Grocery shopping these days is just about the most exciting part of my week. Exciting but also terrifying and strange and surreal. After talking to many of you on Instagram, I’ve learned that most of you are (carefully) shopping in person versus using delivery services so I wanted to share my tips on how to stay safe, how I navigate the store, and an example of our weekly grocery list.
I also conducted a survey on your current shopping habits and received literally thousands of responses which were interesting to sift through. I included a handful of quotes at the bottom of this post so you can hear from other people besides just me.
But before I get into it, I want to send my deepest gratitude to everyone working at grocery stores, pharmacies, and all essential retail businesses, to ensure that the public can get what they need.. It is so brave of you and I, for one, am so thankful.
I also want to remind all of us that it is an incredible privilege to be able to buy food right now and many people in the world don’t have that option. Feeding America is helping food banks around the country respond to COVID-19. You can read about how many food banks are overrun right now because they were never intended for a national crisis like this one.
I wrote this post about a year ago about how we shop, create our grocery lists, and what we buy weekly, but things have changed quite a bit to say the least so here is my update.
HOW WE SHOP
When we were sick, I was ordering our groceries via Shipt or Prime. But now that we’re healthy and cleared to go out and about, I’ve been shopping in-person weekly with a mask and gloves for two reasons: 1. Delivery services are all booked up in advance and I’d rather save the free slots for people who are sick or elderly. 2. When I did try to order, I’d often get the wrong items or things would be marked as sold out. When I go in person, the stores have been pretty well stocked.
Here are the precautions I take for every shopping trip. It might be over the top but I figure we’re better safe than sorry:
1. Wear a mask and gloves to shop. I put one gloved hand on the shopping cart and the other I use to take items from the shelf. If I touch it, I buy it. There is no picking something up and putting it back.
2. I bring a Lysol wipe and wipe the cart before I touch it with the gloved hand.
3. While at the store I practice social distancing and follow the rules they have on signs.
4. I put the groceries in the car then throw away the gloves. I put on a new pair of gloves to bring the bags to our front porch where I unpack them and wipe down all the produce and boxes of crackers etc. Then I take off the gloves and bring everything inside.
5. I bring our reusable totes to the washing machine and immediately put them in then wash my hands.
WHERE WE SHOP
Whole Foods: To date, this is the only chain supermarket that I’ve visited since we’ve been sheltering-in-place. Normally I change it up and get certain items at different stores but I’ve felt really safe there so far so I’ve been sticking to it. They only allow a few people in at a time, they wipe down the carts between each customer, they have arrows for each aisle to make it easier to social distance, and they’ve been fairly well-stocked on everything (except for toilet paper).
Traders Joe’s: You guys know I’m a big TJ’s fan and I’m dying for some of our favorite items there, but whenever I drive by it, the line is super long so I haven’t braved it yet. I’ve heard from many people that they’re also doing a great job of wiping down carts and only letting a certain number of people in at a time so I am planning to go in the next week or two on a nice day when waiting outside is nice and warm.
Local Stores: I have been trying to support local businesses as much as possible and have done deliveries for meat from Mike’s Organic (only local readers will appreciate this!). You can also shop there in person which I plan to do next week. I’ve also heard Double L has a great selection of produce.
CREATING OUR SHOPPING LISTS
We still use our same system which I’m pasting below from the last post. The only difference is that I print the list and bring it on a piece of paper instead of on my phone because I don’t want to touch my phone while shopping. I throw out the list with the gloves at the end of the shopping trip.
Anel and I have a few joint lists on the Google Keep app. We have one for groceries, one for drugstore items, and one for our weekly to-do lists. It’s a free app and has been so helpful for us to keep joint notes. The key for groceries is to update the list as soon as we run out of something. Otherwise, it often gets forgotten. We both have a rule that if we finish something, we have to add it straight into Keep.
I divide our list into the categories below so that when I’m shopping I can cross things off section by section and don’t have to waste time in the store going back around because I missed something on the list.
I have most of the items below on my weekly list then add meats/veggies/other ingredients based on whatever recipes I want to try that particular week.
OUR SHOPPING LIST
At the start of all this, Anel had stocked up on pantry items like pasta, rice, beans, and other canned and boxed goods. That was before everything was selling out and at the time I thought he was overreacting. I’m of the mindset that we should not hoard anything… Especially if it’s often low in stock or out of stock. Consider others when shopping for yourself too.
Below are the products that I buy most often on my weekly trips to the store.
