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Food Tips: How and What to Buy During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — March 27, 2020 — 4 min read
While you might not be clearing the shelves at Harris Teeter or your local dollar store, it’s important to be prepared for a “stay-at-home” order (meaning, state and county officials may order you to stay at home unless you’re meeting essential needs or going to an “essential” job). 

Here are reasons you may have to stay at home:
  • A county/statewide “shelter-at-home” order
  • You or a roommate/family member gets COVID-19
  • You come into contact with someone who is known to have COVID-19
  • You have traveled to an area with COVID-19 community spread
  • You have a pre-existing condition that makes you more vulnerable to the virus
  • You are 65 or older

The Dos and Don’ts of Grocery Shopping for Lockdown

Not everyone can or should be buying all the food off the shelves. It’s important to remember your community and take only what you need.

  • Do buy enough for your family
  • Do try to limit your trips (buy everything in one trip if you can)
  • Do buy substitutes of items if your first choice isn’t available
  • Do follow posted grocery store limits (example: “Please limit yourself to two similar items”)
  • Do treat grocery store workers and other shoppers with respect
  • Do maintain social distancing (six feet or more) from others
  • Do wear gloves if possible
  • Do cover your coughs/sneezes with the inside of your elbow
  • Do get in and out as quickly as possible
  • Don’t hoard any one product (e.g., toilet paper, paper towels, disinfectant, meat, rice, etc.)
  • Don’t act aggressively toward anyone
  • Don’t invade other people’s space—six feet = social distancing, remember?
  • Don’t touch items you aren’t buying
  • Don’t touch your face with unwashed hands

Use Grocery Delivery Services If in Quarantine

Instacart is one way you can get groceries delivered to your home if you’re in quarantine. Remember to sanitize your groceries after receiving them (and tip your delivery person if you can). Follow the tips below when you’re choosing what groceries to buy.

Keep It Simple During COVID-19: Focus on the Three Main Nutrients

Most of the listed items aren’t too expensive; look for sales and discounts when possible.

Super Simple Grocery List

If you are trying to save money and time, you can live off these foods:
  • Dry rice/pasta/beans (five pounds of dry rice and beans, 10 boxes of pasta)
  • Pre-made pasta sauce
  • Canned vegetables (buy big cans)
  • Canned meats/fish (eat meat sparingly—once a day or less)

Comprehensive Grocery List

Even if you have the means to buy more variety, stick with the basics. Focus on buying the three main nutrient groups (macronutrients): proteins, carbs, and fats.


You may be going vegetarian for a while. Like we said above, you might be eating a little differently than normal. Be open to trying new things—it’s an adventure! Some of these items will double as fat/carb sources.  

Definitely Buy:
Dry beans/canned beans (shelf life = 1-4 years)
SPAM/meats canned in salt (shelf life = 1-4 years)
Canned tuna/fish (shelf life = 1-4 years)
Eggs (shelf life = 5 weeks)

Maybe Buy:
Bacon (shelf life = 1-2 weeks)
Deli meat (shelf life = 8 months unopened in the freezer)
Uncooked meats/seafood (shelf life = No more than 1 week)
Frozen meats/seafood (shelf life = 4 months in freezer)


Beans serve as a great source of carbohydrates, protein, and fiber! They are number one on our shopping list—if all else fails, buy beans.

Definitely buy:
Dry beans/canned beans (shelf life = 1-4 years)
Bread (shelf life = 3-6 months in freezer)
Dry rice (shelf life = 6+ months in fridge)
Dry pasta (shelf life = 1-2 years)
Canned vegetables/fruit (shelf life = 1-4 years)
Pasta sauce (shelf life = 1-2 years)
Potatoes (shelf life = 2-4 months in fridge)
Cabbage (shelf life = 2-3 months in fridge)
Onions (shelf life = 2-3 months in fridge)
Garlic (shelf life = 6+ months in fridge)
Flour (shelf life = 1 year)
Sugar (shelf life = 2 year)
Honey (not raw/unprocessed) (shelf life = 1+ year)
Baking powder/baking soda (shelf life = 6 months to 1 year)

Maybe buy:
Apples and oranges/citruses (shelf life = 1-2 months in the fridge)
Fresh vegetables (shelf life = 1-2 months in the fridge)
Chips/Cookies/Crackers (shelf life = 3-4 months unopened)
Activated dry yeast (to make bread) (shelf life = 3-4 months)


Definitely buy:
Olive oil/canola oil (shelf life = 2 years)
Unrefrigerated plant-based milk (shelf life = 1 month unopened)
Condensed milk (shelf life = 1 year unopened)
Hard cheeses (cheddar, parmesan) (shelf life = 6 weeks)
Broth (shelf life = 1-4 years)
Dry gravy packets (shelf life = 2 years)

Resources for Buying/Storing/Cooking Food During COVID-19

Here are some great resources with detailed information about cooking and storing a food supply while bunkering down at home:  
Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Stay updated and prepared with information and resources about COVID-19.

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