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Friday, March 13, 2020

How I Determined What to Buy to Stock-Up for the Next Several Weeks

In mid-February, I began to see that the US might be hit hard with the coronavirus, too. I made my grocery list for the month of March and planned to buy as much as I could from that list by the end of February. As March neared, it began to look like we'd need as much as a 6 or 8-week supply. That's when I made the decision to use April's money as well as March's. So how does a person make a grocery list that covers 8 weeks?

This is how I approached it. I divided the foods that we eat into 6 categories: 1) fruits and vegetables, 2) meats and other proteins (includes eggs, nuts, and bean products), 3) grains and starches, 4) dairy products, 5) fats, and 6) extras. Then I inventoried everything that we had within those categories, guestimated amounts that we use in a month and multiplied by 2, then I decided how much was needed to fill out each group to get us through 8 weeks. If you've ever worked in a restaurant, you may remember taking inventory and placing orders to reach your "fill-to" amounts of each ingredient. This is a lot like how I approached making this shopping list.

For fruits and vegetables, I took into consideration that I have a garden that begins to produce as early as mid-March. With that in mind, I inventoried all of our canned, frozen, dried, and fresh produce. Raisins and juice count.

For meats and other proteins, I could see that I have a lot of dried beans, a whole ham, a few cans of tuna fish, a bit of chicken, and a few dozen eggs. If need be, we could get by for a few months on the dried beans as protein, but I knew we'd want some variety as well as the nutrients that meat provides.

With the grains and starches, I knew that we had several pounds each of rolled oats, steel cut oats, barley, corn meal, all-purpose flour, and whole wheat flour. I would want to add some potatoes and brown rice to our starchy foods.

Although dairy products contribute protein to meals, I put them into a separate category, as dairy products contribute to calcium and vitamin D at levels that many other foods do not. I still had a couple of gallons of milk in the freezer and a couple of pounds of cheese. I knew I'd need to add significantly to the dairy supply in our house.

With regards to fats, I considered vegetable/olive oil, butter, solid shortening, and saved meat fat. I could see that our vegetable oil would run low, so that went on my list.

The extras included sugar (definitely a necessity when thinking about how to prepare garden-grown rhubarb, which may be our only fruit for a couple of weeks in late April/early May), spices, baking ingredients (like baking soda), vinegar, soy sauce and gelatin.

To determine amounts, I calculated and counted. I know that our family goes through about 1 gallon of vegetable oil every 4 or 5 weeks, so buying one more gallon would get us through 8 weeks. However, I don't buy oil by the gallon, but in large 35-lb boxes (about 7 gallons). So that's what I bought. 

I added 1 bag of potatoes and a 50-lb bag of brown rice for our starchy foods. (Remember, I buy food in institutional sizes to get the lowest price per pound. 50 pounds of rice will last 6 months for us.) 

For meat, I bought a 10-lb chub of 80/20 ground beef, a 10-lb bag of chicken leg quarters, and 4 dozen chicken hot dogs. There's not a lot of variety in the cuts of meat, but I can vary how it's prepared to add interest. I also bought a 5-dozen box of eggs for protein. 

The fruits and vegetables are perhaps the hardest category for me to estimate need. I thought about what amounts of fresh, frozen, dried, canned, and juiced produce we could possibly use in a month and doubled it. So I bought a lot of frozen juice concentrate (orange, apple, grape) as frozen juice concentrate takes up very little freezer storage space, keeps much longer than fresh fruit, but delivers more vitamin C than most canned or dried fruit. I also bought about 11 pounds of fresh apples, 2 dozen bananas, and some cans of pineapple chunks for fruit. For vegetables, I tried to hit the various nutrients that vegetables can provide, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, beta carotene, indoles (cancer fighters found in cabbage family), lycopene, sulfur compounds, and lutein. I also wanted to focus on long-keepers. I bought several heads of cabbage, a jumbo bag of carrots, several bunches of celery, jumbo bag of onions, a few heads of garlic, 6 pounds of frozen spinach, and 10 pounds of frozen peas. I already had about a dozen cans each of green beans and corn, a couple of #10 cans of whole tomatoes and tomato paste, and about a dozen cans of pumpkin. If this sounds like a lot of produce, I admit, my family plows through fruits and vegetables like you wouldn't believe. 

The one "extra" ingredient that I knew we'd run out of was sugar. So, I bought sugar as I normally do, in a 50-lb sack.

I spent all of March's and April's grocery budget plus all of Easter's special grocery allowance. 

I know, hot dogs are not the greatest food. However, to keep our spirits up and make the isolation feel less confining, we plan on having cookouts whenever the weather is nice. We also have my daughters' birthday this month and two other birthdays next month to celebrate. We'll do cookouts or burgers for each of those occasions.

As you already know, I tend to cook from scratch, making fairly basic meals. I actually think it is less daunting to put together a list of basic ingredients to last 8 weeks than to think of the individual meals that I would make for 8 weeks and form a shopping list from that 8-week menu plan. But that's just how I shop and cook.

