Pt. 2 – Stockpile of Sundries: Planning for a Healthy Pandemic Pantry and Beyond

Part 2: The Goods

So if you’ve read Part 1 of this little blog series then you’ve learned some handy tips and tricks to use in meal planning for weeks or months at a time. This may help inform your shopping trips to make sure you’re less wasteful of both funds and ingredients, and it cuts back on impulse buying as well as the amount of times you need to venture out into the public pandemic lands!

But maybe now you’re taking a step back, looking at your filled in monthly meal calendar, and you’re thinking, “Yikes!”, “This doesn’t seem very healthy”, or “This doesn’t really include enough staple and shelf stable foods”, or “Ayiyi! I have family members with particular dietary needs, how can I keep everyone fed and happy even with special dietary requirements?!”, and “Am I forgetting anything?” …So then what do you do?

I’m going to outline some considerations into category groupings for you to review. They may not all apply to you and your household’s situation, but they may provide a launching point for fine-tuning your own planning.

A. Economy and Perish-ability

Certainly one of the main concerns for almost every household will be cost! Stretching the dollar per servings provided in the food. For this reason I tell you – if you weren’t already aware – dried bulk grains and beans, as well as frozen and canned vegetables and fruits, are going to stretch the farthest – (compared to box meals, frozen dinners, ordering out etc…) But don’t go buying them willy-nilly just because it feels nice to see your pantry cupboard full. Or because you figure if you get a random varying selection then surely, you assume, it should suffice for enough meals? Instead, buy with plan in mind so nothing goes to waste – that means have recipes already predetermined! How much of what kind of bean or grain does each meal you plan to make call for? Do the math of the servings per packaging and make sure you buy enough. Same goes for your canned and frozen veg.

Also, remember the adage “waste not, want not.” The etymology of this phrase traces to the 1700s, but it was popularized in the United States during the 1930s – no surprise there, with that being the time frame of The Great Depression, in times of scarcity every little thing ideally needed to serve a purpose and not be wasteful. What this looks like in practice for your planning means that if a recipe you’re making calls for 2 cups of cooked beans, but the bag of dried beans you’re buying can make a total of 8 cups of cooked beans, then also come up with a plan for those other 6 cups so you don’t end up with a partially used, open bag of beans sitting around doing nothing else for you!

Now this isn’t to say you should just focus on shelf-life and not eat fresh vegetables and fruits of course. In terms of nutritional value per bang for the buck the produce selection goes like this:

  • Locally grown, in season = most nutritious
  • Regionally grown, in season
  • Grown wherever, but “in season” at the time wherever it was grown and harvested from (e.g. Tomatoes in the summer may come from somewhere near by. Tomatoes in the winter probably come from somewhere further south and/or warmer like California or Mexico. Apples in the summer may come from South America, apples in autumn are more likely local or from the pacific northwest such as Washington and Oregon etc…)
  • Frozen fruit and vegetables
  • Canned fruit and vegetables

The other produce form worth mentioning is dried fruits and vegetables. While they do have excellent shelf stability, where they fall on the nutritional value scale has a lot more to do with the manufacturer. How was the produce grown (is it organic?), how it is dried (dehydrated or freeze dried?), how is it preserved (are chemicals added “for color and freshness”?)… Non organic dried fruit and veg brands are more likely to add unnecessary extra “ingredients” such as sugars, and things to make the coloring appear bright – (which is just a marketing ploy and has no bearing on the freshness or nutritional value of the food.) In some cases dried fruit/veg may be able to retain more nutritional density than both frozen and canned options, in some cases it may not, but over all I would say dried fruit and veg is pretty tied with frozen and canned fruit and veg, nutritionally speaking.

Obviously fresh produce can only keep so long compared to many of your other pantry staples. You may plan one whole month’s worth of recipes and go buy nearly EVERYTHING on your shopping list for it, but if you try to buy one month’s worth of fresh produce some of it will no doubt have begun rotting in your crisper before you get around to using it nearly 30 days later.