They’re not all included every week, but it gives you a good idea of our go-tos. I also added a few recipes after ingredients that I use in them for some meal ideas. In addition to this regular list, I’ve been buying a ton of cookies, and muffins and generally sugary/unhealthy things. And I’m totally good with that.
Baby carrots: Veggie-packed muffins
Bananas: Spinach blender muffins
Peppers: Amalia loves to eat raw peppers!
Scallions: Soba noodle salad
Radishes: Buffalo chicken bowls (and on every salad!)
Sweet potatoes: Chicken sausage skillet
Limes: Anel’s killer margaritas
Goat milk (for Amalia)
Sheep’s milk yogurt
Grated parmesan: Kale Caesar salad
1/2 and 1/2
Annie’s mac and cheese
Earl Grey tea
Banza chickpea pasta: Protein pasta
Rao’s marinara sauce
San Marzano’s diced tomatoes and crushed tomatoes
Tortillas: Chicken tortilla soup
Coconut water: Green smoothie
Simple Mills crackers
Popcorn (We love Boomchickapop or Skinny Pop)
Dr. Praeger’s Spinach Littles
Frozen blueberries (for smoothies)
Brown rice: Honey chicken teriyaki bowls
Quotes from readers
I read thousands of your responses and the main theme throughout was that getting groceries is a major stressor for most people. The answers definitely varied by location (I had one person from rural Colorado ask what the hype around shopping was all about) so I included locations with the quotes below.
Positive in-store experiences
“It feels not as ‘real’ here – I live in a really rural county with only a dozen cases so far…though most are still wearing masks to post office & stores. Things have not been crazy out of stock. Many in this area rely on stage EBT benefits which puts an interesting spin on this situation. I am a single, young woman who is in good health so I do not feel scared to venture to the grocery store in a smart manner.” – Rural Vermont
“I’m in my 40s and single. I’ve been shopping for myself & my mother (recent breast cancer, asthma, & over 70). I wasn’t able to get any delivery slots and feel bad taking one when there are so few available – so I go about every 10 days. I’ve found that going to the store around 11:00am is pretty good. It’s nuts right when they open and in the late afternoon. My local grocery hasn’t had a single paper product in over 5 weeks. I wear a mask. I have hand sanitizer for the second I get back in the car. Wash hands and all counters after unloading. But I’m not spraying down all food. The grocers are wearing gloves when stocking shelves.” – The suburbs in Georgia
“My family actually owns a grocery store on a small island off the coast of Portland, ME. We’ve worked extremely hard to keep it stocked, and while there have been days where choices have been limited, for the most part, we’ve been able to get everything we need from our suppliers. We’ve asked our community to consolidate/limit their trips to the store to limit exposure, and people have been really respectful of that and only loading up on groceries once a week/every other week. Our staff is extremely diligent about washing their hands and wearing gloves and masks. We also installed plexiglass screens at the registers to limit exposure for our staff. It’s been a crazy time, but seeing the community come together has honestly been amazing and heartwarming!” -Rural Maine
“We’ve done it both ways with delivery and going into the store. I must say Trader Joe’s in our city has gone above and beyond. They greet every shopper outside with hand sanitizer and all carts are cleaned before you grab one. They also only let 40 shoppers in the store at a time. I went today and there was no line, but there have been other times when the line is 30-40 people long. Regardless, I now try to get most items here, which for us (just two of us) has been pretty easy. We’re very thankful!” – The suburbs of Alabama
Negative in-store experiences
“Hands down the hardest and most stressful thing so far has been getting baby formula. I have a 4-month-old at home and he eats a pretty generic formula that has been sold out everywhere! So stressful! I’m also an RN and all my best friends are as well, so this whole situation is deeply personal for me. Seeing people not take this seriously in the store or on Instagram is so upsetting.” – Rural New York
“It’s been scary. Our Stop & Shop is always PACKED. But what are we supposed to do, you know? It’s impossible to not be near people. I come home and need to decompress.” – The suburbs in Massachusetts
I work 3 jobs so I was using grocery delivery services fairly often before this to save time. My local store was fairly reliable even thought their online shopping wasn’t as streamlined. It was common when using big-box grocery stores that I would have some replacement items. Now I can’t get a spot and have to try multiple days in a row, and my local delivery takes up to 2 days and you have no idea when it’s coming and nowhere is messaging you asking if you want replacements you either get a substitution or not. My husband and I are not immunocompromised so I feel a little guilty using delivery but we also don’t have any masks or gloves (as the daughter of a nurse I felt like it was more important to leave medical supplies for those who need them) so going out in public is a little scary. It doesn’t help that we live in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn with a smaller fridge. We upped our hello fresh meal prep deliveries from every other week to every week and some weeks I’ll get 4 dinners instead of 3 or order some of the add ons (extra meat, side salads, pasta) to stretch our meals without needing to food shop.” – New York City