Anyways, we're prepared, here. And if the virus is mediated well-enough and all of my preparations aren't needed, then I don't need to grocery shop for at least 2 months. 


  1. Hi, Lili--

    It's interesting to read your thought process on this. I think you know, I'm a very infrequent shopper, so I always think in terms of weeks at a time. But months is a different puzzle. It sounds to me like you made a set of great purchases, and I'm glad that you had the future months' funds available to be able to buy ahead. This ought to give you options and peace of mind that will be a real help, no matter how the progression of the illness goes in your hard-hit area from here.

    Hang in there! Sara

  2. Thanks for continuing to tell us how your planning has gone! This is such a strange time. Our governor has ordered all K-12 schools in Michigan to close for 3 weeks (and the week following is spring break when we would normally be off, anyway). Museums, libraries, sporting events .... they are all temporarily stopped. Today at work my hospital implemented a new way to control visitors--every entrance is cordoned off, and if you don't have a staff badge, you have to go through the line, where you are questioned about your travel and health history. Only 1 visitor per patient is allowed at a time. In 32 years of practice, I've never seen anything like this. Meanwhile, all my coworkers with little kids are feeling very stressed about the new no-school rule (and several day cares are shutting down, as well). I anticipate working many more hours than I otherwise would. My workplace is providing free drip coffee to employees, so that's a plus! :) I'm thankful we live where we can get outside easily--my kids were antsy last night with all the strangeness, so we went hiking at our local State park. I suspect that boredom will be challenging to deal with in the days ahead.

    Prayers to all of you out there! If your state hasn't put restrictions on you, my advice would be to buy what you want now to avoid shortages/panic if it does happen. For some reason, people are really panicking about toilet paper. Thankfully I tend to keep a lot on hand, so no worries here.

    Lili, thank you for your prayers--praying for you and others affected by this!

  3. You are very skilled at planning/purchasing groceries ahead Lili. I think you did an amazing job of stocking up. I find it both helpful and interesting to read your grocery posts.

    The panic finally started in Ohio yesterday, after our governor made several announcements about closings and procedures.
    Our schools are closed starting Monday, through April 3rd. No gatherings of more than 100 people, no visitors at jails, prisons, or nursing homes.

    I had stocked up on things a couple of weeks ago, but decided I should do more just in case. I spent about 6 weeks of grocery money. Our pantry, two fridge/freezers are full for now. I bought dog and cat food as well.

    And Kris, our Walmart was completely out of toilet paper! It was an absolute shock, as I had not anticipated that. Not one package. They were also out of liquid hand soap in addition to sanitizer and alcohol. Luckily, I went to Dollar General and found toilet paper. I had one 8 pack of Scott at home, and bought 2 more at DG. Today, I bought one 20 pack at Family Dollar. That should hold us awhile.

    My oldest son works in Customer Service for a National trucking company. They sent their IT department home with laptops today. They sent Customer Service home early, but told them to come in Monday. My son is very stressed. In addition to the medical concerns, I'm really afraid of what this will do to our economy.

    Prayers for you all.

  4. Kris--
    A couple of weeks ago, as this was ramping up, I heard someone on the radio talking about what it took to kill the virus. I don't remember what they said about how long it had to soak in bleach or alcohol, but at that time (information may have changed) they said that this coronavirus died in seconds (I thought that they said 4) in direct sun. You're far north, so I don't know how much the low azimuth affects the disinfecting qualities of sunlight this time of year; but maybe getting the kids outside whenever possible, is good for more than just getting their wiggles out. :) One of my best friends lives in Michigan, too, and she's said you've had amazingly warm weather. Hope you and the family have been able to enjoy that, between your workload and other commitments.
    Best-- Sara

  5. Hello all. Lili, I find your thought process interesting as well. I began a strict pantry challenge in January and a semi-strict one in Feb. In March, I continue to eat down the pantry, freezer and fridge, and I STILL have plenty of food. I have bought a few proteins for variety (chicken and beef) but with 2 of us, it is a slow slog through it all! Like you, much of my purchases have been for produce, though I still have canned, dried and frozen fruits that we could use to "make do" if necessary. So I've been the opposite of the people I saw at the store who were stocking up. I just bought $12 worth of food to add variety.

    Thankfully I had plenty of toilet paper as well. There was not a package to be had at either of the chain grocery stores in my area, though one was restocking before I left. My friend was worried she wouldn't find any. I told her I'd take her some if need be! Having a stockpile has provided me a sense of calm in these unsettling times.

    I tend to do a blend of planning strategies. Knowing what I have, I then plan for 7-10 days of meals, which usually last the 2 of us almost double that. I guess if I got desperate, I'd send my hubby out with bait shrimp to catch some fish for dinner! So the meal planning doesn't stymie quite as much yet as the possibility of an outbreak in our area.