The strategy I’ve found works best for incorporating the fresh produce into your recipe meal planning, while minimizing needs to go to the grocery store is thus:
Recipes calling for more quickly perishable fruits/veg must be prepared in the earlier part of the month’s meal plan. This may include Tomatoes, Avocados, Cucumber, Summer Squash like Zucchini and Yellow Crook-Neck, Mushrooms, Spinach, Leaf lettuces and/or “Spring Mix” salads, and most fruits.
Recipes calling for produce which have longer “fresh” shelf life capacity can come later in the month. This produce may include hard/winter squash, potatoes of all kinds, cabbage, and cauliflower. Most hardy “cold season” greens can keep for a few weeks decently as well – including Kale, Collard Greens, and Broccoli. I’ve found Romaine lettuce hearts last longer than any other form of fresh lettuce purchased. Corn still on cob and still sheathed in its husk can keep for a decent length of time refrigerated. Citrus fruits have the longest “shelf life” of the fruits, followed generally by some melons and apples, and bananas can hang out for a couple of weeks depending on how green they were when first purchased.

Another cost-savings potential, depending on the amount of workload you want to get yourself invested in, is that it may actually be cheaper in some instances to buy a bunch of fresh produce and then go home and blanch it and freeze it yourself, instead of buying little pre-packaged frozen bags of veggies and fruits. Its not the most convenient thing, and depending on the produce it won’t always be the cheapest method, but it is something worth considering nonetheless when pinching every penny, or even simply looking for more ways to productively fill your time while staying at home.

Besides bulk whole grains, beans, and produce, some other staple items (with long shelf life) to plan to have on hand for scratch-cooking meal purposes include: Cooking oils. Flour. Salt. And sugar (or other preferred sweetener of your choice).
You may also want to check on how stocked you are in any condiments you use regularly in meals/cooking. This may include Ketchup, Mustard, Soy Sauce, BBQ Sauce, Salad Dressings, Bouillon cubes or paste, Salsa etc…

B. Whole Foods for Health and Affordability

This next point builds on most of the ideas in the first – in that the closer a food item is to its natural state, and the more in “bulk” you can then buy it, the more nutritious it will generally be as well as typically more cost-effective. But point A. was mainly centering around the planning for cost and shelf-life, so lets now talk a bit more about the nutrition.

Plant and Animal based foods have naturally occurring concentrations of nutrients that form during the growth of said food. The “healthier” the practices involved in growing the food are, and the riper it is at time of harvest before getting to you, the more health it will have to pass along to you. The more something is heavily pulverized and/or cooked – i.e. transformed in ways farther from its original state – the more nutrient loss it may suffer. (This is why many processed foods have to have vitamins actually added BACK in to the food product as part of its manufacturing and you see it on the “ingredients” list.)
Water soluble vitamins get left behind in the water used to boil something down. Frying could leach fat soluble vitamins out, as well as the exposure to the extreme heat damaging antioxidants, healthy fatty acids, and other beneficial compounds in the food. Cracking, grinding and pulverizing – particularly of nuts and grains – exposes them to oxidation wherein they begin to go rancid quickly.

I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t chop or cook your food in any way. I’m merely encouraging you to be mindful of how many steps, and how extreme the methods, it takes to get any said food item from the field to your plate essentially. But I understand convenience is king also – especially if you’ve got a bunch of stir crazy children at home with you, or maybe your workload increased while working from home, or maybe you’re mood isnt feeling very stable right now due to the weight of whats happening in the world, and so you want to, even need to, keep things gentle and easy for yourself? We all must find what our own “middle ground” is for coping, and make the menu plans manageable for us.

Here is an example of a line of reasoning to try and find what would be the middle ground for you and your situation while keeping health in mind…
Take oats for example – A common hearty breakfast food. They’re mineral rich and full of fiber. They have a good long shelf life. They are multi-purpose, in that they can be served as a hot cereal porridge, baked into snacks and treats, ground into a flour, and can be certified gluten free for those with such allergy concerns etc…

The most whole form would be to get the whole oat groat, which resembles a tough long grain brown rice. You can then cook it whole, much like you would do with rice, or you can first coarsely chop or grind it yourself in a food processor or high speed blender to make it more like the texture of steel-cut oats, or turn it into a flour. However, most people, (myself included!) are not going to bother with this (you’ve got to “choose your battles” so to speak).

