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COVID-19 Shopping Tips: What To Buy And What To Avoid During The Coronavirus Pandemic

We've covered the nuts and bolts of safely shopping during the coronavirus pandemic, but when it comes to what exactly you should buy—and what to do about grocery store shortages—here are more coronavirus shopping tips, including the best food to buy, what to avoid, and why you (still) shouldn't panic.

Buying groceries can be an ordeal and that particularly holds true nowadays. Simply venturing outside is stressful enough, plus confronting crowds and empty shelves only compounds that. The online shopping experience is just as maddening with notices of "delivery currently unavailable" and "out of stock" becoming all too common. Scarcity then leads to buying too much and that's never a good thing (for you or for your community).

We've enlisted a pair of nutrition and public health experts to help guide you through these complicated times. Here are some key factors to consider before compiling your next grocery list.

Related Reading: Where to Donate to Help Others During the COVID-19 Crisis

Practice A Little Patience

Inventory may be sparse right now and though there's plenty of internet chatter about food shortages, that is not the case. While other businesses are wisely hitting the pause button for the foreseeable future, food industry employees up and down the supply chain are working their tails off to keep us all fed.

According to Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at RR-UCLA Medical Center, "We've been assured that there is enough food for everyone in the stores to buy. They just need to have some time to actually restock the shelves." If your essentials are currently unavailable, that can all change in a day or two. In the meanwhile, see what you can do to support local restaurants if you're able.

Best Buys

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If you don't want to deal with the aggravation of buying groceries on the regular during this trying time there are plenty of items to choose from that will last you weeks or longer.

"We personally stocked up on non-perishables that are also highly nutritious including dried beans, canned beans, unsalted canned vegetables, whole-grain pasta, whole-grain bread you can freeze or refrigerate to extend its life, cereals, soy milks, almond milks, peanut butter (or alternative) and jelly," advises Hunnes.

When it comes to fresh produce, Hunnes suggests going with fruits and vegetables that will last a while such as apples, oranges, carrots, celery, onions, and garlic.

Step Into the Freezer

While frozen produce will suffer from some textural degradation, its nutritional value remains intact according to Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, Emerita at NYU Steinhardt.

Commercially packaged products are built to last a few months in the icebox, so they'll still be useful when we wake up from this nightmare.

With meats, if you have a vacuum sealer, now's the time to bust it out.

"If there's no room in the freezer, canned stuff is okay," says Nestle. "I tend to prefer the ones that have the fewest numbers of ingredients."

Related Reading: 10 Pantry Staples You Can Freeze (Including Milk and Eggs)

Avoid Temptation

The combustible combination of boredom and isolation is certainly cause for stress eating. Compound that with a decrease in exercise from staying indoors and you have a recipe for trouble. "I think the issue of snacks is huge," warns Nestle. "What do you do when you're bored? You eat."

Hunnes agrees. She advises to resist temptation and steer clear of packaged foods with high salt and sugar content that lack fiber or water. "I would avoid overly processed foods," she adds. "Many of us are stuck at home which makes it harder to burn some of the extra calories we might be consuming which could be detrimental to our health."

Take Stock And Think Ahead

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Also concerning is the potential of overbuying and food going bad. Not only are you throwing money away, you're wasting the time and public health risk you spent to procure it and the efforts of those who labored to provide it to you.

Though Hunnes suggests increasing your normal grocery haul, she cautions against going overboard. "Think about how much you normally buy for a week and double the quantity, especially of the non-perishables," she says.

Anticipating what you plan to cook for the week or two ahead will also be to your advantage. "You can better figure out how much of each item you might need to try and avoid waste and also to ensure you buy enough," Hunnes advises.  "Remember, you can always freeze what you don't eat or want to eat and use it another week."

Hunnes also acknowledges that different people have different needs. "It's easy for me to say buy 15 onions, but if you're not someone who cooks with onions, it's silly to buy onions."

Take The Plant-Based Plunge

"​This is actually a wonderful time to dabble in plant-based eating if you've always wondered about it," says Hunnes. "I always recommend eating beans, nuts, seeds, and other legumes such as lentils."

If the meat aisle is barren, soy is a suitable protein substitute. Going with non-dairy alternatives such as almond, oat, or pea milk, you'll have the luxury of not having to consume it immediately.

Related Reading: 5 Rules for the Best Tofu Ever, According to Vegetarian Chefs

Focus On The Positives

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So you're stuck at home, the natives are restless, and you're staring at a mountain of fresh food. What now? Consider it a crisitunity.

"For people who cook or who would like to learn how to cook, this is a great time," recommends Nestle. Your expertise will continue to pay dividends.

"The research shows that food at home is healthier than food that's eaten out. The quantities are better controlled. The quality is better controlled."

Related Reading: 8 Great Online Cooking Classes to Keep You Full and Fulfilled

When it comes to preparing meals, Nestle suggests getting the whole family involved.

"Teach kids to cook! Now's the time!" suggests Nestle. "The object of the game, I would think, would be to get the kids to cook well enough so that they make the meals."

In this very dark cloud, there's at least one silver lining.

Article courtesy of CBS sister site David is a food and culture writer based in Los Angeles by way of New York City. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, CBS Local, Mashable, and Gawker.
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