Quarantine plus a family of four eating three meals plus snacks every single day adds up to a lot of groceries. I’m sharing some of my coronavirus grocery shopping tips in the hopes that one of you will find it helpful. I’m not a health expert and none of this is intended as health and safety gospel. Like most everyone else out there I’ve encountered shortages when shopping for essentials for my family over the last month but I’ve managed to keep us fairly well-stocked while keeping trips to a minimum.
I’m sharing my personal practices and grocery shopping tips. I’m also following the advice of government and health officials at every level. This is different than my normal shopping routine…writing an article about grocery shopping routines period is off script for me but these are strange times. I appreciate you reading and I would love to hear from you about what you are doing.
My normal grocery shopping routine
I live in a small town just outside of San Antonio, Texas. Before COVID-19 became a household name, I bought most of my groceries through Shipt. I’d supplement that with a few things we buy in bulk at Costco (we average a trip to Costco about every six weeks) and just running up to the grocery store nearest our house if we needed to do a quick grab, i.e. out of milk or missing an ingredient for a recipe I was in-process of making.
In ordinary times, I love Shipt. Using Shipt used to be one of my best grocery shopping tips. Shipt gives me some time back, it’s fast – I could normally get my order in as little as a couple of hours – and I like the real-time communication with the Shipt shopper. They’ll text you with things like “I know you want bananas but they really don’t look good today…here’s a picture. Do you still want them?” or “They’re out of Starkist. Is store brand OK?”
Read more about why I really (really really) love Shipt
My first post-COVID-19 Shipt order wasn’t great. It took longer than usual and half of my items were not available. Obviously, I know it isn’t my Shipt shopper’s fault but having to wait five days to be told the store was out of milk presented a problem.
My grocery shopping routine now
I buy most of my groceries at Costco. My local Costco has been consistently well-stocked and allows me to get what I need in one stop. I am spending more money on groceries but I’m also shopping differently. I have more time to cook and I’m buying more food in less processed form, i.e. whole blocks of cheese versus shredded, ingredients to bake bread and versus buying bread, and so on.
I’ve also curated some other sources to get food, such as buying meat, vegetables and eggs from farms and local butchers. Some of our local restaurants are also selling essential packs to keep their supply moving. We bought meat, produce, eggs, rice, and beans from a Mexican restaurant last week. I’m trying to balance keeping my trips to a minimum with supporting the economy of our small community.
Grocery Shopping Tips in the time of COVID-19 – What I’m doing differently and why
I hope you find these grocery shopping tips helpful and I’d love to hear from you on what works for you.
I go early
Grocery stores restock their shelves over night so the first shoppers in the store are going to get the most choices. The early bird gets the toilet paper and hand sanitizer – now that’s a sentence I didn’t expect to ever type.
I go when the store is the least crowded
Sunday mornings and late afternoons tend to be the least crowded times in my area. You can also ask store employees when the store is least busy. I get that going later in the day can reduce your odds of getting in-demand items but less crowded stores mean less human contact. For me, it all depends on what I’m buying. If I’m looking for in-demand items – right now that’s paper products and cleaning supplies – I know I’m probably not going to get them at 4:00 p.m. but I know my odds of getting produce and other fresh items are OK later in the day. Your mileage will vary based on location and shopper behavior in your specific area.
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I don’t go as often
I am going to the grocery store about once every 10-12 days. We could get by with less often if we didn’t use as much milk and eggs as we use. We have two elementary school kids who now eat three meals a day at home and milk and eggs are things we normally use a lot of. Plus, with me doing more cooking, those essential ingredients are not lasting as long. I can easily store four dozen eggs and four gallons of milk at a time but not much more than that.
I plan all of my shopping around these essentials. I really wanted a Cosmo this weekend – because I saw a video and we had everything on hand except for cranberry juice – and it is hard to get away from that “I’ll just make a real quick run to Walmart for juice” mentality because that’s what is normal. But, we’d just stocked up two days before the Internet told me I wanted a Cosmo, so I’ll grab the cranberry juice next time.
I take my own hand sanitizer and wipes
Remember when you’d squirt some hand sanitizing foam on your hands and give your cart handle a cursory swipe when entering the store? Or not. We can no longer count on those products being available and yes, it matters way more than it used to.
I wipe down all the parts of the cart I’m likely to touch. At a minimum, I wipe down the handle, the entire seat area and the entire outer rim of the basket.
Grocery shopping tips – Don’t grab the cart from the cart corral outside
Yes, you probably walk right by these carts on your way in to the store but get a cart that’s already been lined back up by the door. If it has been retrieved from the parking lot by a store employee, odds are it has been sanitized. I still do it myself just in case but it makes me feel better to think I’m getting an extra clean cart. Someone just had their hands and their stuff all up in those carts in the parking lot corrals so skip those.
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I take my own trash bag
Take a small plastic bag to dispose of your wipes and used gloves, if you’re wearing gloves. I’ve seen more people in the grocery store wiping stuff down and wearing gloves. I’ve also seen more wipes and gloves in carts and in the parking lot. Gross. Don’t be that guy.
I reduce the amount of stuff I take inside the store
I don’t take my purse in the store. I take my payment form and anything else I’m going to need, like my Costco membership card or ID, and put it in my pocket. And yes, I make sure I have something with a pocket before I leave my house. I detach my car remote from the rest of my keys and I leave everything else I might have in the car. I leave my purse in the car and make sure I leave it out of sight – usually under a sweater in the back – and I double-check to make sure my door is locked.