If you wanted to buy some oats still as close to whole form as possible, while saving yourself some steps at home, you can get steel cut, or you can get whole-rolled oats – a form which then helps speed up their cooking time (where the whole groats have been pushed through a machine that flattens them, which is something we do not have the ability to do at home in our own kitchens!)

But say you still can’t take the time to cook steel cut oats, or even a whole rolled oats? Then you can get plain quick cooking oats. “Quick Cooking” is simply where they’ve taken the whole rolled oats and chopped them up a bit further so that when you cook them they absorb the moisture quicker, thus reducing the total cook-time.

But maybe then you don’t have the ingredients to flavor and dress up your oats how you want to? Say you don’t want to take that time? Or maybe your kids just won’t eat it that way? Well then you get the quick oats that come in pre-flavored serving packets. But note that this is the least cost effective per serving, and generally the least “whole food” form to obtain said oats.
…Actually, the least whole food form would be a processed oat based “cereal”, the kind you’d eat cold in some milk. That is so far removed from the original whole grain form, even more so than pre-flavored quick oats pouches. But we all generally have to cut corners sometimes, and make various sacrifices, so you just need to figure out what that’s going to look like for you and your family. For example, maybe you compromise on the pre-flavored quick oats pouches, but that’s made up for by ensuring the whole family eats plenty of fresh vegetables as opposed to canned?

With whole food nourishment considered as the baseline for our planning, we now move on to the next point…

C. All Quarantine and No Treats makes you a Dull, Grumpy, Sad Person

That heading may be an overstatement for some, but I think its safe to say that the phrase “comfort food” exists for a reason. And if there’s anything that the mass collective consciousness and physical body needs right now during these times, it is a nice little dose of comfort.

Notice I said “nice” and “little”! – I’m not advocating any binge eating of course, it is unhealthy, it can be unsafe, and its uneconomical. I am not suggesting that feeling depressed, angry, stressed, confused, scared or any other sensation is an excuse to respond in proportion with food, let alone junk food particularly. But ultimately food equates to survival, and it has been part of human social connection surely since the dawn of humankind, therefore it is not unreasonable to expect that food at this time is going to take on all sorts of various meanings and levels of importance for people, coping with their feelings, and even in merely trying to survive.

Some people may plan and possess the most fortunate of circumstances to be able to use this time of self-isolating as an opportunity to try cooking more, eating healthier and getting into better shape. Others are not so fortunately privileged. And still others may have the best of intentions but then their feelings, or obligations that arise, prevent them from being as busy in the kitchen as they may have originally hoped.

Basically all of that is to say that smart pantry planning ought to include some quick and easy foods, some snack foods, some things you may consider “treats”. For health and economical reasons this shouldn’t make up any majority of the pantry, but to leave it out entirely could find you weeks in to this whole mess of a situation feeling more sad, less motivated, bored with your food options, too tired to cook AGAIN and so forth.

Personally I think one of the best treats for a wholesome feeling is homemade chocolate chip cookies. But it is something which, in my busy “normal” every day living, I rarely take the time to indulge in. Now I’ve been social-distancing at home for over a month and in that time I’ve made a big batch of chocolate chip cookies for the whole family twice. We’re not eating desserts and junk left and right and with every meal of every day etc… but having those few instances of that different special thing to look forward to does make a nice counter balance to some stress and “sameness” of the situation.

It doesn’t even have to be a sweet treat. Another quick and easy go-to “comfort” food for my family is to have a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup. Did I make the tomato soup from scratch? Nope. But I use one that is organic and has no sugar or preservative chemicals added. And we are a non-dairy household, so the cheese is a different sort of exception all together – but even in the realm of dairy-free cheeses there are more vs. less healthy options to choose from.

D. Planning for Special Dietary Considerations

Another important point of your planning is what to do when anyone in your household may have special dietary needs. Of course the easiest thing is when everyone in the household eats the same way, that way no extra special things need to be accounted for. Perhaps during these “stay at home” times the family can come to an agreement wherein at least any of the “shared” family meals will cater to the person(s) with dietary needs/preferences, so you don’t find that you’re having to purchase for and cook up 2, or 3, or 4 completely different meals at a time, every time?

