Do you know how to feed your family during a crisis?
Families all over the world are struggling to stay well and feed their families in the midst of a pandemic that’s spreading fear, worry, and anxiety.
A pandemic causing illness and death as well as job loss, school closures, and social distancing.
In addition to all of this, many store shelves are devoid of toilet paper, as well as cleaning and sanitizing products, and many pantry staples like canned goods, rice, and macaroni and cheese.
And recently, everyday meat items such as chicken breasts are hard to find as some plants in the U.S. are shutting down due to ill workers.
If you’re lucky enough to find these elusive items, you’ll likely find ridiculously low limits!
For example, my local Aldi has put a 2 can limit on pinto beans. Two cans!
That does NOTHING for my family when I need 3 to 4 cans of beans to feed myself, my husband, and our two teenage boys for one meal!
If you’re in this situation, you’re like me and millions of other families.
You’re faced with the dilemma of shopping more often due to empty shelves and imposed purchase limits or doing with less.
Add a reduction of income to the mix and feeding your family becomes even tougher.
Like many families all over the world, I have not been able to grocery shop since mid-March like I have for the past 37 years.
Things have changed DRASTICALLY and I am not sure when or if grocery shopping will get back to normal.
I can no longer designate Wednesday mornings as my normal shopping time. I can no longer choose to shop at the stores with the best sales or lowest prices.
And I can no longer stock my pantry like I am used to doing with buy one, get one free sales due to the recently imposed purchase limits.
I have to be strategic in an effort to secure the items I am wishing to purchase while balancing our family’s exposure to illness.
Sometimes, that means shopping at a store across town or shopping at a store when I know they usually restock their shelves. And sometimes, it means getting lucky by being at the right store at the right time.
If you are struggling to feed your family during these unprecedented times, I am there with you and I can help.
Keep in mind everyone’s situation is different. So read these tips and suggestions and implement those that work for your situation.
If you have a unique situation you’d like advice on or have other tips to add, please pop me an email or join our community so you can reach out to me in our private Facebook Group. I’ll take the time to help you.
Let’s get started, shall we?
STOP WASTING FOOD
The first thing you need to do when feeding your family is to stop wasting the food you already have on hand.
Reducing food waste effectively comes about by implementing a series of small actionable steps starting with purchasing the item, then storing the item, and finally consuming the item so nothing goes to waste.
During a time of crisis, the first step you need to take is to clean out and organize your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer.
Your goal here is to identify items about to expire, prepare them quickly, and consume every morsel so nothing is wasted.
**Please note that when I use the term expiration date, I am using it as a general term to include best by dates and sell-by dates as well**
Here’s what you do:
In The Pantry
For the pantry, you’ll want to grab a black Sharpie. If you don’t have any kind of marker, grab a pen with tape or anything else you can find so you can write the expiration dates clearly on each and every pantry item you have.
Here’s an example of how I do it:
You want to be able to quickly see the month and year of the expiration date for EVERY ITEM in your pantry.
It doesn’t have to be neat or perfect. As long as you can see the expiration date, you are good.
As you are going through your pantry items and recording the expiration dates, you want to separate out any items that have expired or are about to expire within the next month (or two) if you prefer.
I use a dish tub to separate mine and at the beginning of each month, I’ll grab any items expiring that month and throw them in the tub to be sure they are used during the month.
Keep in mind, I do know many foods are safe to eat beyond their expiration date but I want to ensure the best quality and avoid potential illness, so I try to use every item within a few weeks of its expiration date.
For more information on food expiration dates, you need to read this article from the US Department of Agriculture’s website.
Once you’ve completed your pantry, next is the refrigerator.
IN THE REFRIGERATOR
Clean out your refrigerator. Get rid of expired items and any mystery leftovers deemed not safe to eat.
You want to also label every item in your fridge that has an expiration date just like your pantry with the month and year of expiration.
Then, you need to group together any items you need to consume asap so they don’t go to waste.
