What to Buy When Your Staples Are Out of Stock

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The grocery store is one place where all the strangeness of our COVID-19 pandemic society is on clear display. The toilet paper aisle might not look as much like a desert as it did just a few weeks ago, but you may still need to look for grocery substitutions if you encounter empty shelves where your pantry staples normally live.

Don’t worry, we’re not running out of food — the grocery store supply line in the U.S. is still strong. If you see empty shelves, it’s because the stocking team at your store is still trying to catch up with all the extra groceries Americans are buying now. Don’t be alarmed if the item you’re looking for isn’t available. There’s almost always an alternative!

We put together some grocery substitutions in case your kitchen staples are sparse. You might just find a new favorite! Continue reading for some pandemic shopping tips.

Grocery Store Substitutions

Download and print the list here to have on hand during your grocery run.

Shopping during a pandemic can seem stressful and anxiety-inducing, but you can make it less so for both yourself and other shoppers. Here’s how:

Practice good hygiene

You’ve probably heard it before, but it bears repeating: proper hygiene is essential. Wash your hands frequently, including before and after making a grocery store run. Maintain at least six feet of distance from people in the store — pretend there are two shopping carts between you and the next person. Don’t touch products you aren’t going to buy. If you must cough or sneeze, do so into a tissue or elbow, and wear a face mask if you have one.

RELATED: How to properly wash produce

Resist the urge to panic-buy

Panic-buying prevents others from getting the food they need and if that extra food isn’t used, it only contributes to food waste. Grocery store supply lines haven’t failed. Only buy what you need!

Plan out your meals

You can streamline your grocery runs and eliminate extra trips to the store by planning out your meals. This way, you’ll know exactly what to look for and which meals might require substitute ingredients. If you want to make sure the things on your list are in stock before you head out, check out stock livestreams like The Supply Finder or Now in Stock. These services show you what’s in and out of stock at stores like Walmart and Target.

Shop in cultural food sections

By shopping in the Hispanic, Asian, or Kosher sections, you’re not only broadening your culinary horizons, but you find products that aren’t in stock in other parts of the store. Culture-specific food sections might not be as picked-over as normal aisles, simply because less shoppers are aware of what kinds of products are in them.

RELATED: Online resources for ordering fresh produce

Keep baking substitutions in mind

If a baking ingredient on your list is out of stock, consider looking for emergency baking substitutions. Normally, these are a great fall-back for ingredients you realize you’re missing when you’re halfway through baking the cake, but now they make good alternatives while you’re shopping.

Shop other places

If you want to avoid the grocery store altogether, there are some alternatives. While some of them may have closed to prevent the spread of the virus, check into local farmers markets in your area. You can also check into your local community-supported agriculture organization. CSAs are a great resource in normal circumstances, but now they can be a great source of produce straight from local farmers. Or consider using a grocery delivery service; we put together a list of our favorites.

Remember, we’re going to get through this. Life will return to normal. But if COVID-19 is going to force us to look for grocery substitutions, why not take the opportunity to expand how we shop and eat for the better?

Do you have a grocery store substitution to share? Let us know in the comments. 

Grocery Substitutions Pinterest Card

About Kristin

Kristin Ahaus is the Director of Content and Communications for The Produce Moms. Her focus and passion is helping all of TPM's brand partners share their stories while also helping consumers understand how to select, serve and store fresh produce. Connect with Kristin on LinkedIN.

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