covid-19 is requiring all of us to be a bit more flexible and resourceful. Your menus may not always be as varied as you’re used to. Some or your meals may be a bit unconventional. Your go-to favorites may be in short supply. But there’s no need to panic or throw in the towel on your family’s nutrition
Here are a few strategies that can help you make the most out of fewer trips to the store.
Tip #1: Do the math
If you’re used to shopping every few days, you may find it hard to estimate how much milk or meat or produce your family actually eats over the course of two weeks. So, when planning a two week shop, start by calculating how many servings of each category of food you’ll need per day for each person in the house.
For example, if you have four people in the house and your goal is to eat four servings of vegetables each day, you’ll need 16 servings per day. If you’re shopping for two weeks, that’s 196 servings of vegetables.
Here are some very general guidelines that you can adjust to fit your family’s eating patterns:
- Vegetables: 4-5 servings per day per person
- Fruit: 2-3 servings per day per person
- Protein foods (such as eggs, fish, cottage cheese, peanut butter, meat, beans, or tofu): 2-3 servings per day per person
- Milk or nondairy alternatives (including yogurt and cheese): 1-3 servings per day per person
- Starches (such as cereal, bread, pasta, rice, or other grains) 2-4 servings per day per person
Next, use the total number of servings to estimate about how much of of each category you need by weight. Here, again, are some rough guidelines
- 1 pound of fresh or frozen fruit or juice = 3-4 servings
- 1 pound of fresh, frozen or canned vegetables = 3-5 servings
- 1 pound of meat, fish, eggs, canned or cooked beans, or tofu = 3-4 servings
- 1 pound of dairy or nondairy alternatives = 4-6 servings
- 1 pound of dried beans, nuts or nut butter = 8-10 servings
- 1 pound of cereal, bread, dried pasta, rice, or grains = 8-12 servings
If your family will eat 96 servings of fruit, you’ll need at least 24 pounds of fresh, frozen, or canned fruit. To get to 96 servings of protein foods, you could combine 3 pounds of meat, 3 pounds of poultry, 3 pounds of tofu or soy-based sausages, 3 pounds of dried beans, and 3 pounds of eggs (which is two dozen).
Thinking in terms of servings per person and servings per pound will help make sure you have enough of the essential categories.
Don’t feel you need to hit these numbers exactly. These guidelines are just to get you in the ballpark. Thinking in terms of servings per person and servings per pound will help make sure you have enough of the essential categories. It also allows you to be a bit more flexible. If there is limited availability for some items, you can substitute a similar amount of something else from the same category.
Don’t forget to shop what might already be in your pantry! Make note of things like oil, butter, and seasonings that may need to be replenished. And although I haven’t included any guidelines for snacks and treats, it’s fine to include some of those as well.
Tip #2: Think shelflife
When you’re trying to go longer between shopping trips, you want to lean on things that have a longer shelflife. Canned and dried foods will have the longest shelflife. Frozen foods are your next best option, although it depends on how much freezer space you have, and assumes no interruption in electrical service. Fresh foods will have the shortest shelflife, but even here there is a big range.
As you’re filling your cart, make sure that you’re not buying more short shelf-life items than you can use in a couple of days and fill in the rest of your requirements with things that will keep longer.
Cultured milk products such as yogurt, kefir, and cheese will keep a lot longer than fresh dairy. Cabbage, root vegetables, kale, and winter squash will keep much longer than delicate lettuces or summer squash. Apples, pears, and oranges will keep longer than berries and stone fruit.
As you’re filling your cart, make sure that you’re not buying more short shelf-life items than you can use in a couple of days and fill in the rest of your requirements with things that will keep longer. Once you get your groceries home and it’s time to start putting meals together, use them in the order in which they are likely to expire.
Tip #3: Build in flexibility
Stock up on ingredients you can use in lots of different ways rather than specialty ingredients you only use in one or two things. For example, I only use pinenuts about twice a year: a big batch of pesto in the summer and a special tart that I usually make for New Year’s Day. I use flaxseeds, on the other hand, several times a week. I use them to make granola, smoothies, my famous flax muffin-in-a-mug recipe, and even as a coating for oven baked chicken. A pound of flaxseed is going to be much more useful to me than a packet of pine nuts.
Think a bit about what’s on your MVP ingredient list and be sure to keep those items in stock.
Tip #4: Turn odds and ends into meals
When you’re down to random bits and pieces that don’t seem like enough to serve on their own, get out the stock pot, the slow cooker, or the wok and turn them into soup, stew, or a stir fry. Use leftovers to top a pizza or omelette, or roll them into tortillas or nori wraps. If all else fails, you can freeze them to incorporate into a future dish or meal.
Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself if every meal is not perfectly balanced or Instagram-worthy. Let’s cut ourselves and each other a little extra slack as we do our best to get through these challenging times together.
Struggling with stress eating during the shutdown? You’re not alone. Brock Armstrong and I recently hosted a special workshop on strategies to reduce stress eating and avoid unwanted weight gain while we’re sheltering in place. If you weren’t able to join us, we’ve made the replay available here.