Think of shopping for groceries in categories. First start by taking an inventory of your
refrigerator, freezer space, and pantry. Create a list of items you already have and split the list into columns of fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy products if you use them. Shopping for food in times of potential food scarcity can be a challenge. In order to not stockpile, shop for what you need and use what you already have at home to consume first. Think “first in, first out”. Rather than being overwhelmed with the problem of stockpiling food, this document will help you strategize food needs and shop smart.
Overall Goals: maximize storage, focus on nutrient variety, think
in terms of food groups. Minimize trips to the grocery store during
times of social distancing.
● Protein Foods
● Dairy Products (if you consume dairy)
● Satiation- things to add flavor (i.e. dried/fresh herbs and spices, sauces, vinegar, fats
and oils, etc.)
What should I buy?
First, let's consider the following:
● Consider the quantity of food needed and household size. How many people do you need to feed at home? What are their individual needs?
● Consider medically necessary diets (i.e. food allergies, diabetes management, celiac
disease, etc.). This may be the biggest factor in determining what types of foods you
● Take stock of what you already have at home. Create an inventory list for the types of food you have and where they are stored. See chart below.
● Consider available food storage. Do you have a functioning fridge and freezer? Do
you have limited pantry storage?
● Request refills of your essential medications if possible.
● With flu-like symptoms or a fever utilize acetaminophen (Tylenol) over ibuprofen (Advil)
What should I leave behind?
- Ditch the Facemasks unless you are a health professional, caregiver, or are sick.
Leave the facemasks for those who need them to care for others.
- Avoid hoarding or stockpiling essential items, there should be enough to go around
and places will restock. Don’t panic.
- Negative or anxious thoughts. Limit media coverage on the TV, try reading reliable
news sources instead if you are anxious by nature.
What should you bring to the grocery store?
- Gloves or mittens, there may be a shortage of wipes to wipe down carts and baskets
and these will help limit your contact with the environment and touching your face
- An organized and well thought out list. Think ahead on where each item you need
may be located in the store to make your trip efficient and limit your time exposed in
- An appreciative attitude towards the grocery store or any retail worker. They are doing their very best to accommodate the sudden shift in demands. Please take some time to voice your appreciation to a few workers when you see them, from a safe distance of 6 feet of course.
When stocking foods...
Use freezer space wisely!
● Avoid buying many pre-made meals (to save space) and focus on storing whole foods.
Of course, if you feel you need to buy meals and pre-made food items to supplement
cooking skills or for another reason, that is OK- just watch the sodium content.
- Protein Foods: store lean meats, fish, plant-based protein food items
- Fruits: frozen berries, bananas, etc. store well and are flash-frozen typically without
- Vegetables: choose within your personal preferences. Items like broccoli. Chopped
spinach, peas, edamame, green beans, cauliflower, etc. freeze well. Frozen mixed
vegetables are excellent additions to soups, stews, pasta dishes, and rice dishes.
- Avoid using space to store frozen desserts. If you are looking for sweets or desserts,
consider purchasing shelf-stable items like cookies, instead.
What to know about freezing milk
- Use fresh milk you have already first- don’t waste your time freezing milk that’s
been open in the fridge for a few days.
- Frozen milk is best when used within 3 months. Thawed milk is best when
used within 3-4 days.
- Milk expands when frozen and burst containers, so make sure containers aren’t
full - e.g. if freezing a gallon jug, pour some into a freezer-safe bag or ice cube
tray - this also helps reduce waste since you can thaw a little at a time. Fat takes
longer/needs colder temps to freeze, so milk with a higher fat content (whole,
2%) is best frozen in smaller volumes. Label containers with original date (from
manufacturer) and freezer date with a sharpie.
- Lipase enzymes are still active in the freezer, meaning that the main form of fat is
being broken down - this produces changes in color (white to yellow), odor,
and/or taste. Milk may still be good after longer storage periods (e.g. possibly up
to 6 months in the freezer and one week post-thaw in the fridge), but it may not
be fun to drink/use for cereal - cooking with it is a better option.
- Thaw frozen milk in the refrigerator. It can take up to several days, depending
on volume. Thawing on the counter can increase bacteria and rancidity.
- Thawed milk will separate. For best results, blend/whisk (no longer than 2
minutes - you don’t want to increase the temp too much). Vigorous shaking also
- Due to the shelf stability of nut milks, I highly recommend using these alternatives
if you can over regular dairy milk.
If I have one point to drive home it is this:
It is extremely important to reduce any food waste in potential
situations for food scarcity. Buy only what you would actually eat, not what
you think you “should buy” out of social pressure. If you do not plan to eat
something, don’t buy it. You could be displacing that food from someone
else who would actually eat it.
Write out a list of what you are looking for in the store on a blank piece of paper. This will help you purchase within your needs, hopefully reduce anxiety when shopping, and ensure you have a game plan. Use the table below to categorize foods by storage area and food group.
Specific Food Item Recommendations
● Apples, store in the fridge if you can
● Citrus Fruits
● Mix of ripe and unripe bananas. Don’t waste brown/overripe bananas. Use in a baking
recipe if you can.
● Lemons and Limes for cooking
● Berries, grapes, cherries, tend to spoil faster. If you buy these, plan to eat within 1-3
● Keep the rainbow of phytonutrients in mind even when shopping for canned or frozen
vegetables and fruits.
● Tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, arugula, asparagus, peppers, zucchini, yellow squash,
cucumbers, vegetables with higher water content typically spoil faster. Purchase only
what you can consume within the time period to spoilage.
● Longest shelf-life + time to spoilage
- Potatoes, sweet potatoes
- Winter squash
- Onions and garlic
● Cruciferous vegetables may have a long-ish shelf-life + increased time to spoilage