No doubt, meal planning and keeping your food safe while social distancing can be a challenge. However, with a well thought out plan, you can:
limit the number of trips to the grocery store
reduce the amount of time spent in the store
maximize your dollars
continue to offer your family healthy meals and snacks
keep your family safe
Before You Shop
Take a look at the foods you already have in your refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards. Make sure to look at expiration dates and best by dates. Identify foods that need to be used before they go bad and those you have a lot of.
Below is an example of what this plan might look like.
Write a clear list to help get in and out of the store as quickly as possible. It’s been proven to be faster to take a list written on paper. With paper, you can push your cart while single-handedly checking your list. No tapping or scrolling required! If you know your store, write your list aisle by aisle. If you are not sure which aisle has the items you need, write your list by category. For example, Dairy, Cereal, Meat, and Canned Goods.
Some things to keep in mind as you plan your list:1
1. Because stores may not have specific items, make your list general “fruit” or “bread” vs. specific types or brands. Also, think about possible alternative options. For example, if there are no canned black beans, look for dried. If the veggie you want is not available fresh, see if you can get it frozen or canned.
2. Include fresh, frozen, and non-perishable items. Plan for a mix of fresh, frozen, and shelf-stable foods. Eat your fresh food first. Stock your freezer and pantry with items you can eat in the second week and beyond.
3. Choose a mix of shelf-stable, frozen, and fresh foods. Examples of shelf-stable foods include pasta, rice, legumes (beans, lentils, and nuts), nut butters, and dried and canned goods. Frozen options to think about might be breads, meats, vegetables, fruits, and even milk. Remember to include the special needs of all family members, including pets, infants, or those with dietary restrictions.
The biggest grocery-related risk is contact with others and with high-touch areas like shopping carts and basket handles.
Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others, including when you have to go out in public, for example to the grocery store.
Keep at least 6 feet between yourself and others, even when you wear a face covering.
If you are at higher risk for severe illness, find out if the store has special hours for people at higher risk. If they do, try to shop during those hours. People at higher risk for severe illness include adults 65 or older and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions.
Disinfect the shopping cart, use disinfecting wipes if available.
Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
If possible, use touchless payment (pay without touching money, a card, or a keypad). If you must handle money, a card, or use a keypad, use hand sanitizer right after paying.
If you can, do not shop with your children. If this is not possible, help your children remember to keep their distance from other shoppers. Ask your children to try not to touch items in the store or their faces.
After leaving the store, use hand sanitizer.
Once You Are Home3
Once you arrive home, wash your hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds.
When it comes to worries about getting COVID-19 from your food and food packaging, the news is good: It is a low risk. In a recent statement from the FDA, it was reported that “There is no evidence of human or animal food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.’’ It was also noted that “it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. However, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.” With this in mind, remember the following safety tips:4
Check produce before you buy it. Purchase fruits and vegetables that are not bruised, damaged, or rotten. Only buy fresh-cut fruits and vegetables if they have been refrigerated.
Wash all surfaces, utensils, and hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds or more before and after handling ingredients. Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten.
Always separate fresh fruits and vegetables from raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Use one cutting board for fruits and vegetables and a second cutting board for meats, poultry, and fish to prevent cross-contamination.
Cook or throw away fruits or vegetables that have touched raw meat, poultry, seafood, or their juices.
Refrigerate all cut, peeled, or cooked fresh fruits and vegetables within two hours.
Throw away fresh fruits and vegetables that have not been refrigerated within two hours of cutting, peeling, or cooking. Throw away fresh fruits and vegetables that will not be cooked if it has touched raw meat, poultry, or seafood.
Wash your hands and all surfaces.
Always wash your hands before preparing your meals and snacks and before eating.
what about grocery bags?
Did your groceries come home in non-reusable bags? If so, throw the bags away outside in your outdoor trash can. If they are recyclable, place them in an outside recycling container.
Do you use reusable grocery bags?2 These are considered high-touch items. They should always be cleaned regularly (at least once a week) to make sure they remain free of bacteria that cause food-borne illness. Nylon and cotton grocery totes can be machine-washed in cold water and air-dried. If your bags cannot be machine washed, wipe them clean with an antibacterial wipe or all-purpose spray and a paper towel. Use the EPA’s list of Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 (link opens in new tab) to know if your cleaner meets the EPA’s criteria for use against the coronavirus.
Additional Food Planning Resources
Check to see if your state offers our Maximizing Food Dollars and Making a Meal Plan lessons. You may also find the Meatless Meals and Using Substitutions in Healthy Meals lessons of interest at this time too! Note: All links below will open in a new tab.
Tips for Every Aisle Use these tips to fill your cart with budget-friendly and healthy options from each food group.
Sample 2-Week Menus These sample 2-week menus can be used by any person or family wanting to follow a healthy diet at a modest price.
1. Start Simple with MyPlate: Food Planning During the Coronavirus Pandemic. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2020, from https://www.choosemyplate.gov/coronavirus
2. Running Essential Errands. (2020, April 10). Retrieved April 16, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/essential-goods-services.html
3. Commissioner, O. of the. (n.d.). FDA Offers Assurance About Food Safety and Supply During COVID-19. Retrieved March 30, 2020, from https://www.fda.gov/news-events/fda-voices-perspectives-fda-leadership-and-experts/fda-offers-assurance-about-food-safety-and-supply-people-and-animals-during-covid-19 4. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (n.d.). Selecting and Serving Produce Safely. Retrieved March 30, 2020, from https://www.fda.gov/food/buy-store-serve-safe-food/selecting-and-serving-produce-safely