You should also take in to account how “special” products for differing diets may actually be more scarce at the store right now. If they are unique enough outside of the mainstream American diet then the store probably doesn’t typically keep much on hand any given week anyway. – If they maybe only have a small handful of people buying the item(s) once or twice a month usually, then they’re not suddenly going to think to order a bunch more of it right now. Conversely, if its something that’s growing in trend – such as a keto or paleo diet specific product, or even something gluten free – there may be more people clamoring for it than you ever could have imagined, meaning despite the store’s best efforts to keep supply up with demand, its just not going to be readily available.

For instance, I’ve discovered that apparently Haywood county stores are suffering a Tofu shortage. Who would have ever guessed that? lol

For these reasons, when you’re going to purchase specialty dietary items, this is one area where you may want to consider going a bit beyond “plan” and at least doubling up on what you’re getting. You may not need it right away, but you may need it later and not be able to find it. Don’t go wiping the entire shelf out if it can be avoided, that’s just common courtesy. But if you’re buying 1 or 2 boxes of a special gluten free crackers you normally eat and like to have on hand, go ahead and get 3 or 4 instead, to last you twice as long and reduce risk of running out and not being able to find it again.

The same rules of basics staples we’ve been talking about otherwise still apply to the particular dietary needs. But if people in your household eat differently, consider where the compromises can occur which can make things more cost effective.
e.g. Can everyone just eat the gluten free hamburger buns so that two types of buns don’t need to be purchased? Or maybe, because the gluten free buns are more expensive, its better to purchase both types, but knowing the one person eating the gluten free buns will have them last 3 times as long if they have the buns all to themselves? These are the types of mathematical decisions you’ll need to make to be most effective in your planning and pantry stocking.

E. Final Notes

Don’t forget Fido!
f you’re stocking up for your household then your pets need to count too. While there may be less likelihood of any pet-food shortage, the whole point of stocking the pet’s pantry is still to avoid how much you’re going to need to be going out in public risking exposure or spreading of the virus. If your pet is on a special diet of any kind (especially for a medical reason) then definitely get a bit extra if you can, as the more rare/small-company “special” brands and formulas could be more likely to see issues of shipping delays, ingredients/manufacturing shortages etc…

Also, when you are considering quick and easy, and/or healthy, shelf stable options to stock up on don’t forget about the kinds of supplements that act as meal replacers and enhancers. Such as protein powders to be added to smoothies or homemade protein bars. Greens powders to enhance smoothies or juices and be an easy way to get more green foods into the diet. Fruit powders for adding to smoothies, oatmeal, or yogurt. And “super foods” such as dried goji berries, chia or hemp seeds, maca root powder etc… they are called “super foods” because they are very nutritionally dense – meaning a little bit of them goes a long way in terms of giving your daily diet a dose of naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and healthy fats.

In summation, the foundation of wholesome pantry planning would look like this:

  • Bulk Grains = Rice, Oats, Barley, Buckwheat, Quinoa, Amaranth, Millet, Rye, Wheat
  • Bulk Beans = Black Beans, Split Peas, Lentils, Garbanzos, Bean mix blends etc…
  • Cooking Oil = Grapeseed, Olive, Avocado, Sunflower, Coconut etc…
  • Sweetener = Organic Cane Sugar, Honey, Maple Syrup, Agave Nectar, Coconut Sugar, Date Sugar etc…
  • An all purpose flour (Obviously a gluten free blend version if that is needed by anyone in your household)
  • Mineral rich Sea Salt or Pink Salt
  • Plenty of condiments, sauces, seasonings and spices to round out and complete meals
    – Plus…
  • A few “quick an easy” meal options and additions, such as: Pasta with a jarred sauce. Ramen noodles. Bean soup, Rice pilaf, boxed Casserole mixes, and “one skillet” frozen dinner blends etc…
  • Some easy, go-to, snacks and treats, such as: Chips and Salsa, Cheese and Crackers, Yogurt with Granola, Chocolate bars etc…
  • Nutritional supplements and/or “Super” foods
  • Whatever is needed for your pets

Stockpile of Sundries: Planning for a Healthy Pandemic Pantry and Beyond

Part 1: The Tools

When the word went out nation-wide, that citizens should consider getting anywhere from 2 weeks up to 1 month’s worth of groceries, and then stay home in order to help flatten the curve of spreading Covid-19, a lot of people understandably became very worried or scared as a result of these orders.