“No one follows directional arrows in stores. Some unaware of what “social distancing” truly means. Some people in masks and gloves, or just masks, or just gloves.” – Suburbs of Connecticut
“People being rude, running ahead of you in line. Take 4+ of the same item when you know others need it (toilet paper) and people misusing gloves. Wearing gloves touching doors and then touching their phones or faces.” – Suburbs of Virginia
“There are no grocery delivery services here. If you can afford it, a small local farmers market has been doing curbside pickup, but it’s very expensive. Otherwise, you have to go into the one grocery store that serves the entire area. The employees there were not wearing gloves or masks the last time I was there, although that was before the new mask recommendations from the CDC. It really shows how COVID-19 disproportionately affects low-income Americans. If you can’t afford the curbside pick up option, you’re forced to put you and your family at risk by shopping other ways.” Rural Vermont
“Horrible. We luckily had TP & paper towels pre-COVID that have lasted us, but now we’re about to run out & there’s none to be found. Anywhere. Every time I go to the store, they’re out of most of the essentials. Also, for some reason, people don’t understand the 6-foot rule and think it’s okay to get in my bubble… It’s been traumatic on many levels, to the point where my fiancé won’t allow me to go to the store anymore.” – A city in Georgia
“I saw one yelling match break out between an amazon fresh worker and a lady with an overflowing cart with multiples of things you’re only allowed one or 2 of. The worker was trying to be helpful telling her the cashier would tell her to put stuff back and the lady started screaming her. Even though things look calm on the surface, you can tell people are on edge.” – A city in Maryland
Success with delivery:
“I’ve used Shipt through Target and Whole Foods, all shoppers wore gloves and most have worn masks. All kept their distance, text if they needed to replace any items and I’ve had a fantastic experience!” – Washington DC
“We do grocery pickup anyway (3 kids, don’t have time for going in!) we’ve been able to get most our normal food, but toilet paper, tissues, anything Lysol is hard to find. Also, we have to schedule a pickup time three days out now.” – Rural Wyoming
“I have never used delivery, I prefer to be able to touch, select, control my shopping. But two weeks ago when things started ramping up with stay-at-home orders etc, I decided to try Whole Foods and Shipt for local markets, Target and Petco. Every order (1x/week) has been a very good experience. Most products are in stock (except tp) and if not, there are substitutes. The Shipt shopper texts you right away when they are in the store, send pics of substitutes, etc. Lots of interaction with the shopper. Whole Foods had been great for fresh produce. Now, I cannot find a WF delivery slot at all. Shipt I still have luck with. But you have to try at I find late night times to look for delivery slots. I highly recommend Shipt!” – Suburbs of Massachusetts
“Whole Foods delivery has been best- I sign on early (like 5-6am) and snag a slot for that day. I load everything in my cart days before so I’m ready. Instacart has been okay. It actually worked well for Costco. Slots for Instacart are harder to get for the local grocer. I’m immunosuppressed and my husband is a doctor so I can’t get to the store with my 3 young kids. Delivery has been life-saving!” – Suburbs of Ohio
Negative experience with delivery:
“I am 100% paranoid about going to the store so we’ve mostly been doing Instacart and Shipt, but my husband wants to go back to grocery shopping himself (with all due precautions) because of exactly the reasons other people submitted in your stories: we have to really plan ahead to get a time well in advance of when we actually need the grocery refresh, and then also they ALWAYS say that things aren’t there but on the handful of occasions we’ve gone in person, the store has been fully stocked.” – Suburbs in Missouri
“Grocery shopping is incredibly stressful during this time. I wear gloves & mask but people are way too close, unfortunately. I’ve attempted Instacart and Walmart pickup but even if I can get a delivery time over half my order is canceled. As such I’m trying to stretch my grocery store trips to two weeks to avoid it as much as possible.” – Suburbs of Minnesota
“Delivery times are so sporadic and often do not get what we order. No milk, eggs, cheese, bread etc. Always subbed and wait times are a week or two in advance” – A city in Texas
From high-risk readers:
“I am immunocompromised and it means so much when I hear people say that they are shopping in person to allow people who cannot to get deliveries. Shopping at a grocery store terrifies me right now, and I am so thankful for those who are working there to keep items stocked and delivery persons who bring my groceries to me.” – A City in Texas