Last, but not least, is the freezer.
IN THE FREEZER
When cleaning out the freezer, you want to ditch anything that is obviously bad.
Treat it like the pantry. Grab a bucket, box, or bag. Separate the items that need to be eaten asap.
If you have a freezer full of undated items, you’ll have to use your best judgement and try to use the oldest items first.
Your goal here is to use everything in your freezer and not throw anything away.
When repacking your freezer, try pack it so know what needs to be eaten first.
Once you’ve gone through and taken inventory of what you have on hand, now is the time to rethink meals.
In an ideal world, each and every meal you feed your family would be nutritionally balanced.
Before this crisis, I would strive for my family’s nutrition to be balanced over the course of a week, rather than by day or meal. To me, that was more realistic and a whole lot less stressful.
When you’re trying to feed your family during a crisis, you must rethink meals. Don’t worry about a perfectly balanced meal. You’ll drive yourself crazy.
Your top priority should be to get their bellies full not whether you are serving them a properly balanced meal. You don’t want your children to go to bed hungry.
Make meals with what you have. Cold cereal for dinner? Sure. Low on everything but popcorn. Roll with it. Make popcorn and have a movie night. The kids won’t mind!
Got marinara and pasta but no meat? Saute up an onion and some canned mushrooms to make a vegetarian pasta. Serve with bread. It’s a great filler.
Don’t have the usual garlic bread that you serve with spaghetti? Take some sliced sandwich bread, butter it, throw some garlic powder on it, and broil it in the oven. Instant garlic toast!
Don’t have enough green beans to go around? No problem. Make another veggie. Mix in a can of corn (or cook separately) or take some diced tomatoes and stew them up with some Italian seasoning and a pinch of sugar.
When food and money are limited, you must be able to think outside of the box!
Oh, and if you have perfectionist tendencies like me, LET THEM GO NOW or you will stress yourself out!
Once you know what you have on hand and have mentally prepare yourself to rethink meals, next you must be prepared to take total control of your kitchen by imposing food rules.
Don’t Be Afraid To Impose Food Rules
Feeding your family during a crisis requires you to maintain tight control over your food to ensure no one goes to be hungry and everything gets eaten.
Limit snack options and amounts. Remember, your goals when feeding your family during a crisis should be to get their bellies full and to not waste any food.
If that means you need to determine what they eat for snacks and how much to prevent mindless eating and food waste, do it. And don’t feel guilty about it.
You should also impose food rules during meals. With the stores often out of items or imposing limits on items, your hands are tied.
If you’re running tight on food, don’t put the food on the table.
Instead, plate your family’s food for them at the stove. Then, get up, and get their second helpings for them. Doing this ensures everyone gets what they need and eats what they get.
If you choose to let your family plate their own food, impose rules on how much each person gets and the rules for second helpings.
For example, you can get two scoops of everything and must clear your plate before going back for seconds.
Here’s a real example I’ve used in my home.
For dinner, I often cook meatloaf, green beans, and a TON of mashed potatoes because I have one picky eater that won’t touch green beans or meatloaf. However, he will eat a huge bowl of mashed potatoes and be happy as a clam.
Recently, I found myself unable to get more potatoes so I had to use the small amount I had on hand.
To ensure everyone got their bellies full, I gave my picky eater first dibs on the taters.
I filled is bowl full first and then asked my other son and husband to go easy on the potatoes in case my picky eater wanted seconds.
They agreed and at the end of dinner, everyone was full and satisfied and no food went to waste.
Your other option would be to force your picky eater to eat things they don’t like. Depending on your child’s stubbornness or level of hunger, they may or may not eat. Food may or may not be wasted.
With five kids (three grown), I’ve learned to pick my battles.
And because my primary goals during a are crisis are to get my family’s bellies full and not waste food, I am happy letting my picky eater have potatoes for dinner.
We’ll save the “trying new food” battle for another time!