The mind tends to take the news and run with it – “Well, if I need to stock pile, then I’d better REALLY stockpile! If 1 month is called for why not just go ahead and do 2? or why not 3? Oh no! What if everything about my known-world collapses and there is no more food?! Then I better stock up like there’s no tomorrow!” Conversely there has also been worries such as “How can I afford to stock pile enough?”, “What is ‘enough’?”, “How much do I stockpile to feed my whole family?”, “How do I stock pile and then make it last instead of stress eating it all too quickly while I’m just stuck at home?”

Pro Tip: Speaking from experience, your pantry doesn’t have to be this big or look this nice and neat to still be well-stocked and effective.

All of these lines of thinking caused many people to “panic buy” – which means not just stocking up on essentials of things which are immediately or soon needed, and that you’d regularly use anyway. Rather it is to stockpile all kinds of things which, in some cases, are even beyond what would seem rational or obviously usable. For example, I wonder how many people bought pounds and pounds worth of dried beans, but almost never actually make a point in their normal daily lives to cook and eat beans as such? Many people may not know what exactly to do with such things that they stockpiled – and if you don’t know how to cook it and don’t know what to make with it, are you really going to be inclined to use it? Maybe you will use it because it’s all you have, and/or you don’t want to waste it, but you may be unhappy or discouraged while doing so. Not to mention “panic buying” is what leads to sudden supply chain shortages which will inevitably effect everyone’s families – so best to shop responsibly with a plan in place.

For instance, if you have purchased more toilet paper than food then priorities may need some reevaluating.

The thought process involved in these fear-driven shopping excursions largely center on quantity per cost, and shelf-life for storage. Or even simply the craving of “comfort foods” for instant gratification coping. While these are important and valid concerns to address when planning a well stocked pantry, they cannot be your only considerations or you may end up with a hodge-podge of items which you and your family are not sure what to do with, and are not feeling fully satiated by. Additionally, having a bunch of odds and ends with no forethought plan on what to do with them, means you run the risk of having to keep going back to the store just to get random additional ingredients to build complete meals with. Thus defeating the entire purpose of the “Stocking up to stay home” directive in the first place.

It is just a fact of the times we live in that many people do not cook as much at home, or from scratch, as they did a couple of generations ago. Some would admit they don’t even know “how”. This presents an added challenge for some people who are wanting to stock up on food goods so as to stay as much away from public exposure as they can, and yet they aren’t experienced in planning meals and preparing them for themselves or family. These are indeed self-sufficiency skills which must be learned and practiced.

This old advertisement may hearken back to a time that is not in agreement with our modern era’s understanding and respect of gender roles. But what I think is to be appreciated within it’s sentiment is 1. There is value in having skills for various methods of cooking and being able to feed your family from scratch, and 2. Home cooking is the first, best line of defense when it comes to nutritional value and quality control of the foods you ingest!

Personally I come from a family of “doers” – meaning, we tend to put nose to the grindstone and “get things done”. Menu planning for weeks or even months at a time comes naturally to me, and though I knew both of my Grandmothers were adept “meal planners” they didn’t directly teach me what they did, it just seems the mentality that leads to such planning was enough of an inherited trait that I picked up on it myself as an adult, when taking care of my own household and needs. But to make use of a skill, and to be successful with it, requires more than just a mentality, it requires taking the action, doing the work, and whatever tools prove helpful for the process so that we can achieve what we set out to do.

On that note I will share here a link to the very basic digital menu planning worksheet that I made and currently use, just in case anyone else wants to try their hand at more detailed planning and pantry preparedness.
I used to do all of my planning on paper, as the tactile nature of it was easier for me to absorb mentally and really think it through, but that grew very tedious month in month out. Technology can help some things go faster, (or stay neater than my hand writing is at least), so I’ve moved to a digital table which I just reuse each month by adjusting the dates and filling in the changes to the menu plan. Once it is complete then I print a copy and post it to the refrigerator where all can see.

You will find the planner I created in google .docs HERE.

