How We are Stretching Out Time Between Grocery Trips During Quarantine

bag of groceries, fresh veg and meat

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Stocking up on food and household supplies for several weeks at a time for a family of four is difficult. I can’t imagine how my friends with larger families are faring.

Typically (meaning during non-quarantine times), we do grocery shopping about once a week with about one trip per month to our local Costco to get certain items it makes sense for us to buy in bulk.

Given our current quarantine situation, I have adapted that schedule a bit. I went to Costco when this all started but have not been able (or willing) to go back. Our local retailers are doing a great job and if and when we feel the need to go, I am thankful it is an option. For now, I am mostly trying to do one big trip to our regular grocery store about every two weeks.

Sometimes, I utilize online ordering but I have found that to be a little frustrating considering all the substitutions. I don’t mind all the subs, it’s just that I want to be the one there, in the moment, making the choices.

A couple times we have ordered for pickup only to have to make another trip to a different store the following day to pick up the items we were not able to get. This seems to kind of defeat the purpose of limited trips to the store. So, for me, ordering online for pickup has kind of been a bust.

We are eating our normal meals for the most part with a few notable exceptions. We are relying on more pantry essentials, less fresh fruits and vegetables, and like many friends, we are baking a bit more. I typically follow a low-carb diet and most definitely have relaxed that a bit as there are just more carb-centric foods that are available and budget-friendly right now.

We are feeling blessed that we have food at all so not complaining, but we have definitely shifted our thinking and the way we shop. I thought some of you might be interested in how we are doing it.

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When in Doubt, Freeze It

We have a deep chest freezer in addition to two regular refrigerator/freezers (one is inside and one lives in the garage), so I get that I have kind of a lot of freezer space.

Even if you don’t have that much freezer space, though, you can freeze plenty of items.

Right now, I am experimenting by chucking things in the freezer and hoping for the best. So far, I am mostly doing ok with my little freezer experiments.

I am freezing things I don’t typically freeze like: whole milk, cheese, cream, and deli meat. They all probably are not perfect when pulled out of the freezer and need to be in there for shorter amounts of time than other things, but it works in a pinch.

Also, I love these reusable containers for freezing pretty much everything but especially things like marinara sauce, bone broth and chili.

Use Substitutions and Stand-Ins

Thinking a little outside the box and being willing to substitute items that are easier to get is obviously something everyone needs to do right now.

One example: We eat a lot of sandwiches at our house. But with us all home and most everyone (except me) eating sandwiches for lunch pretty much every day, bread is not lasting long. (I am freezing some bread but even with my large amount of freezer space, I don’t have enough space for all the bread required.)

So, we started buying crackers in bulk and eating those in the place of bread with deli meat and cheese (my kids call them “homemade lunchables.” LOL) when the bread runs out.

Typical lunch during quarantine

This one might be more on the obvious side but for some reason, we just never have bought tons of crackers in the past. Below are a few more important and interesting substitutions for key ingredients that might be a little scarce right now.

Important Ingredient Subs We are Using Now

Buttermilk: Did you know you can make buttermilk with whole milk and lemon juice or vinegar? If you need a cup of buttermilk, just pour whole milk into a measuring cup (just scant of one cup) and add about a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice or white vinegar. Then, use this in place of real buttermilk in your recipe. This works great for pancakes, salad dressings, baking or honestly whatever recipe you have that calls for buttermilk.

Eggs: We eat a lot of eggs and they have been in short supply in our area. Did you know about all the different substitutions for eggs in a recipe?

Broth: I typically make a lot of homemade bone broth and freeze it. However, in a pinch, I love having bouillion cubes or base in the pantry. Just mix with water and voila, you have broth to use for making rice, soups, stews or roasts.

Don’t Be Scared of Frozen Vegetables

I am leaning heavily on frozen vegetables to complete our meals right now. We are pretty good about having fresh fruit and vegetables with every meal but the fresh stuff is harder to keep on hand when you can’t pop to the grocery store on the regular. I am buying in bulk and when we run out of the fresh stuff, we are pushing our next trip to the store back more and more by eating frozen veg.

Bags of frozen vegetables

Frozen vegetables have come a long way and we typically eat them fairly regularly, but I do think they sometimes lack in flavor.

In the case of adding flavor to drab frozen veg, I have two words for you: bacon grease. I typically save bacon grease from when I make bacon and one of my favorite uses is for saute-ing frozen vegetables. (I like to bake bacon in the oven on a foil-lined rimmed cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, flipping halfway. Then, I use the foil as a funnel to pour the leftover grease in a glass jar.)

Bacon grease for cooking

Here are a few ways I make frozen veg taste good:

Saute

Thaw frozen vegetables in a colander under running warm water. Saute a little sliced onion in fat of your choice (bacon grease, olive oil, butter, etc.) until translucent. Saute thawed frozen veg until warmed through. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and whatever fresh or dried herbs you have on hand (or even just a little garlic salt). Frozen peas are particularly good with a sprinkling of fresh or dried mint.

