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How to Cook on a Budget and Make Your Groceries Last During a Pandemic

Various pantry items in glass jars, like dried pasta and lentils.
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Editor’s note: Quorum is not affiliated with any of the companies mentioned in this article and derives no benefit from these businesses for placement in this article.

Amid the worldwide outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, millions of Americans are under a “stay at home” order by their state or city. Many others have made the choice to “self-quarantine” to avoid contracting or spreading the virus. So what kind of supplies should you stock up on, and how long should you plan on these supplies lasting?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, “Consider a two-week supply of prescription and over-the-counter medications, food and other essentials. Know how to get food delivered if possible.”

Food You Can Stock up On

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) site has a list of foods they recommend people stock up on for a disaster. They include:

  • Canned vegetables and fruits
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts and peanut butter
  • Dry cereal, bread, protein bars, grains like rice, pasta, quinoa and farro
  • Infant food (if needed)
  • Soup/chili
  • Juices, flavored waters and other hydrating drinks
  • Coffee/tea
  • Packets or snack-size packs of tuna and tuna salad

There are plenty of frozen foods you can stock up on like vegetables and microwavable dinners. You can also freeze a lot of things you might not have thought of to help them last even longer, like bread, flour and nuts. Consider prepping and storing fresh vegetables and herbs (yes, you can freeze garlic… and scallions!). A simple internet search will give you plenty of tips on storing fresh produce safely.

Creative Cooking Ideas for Your Time at Home

If you’re looking for recipe ideas to minimize waste and maximize taste, many popular cooking sites have adapted to cooking with staple pantry items right now. Gourmet cooking sites (Bon Appetit, New York Times Cooking and Epicurious have featured recipes with pantry staples, using common items like lentils and white beans. has risen to the occasion with a section called “Quarantine Cooking.”  Other sites make a habit of cooking with staples, and on a budget, like, and break down each dish by dollar amount you’re spending per recipe and per serving. And don’t forget about your apps (not appetizers): there are plenty of recipe apps for your mobile device that serve up recipes based on ingredients you have on hand (Tasty and Yummly are two great ones).

Delivery Services

If your current situation doesn’t allow you to leave your home, some grocery stores are offering home delivery. However, with many people now using it for the first time, you may find that you need to order and schedule your delivery several days or more in advance. Many stores have pick-up options as well, where a store employee brings your groceries to you in the store parking lot. Check your favorite stores’ websites and find out what their current options are.

Another delivery option available in every state is Instacart, which lets you place orders online or through its app from nearby grocery, drug, pet supply, and liquor stores. In addition to the cost of your groceries, you’ll pay a fee based on how quickly you want the delivery. When you order through Instacart, someone will do your shopping for you and deliver the items to your door. Just be prepared for some texts or calls from your shopper if the things you’ve chosen aren’t available.

Non-perishable items can be shipped from Target, Walmart and many other retailers, including Amazon. All retailers are experiencing shortages of cleaning and disinfecting items, so be prepared for coveted products (like toilet paper) to be out-of-stock or not available as soon as you’d like them to be.

Finally, as of the date of this article, many restaurants are still offering pickup and delivery services. And services like  DoorDash, GrubHub and Uber Eats are offering “no contact” delivery (the delivery person will leave the order at your door rather than hand it off to you) where you can place the order with your restaurant, and the service will deliver it to you.

Don’t Forget These Supplies

If you have pets, be sure to stock up on food, treats and supplies like cat litter and toys for them as well. and are two of the leading pet supply retailers that let you order your pet food and other supplies online. has a section on its site with a list of things to have ready for your pet in case of an emergency.

Household products—especially cleaning and disinfectant products—can be hard to find on the shelves or even online these days. Many retailers are placing limits on how many each person can buy. The CDC has recommendations for cleaning and disinfecting your home that can help you determine which products you most need.

Have grocery shopping, recipe tips, or great food sites to share? Leave them in the Comments section, below.

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CUNA 2023 diamond award trophy icon

CUNA 2023 Diamond Award Winner

Financial Education

Quorum derives no benefit from businesses in return for placement in this blog.

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