When you click on the link it will take you to my example version of the planner which is not able to be immediately edited for your use. In order to save it to be editable for personal use, you must go to where it says “file” in the upper left hand corner, and select the option from the drop down there that says “Make a Copy” (Note: This will only work if you are logged in to your own google account, or create a free google account/login of your own.) It will then save a copy to your own google drive which you can then rename and edit as you please, or even download to your desktop to use it offline.

How to Use the Planner:

  1. I shade in the boxes red if the day has already passed before the menu plan is active. For example, sometimes I may not get around to creating the menu plan, or going to the grocery store to buy the necessary items for the plan, until I’m already a few days into the month. So I fill those boxes in red to show I am not covering those dates on the plan as they have already passed.
  2. You’ll notice that the day 2 box on the example document has a menu plan that says “B -, L – , and D -” denoting a breakfast, lunch, and dinner planned. That is demonstrating one optional way to do the fullest menu plan that you can do, where each meal of each day is accounted for on the calendar. The reason the entire table is not filled out this way is because my own family tends to eat a lot of the same few things on rotation for breakfasts and lunches, to the point they are household staple items and need less day-by-day planning from me at this point. So in order to simplify my job of creating the plan (and keep it all to one printable piece of paper) I mostly just focus on accounting for dinners, while already knowing what main things to keep stocked for breakfasts and lunches.
  3. The “Notes” track of boxes under each date is where I make a note of something going on that day which may effect how that day’s menu gets planned. For example, if there is an event going on in the evening (such as a yoga class) then I’ll need to plan a dinner for that day which will be quick and easy to make, and doesn’t need a lot of time and planning. If there was a morning meeting at work maybe you would need to change your breakfast routine that day? If your company or school provides you lunch, then you’d change your lunch plans accordingly etc… Or maybe you’re going to be going on vacation and don’t need to plan anything to cook at home for a certain number of days? Then write in “on vacation” and leave the corresponding date block blanks. When there is a note in the note track I highlight it in yellow in order to make it stand out and be more noticeable and memorable.
  4. When planning your menu, think of what things you can cook that will be in large enough quantities that you can have it as leftovers and it will carry you over a day or two – meaning less planning over-all that you will need to do, and a bit less ingredients you’ll have to buy. It is highly recommended to cook in quantity and have leftovers as often as possible, because it is more friendly on your budget, as well as a time saver – (it saves time both in cooking preparation, as well as in mental space for the planning). Just be sure that the day you enter in a menu item which you know will produce leftovers, that you then enter the word “leftovers” for as many days relevant proceeding it, so that you know the meals for those days are already taken care of by way of the leftovers.
  5. Lastly, the list of “Regular Standby” foods at the bottom of the document, under the menu planner calendar, is a list of things I tend to always fall back on making and having ingredients for on hand. In other words, they are things I can turn to every month and plug in here or there into the menu calendar in order to make the “planning” easier. It is a good strategy to create a list of menu items you want to always have in the rotation, because then it saves some time and mental capacity for your planning in the future, you aren’t always having to come up with new things for every meal, of every day, of every month in other words. Also, it is a way to make the family happy, as you will have “crowd favorites” that you know everyone enjoys and looks forward to. You can even incorporate it around a sort of ritual tradition – such as something like “Taco Tuesdays” or “Pizza and Movie Night on Saturdays” etc…

Further General Words of Advice Include:

  • Don’t be afraid to look up new recipes every month to throw some new and different things into the rotation and keep it interesting.
  • But also don’t overwhelm your kitchen workload, your family’s taste buds, and/or your grocery budget by feeling overly ambitious or obligated to come up with new and/or exotic things to cook all of the time!
  • Plan for things you generally know you like and will indeed eat, in order to avoid impulse purchases and potential waste! In other words, shop with a plan in place instead of just walking into the store and randomly grabbing things that catch your eye as you go.
  • Be sure to include some allowance for treats such as desert and/or other “snack” foods like chips, crackers etc… If you don’t have at least some “treats” on hand then you’ll end up wishing you had. If you don’t plan to keep some enjoyment in your eating habits during any long-term lockdown, or even in a normal monthly routine, morale goes down, and you’ll be more tempted to spend extra money impulse shopping, and throw off the plan you painstakingly took the time to assemble.
  • If you find it difficult to plan for a month at a time then start by just filling out the calendar planner for one week at a time.
  • Since some grocery items are more perishable than others (e.g. fresh produce), and since budgets may not allow for purchasing a month’s worth of groceries at a time, it is ok to plan the menu with the whole month in mind but then only do the shopping for it weekly or bi-weekly. A special exception would be the Covid-19 concerns and needing to reduce public exposure, in which case the more days you can plan and afford to stock up for, in order to avoid going back to the store again, the better!
  • When it comes time to make the grocery list (either typed or written) there are two ways which I generally recommend structuring it: One option is to input all of your list items grouped into categories according to where you’ll find them in the store once you go to shop – this creates a seamless “traffic” flow as you navigate through the store from one side to the other. You will get in and out faster this way, stay focused, avoid back tracking, (and generally come in contact with less people) this way.
    The other option is to group your list items according to the menu plan recipes – this method ensures that you don’t end up forgetting anything you need for any particular recipe – For instance, lets say you need to buy spinach for more than one recipe. But writing it only once on your shopping list means you may not remember to buy enough to cover the multiple recipes you planned that need it! Whereas listing it more than once, but grouped according to ingredients per-recipe, reduces the likelihood of you needing to make extra trips back to the store just to get any forgotten but needed ingredients. Personal Note: Because I have the store layouts mostly memorized at this point, I can tend to accomplish goals of method #1 out of habit, so now I more often tend to use method #2 for the list making, as it keeps me from forgetting anything critical, especially if I end up needing to visit more than one store in order to find everything on my list.

Many times over the years, from friends, co-workers, and family alike, I’ve had people say to me, “Wow, you plan out weeks of groceries at a time? You cook from scratch regularly at home? I need to get better about that too!” – But often they’ll also admit they don’t know how or where to begin. Not knowing the how and where, when faced with something suddenly disrupting our daily routines and livelihoods the way this viral epidemic has, can indeed by a daunting and even scary thing! So I hope that by sharing these tips here it empowers you in learning a helpful new skill, and something which may be able to aid you in feeling more calm, collected, and in control of you and your family’s well-being.

Stay tuned for the next blog post as we continue on this theme –
Part 2: The Goods.

Are you at all unsure of what to buy to put your money where you mouth is, so to speak? That is, feeling unclear of what is best to stock up on? In the next post I’ll draw on my holistic nutritional studies background, my 18 years of plant-based living, my knowledge of special-needs dietary considerations, and my experience of planning meals for varying numbers of people, and I will give an example of what a well stocked pantry, optimized for health considerations, may include.

Do go gentle into that new day.

I’ve titled this blog entry from inspiration by the famous poem, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas. In said poem, Thomas is seemingly reflecting upon life and death. About how the good and wise and wild among us – even though understanding death/darkness is something inevitable as a fact of life – do not merely fade away in to it, but rather, leave their mark somehow by “raging against the dying of the light”.

Right now it seems like there is a two headed coin spinning, in the mix of mediums that is the global and social media speaking of the Covid-19 pandemic. On the one side we have bad news, the scary news, the troubling news, the disheartening news, the fearful news – whatever facts and fictions are tied up in all of that is beside the point. On the flip side we have good news, the attempts to shine some light at an otherwise dark experience haunting humanity at this time, those who are trying to stay positive and spread hope, to share humor just to lighten the mood or brighten someone’s day, or in the very least distract themselves – whatever facts and fictions are wrapped up in all of it is, again, beside the point. The “point” that I’m referring to is that this metaphorical coin is still spinning, and we don’t know where all or how its going to land. But we need to recognize we do have a say in the matter.

Any moment in time, in history, is an opportunity for change, because in truth nothing ever stays the same. But some incidences, historically speaking, become benchmarks for heralding change. We citizens, we humans of society and peoples of the earth, we make our history. So I feel compelled to argue the point that this experience, the world over, is presenting us with a chance to really delve deep into not only contemplating, but admitting to, the kind of lives we want to lead, the kind of civilization we must build for our future to be resilient and sustainable. After this global scale experience, nothing will be quite the same as before – (though there will no doubt be elements fighting for it to be, and some wishing that it was). Rather than fight the constant current of change, we should try to become clear and ready to stand firm in what we hope to achieve within it – this is imperative, so that we do not just simply get washed away with current.