How to saute frozen vegetables

Roast

Thaw and squeeze as much water from the frozen vegetables as possible. Toss with fat of choice, salt, pepper and garlic powder and spread out on a cookie sheet. Roast at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

Steam

This is probably the most typical and boring method (and the one listed on most of the packages) but it is still good! Place frozen vegetables in a small pot with about a half a cup of water in the bottom on the stovetop or in a covered microwave safe dish in your microwave. Cook for 6-8 minutes or until they are thawed and warmed through. Drain water and toss with butter, salt and pepper. (If you like a little spice, add some red pepper or creole seasoning!)

Use in Soups, Stews and Stir Fry

This is kind of a no-brainer but frozen vegetables are perfect for mixing into soups and stews. One of our new favorite recipes is a fried rice made with leftover rice, browned ground beef and frozen mixed vegetables. I am working on writing the recipe to post here but so far, the experimental dishes have been consumed in full. (Seriously, the other night I made a double batch of fried rice hoping to serve the next night as leftovers but my family ate the. whole. thing.)

Plant a Garden

I get that not everyone has space for this, but growing your own fresh fruits and vegetables really is a game changer in times like these. And even a small space or containers on a patio work well too. This year, we are planting our normal garden but have added additional plants by using containers.

We repurposed this old tub we had in the garage, added some soil and are using to to expand our growing space (we planted carrots and peppers in this one). It is sitting in our driveway in a sunny spot!

Repurposed old container planted with carrots and peppers

If you don’t have space for a garden, you can always just plant herbs. Even just a porch or window container of herbs truly makes a huge difference. A tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs will make most everything taste better.

You can also dry herbs, and I find when you dry them yourself (vs. buying from the store), you can store and then use them just like you use fresh herbs in recipes. We dry them in the dehydrator in our garage, but you can hang them to dry or even use the oven on the lowest setting.

Growing herbs can be done in a container like this one

Stick to a Meal and Snack Schedule

This can be hard but if you can make everyone stick to a schedule, you can plan things out better.

We are eating three meals and two snacks with sometimes an after dinner treat like popcorn or something we have baked (here and here are a couple yummy things we are baking on repeat).

We are eating a lot of popcorn in general, especially when we run out of other crunchy snacks. It’s perfect to store and does not really go bad, so that is perfect for right now. (Typically, loving this microwave popcorn but also putting our air popper to the test.)

Smoked Meats Provide Meals for Days

A good smoked turkey or ham in the fridge (or freezer) means we have dinner AND sandwiches for days. I have at least two in my freezer right now as I type and we will be having ham sandwiches for lunch later today.

I will serve sliced ham or turkey for dinner and then use the leftovers for sandwiches or aforementioned “homemade lunchables,” throw in a casserole or even serve with breakfast.

Another good option is slicing it up and dividing into baggies or small reusable containers and freezing right when you get home from the grocery store. Then, just thaw as needed.

Frozen or Dried Fruit Keeps the Healthy Habits Going

Similar to frozen vegetables, I have been looking for ways my family can get their daily servings of fruit, even after the fresh runs out at our house.

It is maybe not as healthy. Ok, it is definitely not as healthy, but I feel like it helps instill the importance of having some fruit or veg on their plate while also being better than candy or other sweets.

I have been buying lots of dried fruit and frozen fruit. We mostly snack on dried fruit but we also use it mixed into oatmeal. While frozen fruit is best used in smoothies or for baking.

Mixing dried fruit into a bowl with popcorn and a few chocolate chips is one of our go-to movie snacks.

While not technically dried or frozen, apple sauce is also a way we are getting our fruit servings. A bonus is that it keeps well in the pantry, so we have stocked up.

Stacks of Canned Meats in the Pantry

I am anti-Spam (no offense if you like it, it’s just not a meat I can get behind), but canned chicken and fish are both pantry staples we have on hand that we actually also really like to eat. I am not paid to tell you this but here are my fave brands of canned chicken and tuna.

I also buy canned salmon and make these salmon cakes (no specific brand preferred).

For tuna, I like to just pop open the can and mix it into a salad plain, but I also make tuna salad with it. For this, I will mix with mayo and other things like pickles and chopped boiled eggs.

For canned chicken, it is also good just mixed plain into a green salad. But I also like adding in mayo, celery, grapes, carrots and even a few cashews to make chicken salad. Adding in herbs like mint and even a little curry powder also kicks up the flavor.

This chicken divan is my fave low carb casserole and is also good with canned chicken!

How are you getting by with fewer grocery trips during quarantine?

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Chicken Divan Recipe – perfect for quarantine pantry cooking!

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1 thought on “How We are Stretching Out Time Between Grocery Trips During Quarantine

  1. I have went to the grocery store like normal–once per week with additional occasional trips to Fresh Thyme Market. I suppose the fact that I have went to work as normal has influenced that behavior.

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