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How to Plan Your Food While Social Distancing

an empty and a full pantry separated by planning while social distancing

So, you thought you were going to be on spring break this week, going to work, or otherwise living life as usual, and instead you’re practicing social distancing and trying to figure out what to do about food? You are not alone. Check out the five tips below for how to plan your food while social distancing.

1. Figure Out What You Have

woman looking in pantry to take food inventory while social distancingWhile practicing social distancing, you can’t just run out to the store for one or two items and the likelihood that the ingredients may not be available means that we need to put a lot more thought into groceries and meal planning. The place to start is to take inventory of what you have right now.

  • Take inventory of the food you have your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer.
  • What meals can you make with what you already have in the house? Depending on the shopping situation in your area, certain supplies may not be available immediately.
  • What can you eat before it goes bad? This is a great time to make a resolution not to waste food.
  • Get creative. Before you need to make another shopping list, look up recipes for what you can make with what you have.
  • You might also consider restaurants near you that are still offering take-out and delivery. You’ll have access to things you don’t have to make and you’ll be supporting local businesses by ordering. “When it comes to ordering in, the food itself is unlikely to be much of a danger, according to Stephen Morse, an epidemiologist at Columbia University. Even if the person preparing it is sick, he told me via email, “cooked foods are unlikely to be a concern unless they get contaminated after cooking.” He granted that “a salad, if someone sneezes on it, might possibly be some risk,” but as long as the food is handled properly, he said, “there should be very little risk.”

2. Figure Out What You Need

  • What supplies will you need in the next two weeks (without stockpiling for the apocalypse)? Remember your pets need food and supplies too. Think about what you’ll be running out of. Add all of that to the list.
  • Consider staple supplies and backups. You can get fresh, frozen, or canned produce. You can experiment with alternate grains if the store doesn’t have your usual choices.
  • Make a comprehensive shopping list so that you don’t have to go back to the store often.
  • Make a shopping plan. Do you want delivery or to go to the store? Where I live, food delivery and curbside service are already booked at least a week out so you can make a grocery list not for what you need today, but what you’ll need a week from now.
  • “Go” shopping. If you need to go to the store yourself, follow this great advice about What to Know Before Going to the Grocery Store from the New York Times. Many groceries have changed their hours to allow more time for restocking so check hours before you go. Depending on where you are, stores may have long lines outside before they even open so get there early.

3. Get Cooking

  • Be flexible. Instead of using pasta, maybe you can put sauce over a grain. Make a recipe without an ingredient or sub something new in.
  • Batch cook soup, casseroles, and other meals and freeze half so you can vary your meal choices and create a backup supply.
  • Use the time at home to bake or cook with kids that are home for the duration.

4. Connect with Others

One of the things most people I’ve talked to are having a hard time with is the feeling of isolation. Instead of social distancing, practice distant socializing.

Trade recipes by email or social media.

  • cooking while social distancingTake cooking classes online.
  • If you have extra of something, you could offer it up, wipe the container down with disinfectant, and put it out on your porch for a friend or neighbor to pick up. Wave at each other through the window.
  • If you need anything, ask. Maybe you can’t get an ingredient because the store is out or you’re immunocompromised and can’t go to the store. Reach out to your friends through FB, email, phone, or neighbors through the NextDoor app. We’re all in this together and people want to help each other. Ask and offer.
  • Have virtual dinner parties on Google Hangout, FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom. You can put your laptop at the table and have dinner (or lunch or a coffee) with friends or family.

5. Create a Meal Planning System

While social distancing likely means you can’t utilize your full menu or grocery shop as you normally would, the extra time at home offers the opportunity to create a meal plan. I’ve got blog posts about the steps you can take to make meal planning easier.

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