For generations we have uselessly built and fed into mentalities of war, of domination, of exploitation, and an unstoppable march for what we deem “progress” (in a sense, not unlike a virus) – of which is ultimately unsustainable. We write literature of conspiracies. We become obsessed with “zombies” in entertainment – with post apocalyptic themes increasingly capturing the imagination. Some people make jokes about who they would want in their “squad” when civilization collapses, others consider the exact same thought but with all joking aside.

Ironically, the largest global conspiracy yet known to sweep the public masses during these frightening, confusing, challenging, uncertain times, is the hoarding and plundering of toilet paper (a sort of strange symbolism in a way – craving and coveting something that is a soft luxury with which we wipe up our messes). Though for as much as there is truly bad and sad news pouring in across the world, due to the many casualties of this virulent virus, as well as poor preparedness and/or mismanagement on the part of governments and corporate powers – we also see courage, and hope, and every-day people pitching in to help. We see the power of localization – as many individuals, local officials, and states look for ways to do their part to make a difference, to be of service, for the betterment and survival of the species.

Herein we catch sight of a silver lining, the glimmer of what could be. That even despite wars and other infighting, humans have always been communal creatures – that is, we are an animal that has survived and gotten to where we are today ultimately because of community, because of working, learning, and growing together! We are reaching a point, with such a globally connected modern world, that we are no longer isolated tribes, cultures, countries, and pockets of micro-communities, and we can see that throwing any stones now can have global repercussions.
This thought crosses the mind: Perhaps it can be a blessing in disguise? That this experience which has potential to actually teach us, and help us better our infrastructures and planning and preparedness for the future, did not have to be birthed out of the aftermath of something as terrible as another human-on-human world war? Rather it comes from a human-standing-with-human effort to weather this “storm”, which is birthed of nature, and part of the natural processes of life and death here on this earth. Hopefully we look and see a common humanity, as we are each susceptible to the tolls this virus can take. As we are no less a part of the wider natural world.

When we are looking at our facebook news feed, youtube, instagram, (and wherever else we are witnessing “news” of what is going on day by day, and how we are each finding our ways to get through it), we see so much of people just trying to get by. Of course all we are generally ever trying to do is to get by, but now we all feel it more profoundly, now we can really see it in one another’s faces and hear it in our voices. Trying to “get by” now seems to take on a different meaning and emphasis. Thankfully, instead of mass violence, coups, protests, mutiny, militias, zombies, pitchforks and the like, proving to be some sort of dominant modus operandi in our species, instead many people are obliging themselves to acts of thoughtfulness and care. Gentle acts. Quiet acts. Even intentionally silly acts. It turns out that the quintessential human – in this big, giant, messy, global family we are all part of – apparently mostly wants to knit, bake, garden, write, teach, call and check on granny, sing a song etc… and humbly keep a roof over their head, food on their table, have a safe space for their loved ones, and just hopes to receive decent, fair, life-saving medical care should the need arise. These are basic acts of survival in their own right, as well as acts of gentleness, of creativity, of craft, of expression, of belonging and purpose, of family and community. It shouldn’t be surprising, and it is certainly not wrong, to say this is who we are. These hopes are nothing that should be so difficult to ask, nor to expect or maintain.

The world we have built for ourselves is in many ways richer in resources, capital, technology and potential than it has ever been. What we are learning now is where the limitations of various systems and ways of operating are, and where it has gotten us (or failed to get us) – and to that we should indeed “rage, rage against the dying of the light”, as Mr. Thomas implores. Because what kind of world is it for anyone, really, if our greatest expectation or aspiration for the future we can imagine is a dark, dreary, dirty, dreadful, unjust and merciless place? The future is not written in stone. The “unknown” nature of it doesn’t automatically mean it must be a bad and terrible place. Through this great time of pause, and patience – as we work our way through coming out the other side from panic and pandemic – we should look to see what doors have now presented themselves as opportunities to consider walking through to go gently into that new day.