Try to shop without your phone, if you can. Your phone is such a germ hub. You have it against your face. It’s hit multiple surfaces in your home. You play phone games while you’re sitting on the toilet. Come on. We all do it. No shame, no judgement, just realize it for the germ hub it is. Do you really need to bring it in the store?
One of the most important (and safest) grocery shopping tips: Shop alone
If you’ve read this far, you know I’m a mostly online grocery shopper, in normal times. However, we’re used to making milk runs or ingredient runs a few times a week and I will sometimes use this as a time to have one-on-one time with my kids. Not anymore.
My husband is working full time from home so there’s no reason for me to take my kids to the store. I do try to schedule my shopping during times where I know my husband isn’t on important calls. That’s a juggling act when you factor in number two and number three.
I read the posted signs
Most stores have lists of what they’re out of posted at the entrance. If all or most of what you’ve come to the store for is on the list, consider not going in.
Having to make more than one stop used to be a minor annoyance but multiple stops and coming in contact with more humans means something different now.
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I reduce the amount of stuff I touch in the store
I used to think nothing of picking up a package of whatever and looking at it before I buy it. I’d look at ingredients and if I decided it wasn’t a good choice, I’d think nothing of putting it back and leaving it for someone else. I’d also not hesitate to put something down and pick up a “better” package if what I’d picked up was dented or bent or looked like it was coming open.
I don’t have the “I must buy if I touch” mindset but I’m a lot more prudent about what my hands come in contact with. I try to make sure the packaging isn’t dented or bent if I pick it up.
The way I navigate the store has changed
Have a list…and I know that is the most basic of grocery shopping tips but its more important now than ever. Having a list means you know what you came to the store for and it cuts down on wandering the aisles, hoping something will catch your eye. I’m notorious for going to the store without a list. The worst case scenario used to be spending too much money and not getting what I actually needed.
I’m not saying don’t grab a good buy or something that just plain looks good and tasty but having a list of what you came to the store for will minimize your time spent in the store. I usually use our echo dot to make my grocery list through Alexa so I can see it on my phone but for now, I use a paper list so I can leave my phone in the car…or leave it at home.
I don’t use cash and I try to use the self checkout
To be honest, I don’t use cash anyway because hello? 2020. Who carries cash?
When I can, I use self checkout. Some stores impose limits on who can use the self checkout. Your store may have pivoted during the time of COVID-19. Using self checkout reduces human interaction.
I’ve seen Walmart and Costco employees regularly sanitizing self checkout areas. If it makes you more comfortable, you can sanitize surfaces yourself.
I do take one credit card in the store (versus my whole purse or wallet) and I wipe it down before I bring it back into my home.
I’ve stopped using reusable bags
Full disclosure: I am crappy about using my reusable bags. I have so many of them but I always forget them when I go shopping.
For right now, I consciously don’t take them because I don’t want to deal with washing/sanitizing them after I get home. I throw away the plastic bags from the store. I usually recycle them and use them as bathroom trash bags but I’m not doing that right now.
If you want to use reusable bags, look for the kind that can be machine washed. Otherwise, I’d suggest disinfecting the bags once you’re home. For us, it’s just easier to use (and dispose of) the plastic bags, for now.
What I do with my food once I get it home
I wipe down surfaces, boxes, bags, plastic containers, etc., and I rinse all fresh, un-bagged produce, without soap. I do not quarantine any of my groceries in the garage, as I’ve seen some others do.
Grocery shopping tips – other things I don’t do
I don’t wear gloves or a mask*. Mostly because we don’t have access to these things and the “wear a mask” suggestion put forth by the CDC came out after my most recent shopping trip.
*I have acquired a mask and I do plan to wear it for my next shopping trip.
Stay aware of senior shopping hours (and other changes in hours)
Some of our stores are offering special hours for seniors. Costco has gone to seniors only the first hour of the day twice a week. I love seeing this initiative because older adults are the people COVID-19 is really going to mess up.
If you have seniors in your life, make sure they’re aware of these hours and make sure you’re leaving the store to this group during the designated hours. Better yet, offer to get someone’s groceries and do a porch drop.
I constantly consider other options
My goal is to feed my family and to minimize my trips to the store while we social distance at home. If Shipt hires more people or if HEB curbside pickup or Walmart grocery pickup become more reliable options, I’ll pivot. I don’t like going to the grocery store in person and if we have a steadier option for home delivery or pickup, I’ll look at something else.
I’ll support local businesses as much as I can as long as I can use their services and keep my family safe. I’ve vowed to use these local services I’ve discovered out of necessity on a more regular basis once we’re not as concerned with social distancing.
And finally, don’t be a jerk
You’re going to see people in the store who aren’t observing social distancing rules. Yes, family of five in Walmart who was taking a group picture in front of the empty dairy case, I’m talking to you. Keep your distance, roll your eyes if you need to, and get your business done. Yes, those people are breaking the rules and yes, they likely know and do not care. Nothing you do or say – and that includes your post-shopping rant on Facebook – is going to change their behavior.
Don’t glare at the single mom with two kids. Yes, she knows she’s putting you and her family at risk by having them in the store. You probably haven’t considered what is is like to be in her shoes if you throw that shade, so please check yourself before you make her experience worse than it already is. Consider that COVID-19 might have impacted her child care situation, that her husband works in a hospital and is having to distance himself from his family or that she’s reliant on WIC or food stamps and can’t use grocery delivery or curbside. Why not smile at her instead?
Be extra nice to the people working in the stores who are constantly exposing themselves to everyone’s germs. They’re working hard and they probably deserve way more money than they’re getting. Don’t complain to them about lack of toilet paper – it isn’t their fault. Make an extra effort to say thank you.