Before we found ourselves amidst a global health crisis, I used to think nothing of grocery shopping nearly every day of the week. I wouldn’t just stop at one store, either — I’d go to two or three every trip. Because we live just blocks away from four different grocery stores, if I wanted snacks from here, and meat from there, it wasn’t a big deal. I was chasing bargains and following our cravings. If something sounded good for dinner that night, it didn’t matter if we didn’t have the right ingredients on-hand — I’d just go get them.
Now that going to the grocery store is a potential health risk (for myself, my family, and the workers), I’ve learned that running out for a few lemons isn’t just inefficient — it’s also irresponsible and downright wasteful. I’ve had to completely change the way I approach my family’s meals, and you know what? It’s been a powerful wake-up call.
Here are four ways the quarantine has changed my approach to shopping — for now and maybe even the long haul.
1. I’m putting small businesses first.
Watching small businesses struggling to survive amid mass closures in my community in Portland, OR, has been gut-wrenching. I’ve always believed in the importance of putting my money into my local economy by supporting small farmers and producers, but I had gotten a little lazy about it. Their products cost more, so I’d tell myself: “I’ll buy it next time,” or “Someone with more money can buy that.”
But every dollar counts to these entrepreneurs now more than ever, so I’ve decided to shop local whenever possible. (More and more places are offering delivery or curbside pickup due to the quarantine, so it’s been extra-easy.) I also realized I’m not spending more money than usual; I am, however, wasting less of what we buy. When I put my dollars toward quality instead of quantity, I feel more pressure and incentive to use up everything we buy.
2. I’m consciously cooking with less meat and more fresh produce.
Meat has been harder to find lately, so I’m using less of it by supplementing our meals with more vegetables, beans, and grains. This strategy is better for our budget, health, and the environment.
Because we’re eating less meat, we’re appreciating fresh produce more than ever before. Our first quarantine salad made with greens from a nearby farm almost brought us to tears. (The bags of salad greens we get from a local farm are still vibrant and fresh long after the pre-washed packs would have gone slimy.) We had forgotten how incredibly delicious truly fresh produce can be.
Related: Is Fresh Produce Okay to Buy Right Now — And What’s the Best Way to Wash It?
3. I’m planning meals with ingredients I already have.
Rather than starting with a craving, coming up with a recipe, and then making a special shopping trip for it, these days I’m forced to cook with what I have on hand. Instead of feeling constricted, I feel liberated and creative, sort of like every day is a new episode of Chopped.
During our first week of self-isolation we made a big inventory of all of our food in the pantry, fridge, and freezers and put it in a spreadsheet. There was so much stuff that we had forgotten about — all kinds of lentils, beans, noodles, canned goods, and more. Now I can browse through the list and come up with meal ideas instead of mindlessly running to the store despite having full cupboards.
Related: 100 Simple Ways to Turn Pantry Staples into Complete Meals
4. I’m making much more from scratch.
I have teenagers, and for them “food” means snacks. If there aren’t any chips, crackers, or granola bars in the house, there’s “no food.” In this current situation, we’ve had to cut way back on processed snacks because they take up too much space and divert our dollars from the local goods we’re prioritizing. Instead we are making treats from scratch (think: yogurt, breads, muffins, cookies, crackers, and sorbet).
We find that it feels good to make these things ourselves, not to mention they’re cheaper to make and better quality than store-bought stuff, and we savor them more. Plus, it’s giving us a reason to turn off the news and do something else.
How is the quarantine changing the way you grocery shop?