    Thus far, there have been no cases in my area. North Carolina does have cases in the larger, central cities. I think some of the cases there resulted from tech workers going to a conference in Boston :( Some school systems in urban areas have closed, but we are still chugging along so far. BUT I fear that is about to change. I've said before that we are a resort, tourist driven area and spring breaks are beginning this week. Soon the world will be here on my little "sandbar" spit of land here on the Outer Banks. Plus, people that find themselves home for weeks may well decide to visit us as well. More than the food, quarantines, etc that concern me is our limited medical resources here. We have a very small hospital that pretty much serves as a maternity ward and an ER to stabilize patients. We have NO ICUs, so if you require that level of care, you are airlifted (weather permitting of course!) or travel by ambulance to regional centers 2 hours north or west. Each area has its own unique set of circumstances for which to prepare. I agree that along with the big worry of illness and mortality, the potential long term repercussions on our economy are worrisome as well.

    Lili, I hope the worst has passed in your area. Prayers to you and yours and all of us as we face this unprecedented event in our nation and world.

  6. I have not used official case counts to determine spread. As a well known economist recently said, with this particular virus outbreak, our economic interests and health interests are in conflict. The economics side would not want social distancing because economic activity depends on social engagement, hence our political leaders, both sides, have suppressed this eventuality. Also the lack of actual testing on the ground, as opposed to number of test kits, obscures the real numbers.

    I think you've done a really good job planning ahead. I agree fresh fruits and vegetables are a challenge, especially since this group provides so many good vitamins, minerals, and anti inflammatory compounds unique for each group. We stocked up a little, about 10 lbs of frozen blueberries, some vit C fresh fruits, our pomelo tree (for my husband since I can't eat grapefruit), and a bag of fruit/veggies powder sold for smoothies (ingredients are the real produce not chemicals).

    We may not have enough for 3 months, but we're being careful about limiting our intake as though we are on a weight loss diet. I don't want to shop at all, because in panic buying all safety precautions seem to go out the window. I saw a video of people fighting over the last roll of toilet paper. I dont understand the craziness over tp. There are other ways to handle lack of toilet paper like the old days. Soften newspaper, cut up rags, etc. Or plain soap and water. Yuk, but it beats getting the virus while trying to stock up.

    Have a good weekend,

  7. Hi Sara,
    Thanks for your thoughts and comments. This is unchartered territory in so many ways. I feel like we're pretty well covered with food. What we run out of, we should be able to substitute or make-do, I'm guessing. Time will tell.

    We had a glorious midday on the deck with sunshine today. We lunched on the deck and basked in those vitamin D rays. Hope that bolstered our immune systems.
    Best to you, Sara!

  8. Hi Kris,
    Thanks for the prayers. Washington state sounds much like yours, for all of the closures and changes. All schools closed for a minimum of 6 weeks (I suspect it will go 8 weeks, after what I read today about what's needed to slow an epidemic). Churches have gone online. Bars restaurants, and entertainment venues temporarily closing or going to take-out only. No gatherings larger than 50 people. All elective surgeries postponed. These may sound restrictive, but they just make sense and will save lives. So, no arguments from me.

    I've heard that some stores in my area now have better stock of canned goods and toilet paper on the shelves. So, hopefully in your area and others, this will be the case soon, too.

    For those folks looking for toilet paper, another place for people to check is office supply stores online. At you can still get toilet paper and have it delivered to your home. It won't be the highly commercialized brands, more like what you find in an office building or other institution. But it is toilet paper. This is how I've bought bathroom tissue in the past. I order cases of commercial bathroom tissue from Staples and they deliver it to my door, no shipping charge on larger orders. For anyone checking out Staples, be sure to notice when the "deliver by" date is. Some have delivery dates as soon as next week, whereas other cases can't be delivered until late April. Office Depot is another good place to look for toilet paper online.

  9. Hi Angie,
    I'm glad that you did so much stocking up. It sounds like you're prepared and can now just focus on staying well,
    This whole thing is so worrisome, from so many angles. And everything changes so drastically from one day to the next. However, we just have to make it through one day at a time.
    Prayers for you and your family, Angie.

  10. Hi Lynn,
    thank you for your prayers. I will pray for you and your family as well as your community. Lacking ICU facilities does sound worrisome. Hopefully, folks will just stay home during this extended spring break period, or your governor will impose restrictions which make vacationing there not sound so favorable to tourists. I'm glad that you're well-stocked. That's a comfort in all of this to know you have what you may need.

  11. Hi YHF,
    I think you're right about panic buying and losing common sense. In the videos I've seen on the news this week, people seem to have lost all of their sense. The very last thing any of us should be doing is gathering en masse at Costco with 1000 other of our close and personal "friends." I'm glad to be just at home, now.

    I read that am Australian newspaper left several pages blank for its readers to save to use as toilet paper. Wouldn't be my first choice, but when needs drive my motivation, well, newspaper is better than nothing.
    Stay safe and well, YHF.


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