Speaking of picky eaters, trying out new brands is not advisable during a crisis, which brings me to my next point. Don’t substitute brands unless you have to.
Don’t Substitute Brands Unless You Have To
Feeding your family when times are tough means you can’t afford to waste money or food.
So avoid experimenting with new food brands. If at all possible, stick with the brands your family loves.
You don’t want to run the risk of someone not liking the new brand and wasting food, so don’t experiment with a new or generic brand unless (1) you can’t find your preferred brand or (2) money is really tight and you need to spend the least amount of money possible.
This brings me to the next point, stick with what you know and love.
Stick With What You Know And Love
Remember, your primary goals when feeding your family during a crisis are to get their bellies full and reduce food waste.
So, you should only be buying the foods your family loves and eats on a regular basis.
Don’t waste money buying a different brand or a new cut of meat if at all possible.
However, there may be times where you have no choice but to buy a brand or different type of meat than what your family is used to.
If that is the case, when seasoning these new foods, try to stick with the same flavor pairings your family loves. For example, Italian, Mexican, Thai, etc.
If you have an unfamiliar cut of meat, research how to cook it beforehand. Look for recipes and then read the reviews before preparing it.
The reviews will tell you not only what others thought of the recipe but also the changes they made to the recipe when they prepared it for their family.
You should also follow me on Pinterest here. I have many, many recipes saved for your perusal.
In addition to sticking with the foods you know and love, you should also stick with familiar cooking methods, if possible.
Don’t Experiment With New Cooking Methods
When times are tough, you need to be running the most cost-effective kitchen possible.
To do so, you need to eat everything you buy and cook.
Now is NOT the time to try a new method of cooking a roast only to have it inedible.
With that said, if you have a little room in the budget and some time on your hands, now might be the time to experiment with foods that could save you money in the long run, like making homemade bread. But, you should only experiment in you have room in the budget and are not short on food.
Have Treats Only If You Can Afford Them
Living through a crisis is stressful and can be especially tough for kids. But having an occasional treat can give a temporary sense of “normalcy”. It can boost morale. With that said, you should have treats ONLY if you can afford it.
Don’t spend money on sweets and junk food if you are struggling financially. Focus your spending on nutrient-dense foods your family loves that’ll fill those bellies.
If your budget can afford it, bake a cake or some cookies. Buy some ice cream and have ice cream floats.
Should you choose to have some junk food and sweets, do so sparingly and limit the amount so you can control your budget.
Keep Track Of What You Cooked and When
You don’t want food to go to waste so it is important to keep track of what you cooked and when you cooked it so any leftovers don’t go to waste.
Keeping track doesn’t need to be difficult, It can be as simple as a dry erase calendar on your fridge, an app on your phone or even a piece of paper.
Each day, write down what you cooked. It’s that simple. Then you can make sure all your leftovers are eaten within an appropriate time (usually 3 to 5 days).
Skip the sodas, tea, juices, and even milk. Give up or reduce the amount of coffee you drink (if you can).
Use milk only for cereals and cooking, not drinking.
If you insist on buying sodas, tea, and juices, don’t forget to limit the amount each family member consumes at one sitting so you can stretch the items.
Keep A Master Shopping List
Whenever you are struggling to find everyday food and household items, you should make and carry with you a Master Shopping List.
A Master Shopping List should include the things you buy over and over each month.
It should include your main pantry items. And the items you NEVER want to run out of like toilet paper, pasta, eggs, or chicken breasts.
This list should go with you each and every time you shop, especially during times when the store shelves are often empty.
When you are shopping with your current list, also look at your Master List. Does your store have any of your Master List items in stock?
If so, buy them while you can. Don’t go overboard but buy a few items to keep you from running out at home.
Still not sure how this Master List works? Check this example out.
Here’s how I currently use my list.
There are only a few items on my list and those are the items we are beginning to get a little low on like toilet paper, a few canned veggies (pinto beans, black beans, green beans), and chicken (boneless breasts and tenders).