“My S/O’s mom is immunocompromised so we’ve been trying to go 3-4 weeks between trips. We’ve got a freezer in the garage full of meat and we’ve been trying to get fresh and canned veggies and rice for sides. All our bread lives in the fridge now to make it last longer and we’ve got shelf-stable milk for backup” – The suburbs of Maryland
“I’m 7 months pregnant so as things were starting to ramp up my husband and I made the decision that we would limit our exposure everywhere possible given the unknowns with how this impacts mama and baby. As a result, it’s been 6 weeks since I’ve set foot in a grocery store; living in the city I used to go multiple times a week on my way home from work. We’ve had amazing luck with Prime Now and while it does take patience and persistence to get a delivery time being up all night has its perks with finding newly released slots. The people shopping and delivering have been amazing and we’ve been making sure to tip well. When the groceries arrive my husband cleans everything with Clorox wipes and puts it all away.” – A city in Massachusetts
“I am 38-weeks pregnant and my husband and I have had to completely isolate ourselves to avoid any risk of getting COVID because so much is unknown for pregnant women getting it (doctors orders). We have only had a few successful grocery deliveries and those were two weeks ago using Prime Now and Instacart. Since then we haven’t been able to get a delivery time slot and have had to take anyone who offers up on getting us stuff. It’s hard because sometimes we just need a bag of lettuce and eggs…and then there are days we have a huge list of things needed but feel bad asking for it all because they’re going to the store for their own families as well. We’re not struggling to eat by any means but just feel a little helpless having to rely so much on others. Added on to the fact that having a newborn in this time is terrifying, we will be all alone during a time when everyone says accept help. We physically can’t!” – Suburbs of Massachusetts
“I am currently undergoing chemo, my husband and I have decided not to physically go into any stores at all, or ordering any prepared foods from restaurants for my health and safety. I live on Long Island and have not been able to get a delivery slot for a month. I have been utilizing local grocery store contactless curbside, and still only receiving half the items on my list 5-7 days out. I have also been going to multiple Dairy Barn locations to find bare minimum essentials like eggs, bread and milk, etc.” – Suburbs of New York
“I’ve found it impossible to get groceries delivered so even though I’m immunocompromised I’ve had to brave the grocery stores. I think the main issue is that people are hoarding certain items so there are certain items that you just can’t get or the stores are limiting when they are in stock” – Suburbs of New Jersey
Some words of wisdom
“My husband is a healthcare worker who worked in the ICU but has had to quit because I’m pregnant and can’t be exposed (very early – fingers crossed all goes well; it’s our first. He’s currently quarantined in our garage apartment). At the same time, I’ve been putting in 50+ hour weeks in my health policy job (teleworking, but it’s been insane). We’ve been extremely diligent in wiping things down and trying to eat healthy while not judging ourselves too harshly. If this helps anybody: know that we’re all in a weird time, and if you’re effing everything up, you’re also making it through, and you deserve to be as gentle with yourself as you can. A peanut butter sandwich is an acceptable meal. Just know every day is a day closer to the resolution of this.”
“If you forget gloves, you can use a produce bag as a cart handle just throw it out after.”
“Just a reminder to everyone to make sure your tip is appropriate! I never really used delivery before and learned on Instacart that the tip amount is based on initial order but you can add groceries up until that day so your tip should reflect your final total. If you don’t change your tip in time, just give cash! We put cash in an envelope with a thank you note.”
“If you can go in – please do! Save those pick up spots for those who are at high risk. I understand everyone wants to stay safe and healthy.”
“Some local bakeries have started carrying base supplies that their suppliers sell them to resell. The suppliers have a surplus because they also sell to restaurants and schools.”
“The key is to meal plan intelligently! I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve seen piling stuff in their carts because they think it saves well without knowing how or what to cook with it (literally one woman said “I don’t know what I’ll do with this but at least I’ll have it”). Know how to freeze kale pesto and other sauces to pair with homemade pasta, learn to cook dried beans correctly, plan so you use all the produce efficiently and can space out your produce over a long stretch. That way you’re conservative with how much you buy and there’s enough to go around for others who need it. Americans are so individualistic and it shows. BUT I have seen both the best and worst of us through this. I know the best will win out in the end.”
“I work in healthcare and gloves are literally for 1x use. All you need to do is sanitize your hands before you shop and don’t touch your face while shopping. Then sanitize again when you get to your car.”
“I know this is stressful for everyone but remember to be nice to store staff. They’re showing up every day for you!”