Around here, chicken and toilet paper are almost impossible to find. And most stores now have a two or four can limit on canned veggies.
Because I keep a well-stocked pantry, I have not had to buy canned veggies, toilet paper, or chicken since mid-March.
However, my stockpile is dwindling and my husband and I are trying to stay out of the stores as much as possible due to chronic health issues.
So whenever my husband or I must go shopping, we are always on the lookout for the items on my Master List to keep ourselves well-stocked at home.
If we find toilet paper, we pick up a pack. If we find chicken, we pick up a pack or two.
And each time we go, we buy canned veggies. I usually buy canned veggies 24 at a time and restock when we are running low.
However, due to the imposed limits of two or four cans, we now buy a few cans just about every time we shop.
We respect store limits and don’t go overboard but buy just enough to keep us well-stocked at home in case there are food shortages down the road.
If we end up with a little too much, we share with those in our community who are less fortunate.
Include Fillers With Each Meal
To stretch your budget, try to include inexpensive fillers with each meal.
Rice, pasta, potatoes, beans, and bread are almost always cheaper per pound than meats and dairy products.
Use More Expensive Items Sparingly
Cut back on meats and dairy, which tend to be more expensive food items.
For example, if you usually make a cheesy potato soup then add more cheese on top, try something different.
Make the soup without cheese and add it at the end, directly into each person’s bowl. The cheesy flavor doesn’t get lost this way and you use way less.
Another example could be with grilled breakfast burritos. We eat them a lot. I often make them with eggs, cheese, and either bacon, sausage, or ham.
When making the burritos, the eggs are less expensive than the cheese or meat. So instead of scrambling the eggs with cheese and meat, scramble them by themselves.
Then layer the eggs, cheese, and meat on each burrito and grill. That way, you can stretch the cheese and meat.
By grilling the burrito, you add another layer of flavor and I highly doubt the family will even notice that you’ve cut back on meat or cheese.
Another way to cut back on meat is to use it as more of a side dish than a main dish.
Instead of buying a three-pound roast, opt for a two-pound roast, serve more sides, and implement food rules to ensure everyone gets some meat.
To save even more money, make some of those side dishes from less expensive, filler ingredients.
Grow Your Own Food If You Can
If the time of year is right and you have the ability to grow your own food, go for it.
Even if it is some basil in the windowsill or a container or two of cucumbers and tomatoes, anything you can grow at home will help.
Growing your own food may not help for 60 to 90 days but it will help down the road.
Make Casseroles And Soups
Casseroles and soups made with pasta, rice, beans, or potatoes are cheap to make and very filling.
Broth-based soups can also provide vital nutrients and fill bellies.
Be Careful When You Shop
Don’t buy damaged goods.
Carefully inspect each canned item to ensure it is free of dents, especially around the seals.
On other items, make sure the packaging has not been tampered with.
And always check the expiration dates before purchasing.
Not everything may be flying off the shelf during a crisis and you could be stuck with an expired jar of mayo that you can’t return.
Final Thoughts From Cost-Effective Kitchen
Remember, during a crisis, your top priority should be to keep your family’s bellies full.
You must rethink meals. Keep it simple. Work with what you have.
If you share the shopping, childcare, and cooking duties with your partner or spouse, make sure you’re on the same page about the food rules before imposing them.
Do what you must to ensure everyone gets a full belly. And don’t look back! Don’t second-guess yourself.
If you can, buy only the foods your family loves and you know how to cook.
Track what you cook and when you cooked it. Don’t let food go to waste.
Remember, do what you can to ensure your family’s bellies are full and don’t worry about anything else. LET. IT. GO.
When the crisis is over, you can settle back into your routines or make new ones like building a food stockpile to make the next crisis easier on your family.
Above all, don’t feel guilty if you can’t feed your family the way you want to. Don’t let this crisis put you in guilt mode. You are not alone! You got this!
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If you have additional questions or need specific tips, please email me.