Yes Groceries Are More Complicated but Cooking Doesn’t Have to Be

Ripppppp. Just like that, another handle broke. The noise was surprisingly loud on the now quiet streets. I wasn’t even half of the way home. I stopped and put all of the bags down, before cradling the broken one like a baby and holding the others with my left hand. My mask, pushed up by the bag handle, just made the whole trip more comical. In the Northeast, winter hangs on tight, so I was also wearing gloves and a knit hat with my stylish paper mask. A block from our building the last bag broke and sent frozen peas and blueberries tumbling into the street. Thankfully, I recovered the groceries, so only my pride was damaged.

Before COVID19, I liked shopping for food. Cooking is my hobby and pre-kids, given the chance, I’d spend weekends making cheese and tempering chocolate. But long before quarantine, to make space for my priorities, I simplified how I cooked. I’ve made some new adjustments for sheltering-in-place to: limit the mental load of food planning, reduce the freakish number of dishes and stretch each ingredient I buy a bit further.

Relax the Rules a Little

So, before I share the rules, keep in mind that it’s okay to break them as you see fit. It’s a strange time full of uncertainty and food can bring a lot of joy. The first couple of weeks, when I was still numb, I gave my kids cheese quesadillas with every meal.

I used to make pasta for lunch on weekends as a ‘special treat’ for the kids and now they get pasta for lunch everyday. Instead of hastily eating yogurt in front of my computer midday, I make myself a warm grain bowl. The large batches of rice, barley and cous cous I make with dinner pair beautifully with almonds or tomatoes and heat up quickly for lunch.

Even though we didn’t have guests this year, I still made an elaborate Easter meal, including a layer cake and ridiculous amounts of bread. For the most part, I’ve kept things simple. However, we made pizza once and I’ll do that again in a couple of weeks because it’s a fun family project, even though it’s not time efficient.

Make Two Big Meals a Week

The way I used to cook worked great when I had to commute and rush home. I batch cooked on the weekends and then worked with leftovers or quick weeknight recipes. Before social distance, I cooked most days but we also enjoyed the occasional night out. Now, with all the meals at home, all-the-time and less access to groceries, it’s completely different.

I don’t ‘batch’ all of the big meals into the weekends anymore because it’s not necessary. I can start the slow cooker or prep the oven whenever. So, I just focus on making 2 big weekly meals (with enough protein and grains to feed our family at least 3 or 4 times.)

Last Sunday, I made 5 pounds of boneless short ribs in the slow cooker, which stretched into 4 different dinners and I made enough sauce with the remaining ribs to freeze a fifth serving for the future.

The chicken I roasted on Wednesday, transformed into chicken burritos, miso chicken soup with lentils and chicken over a warm pea and baby spinach salad. I also made more chicken stock for the freezer stash. When I roasted the chicken I also roasted beets, onions and potatoes at the same time, to reuse during the week.

I’ve written a much more detailed post that includes everything you need to buy for your freezer and pantry. It’s easy to customize the formula (protein + grain + veggies) for your tastes and if you’d like more recipes to try, there’s a list including kid-friendly modifications here. This may all sound a little too pioneer woman for you and if so, I completely get it. But if you don’t want to spend every night thinking about what to make and starting each meal from scratch, coming up with a plan to use (and cleverly disguise leftovers) is your friend. After all, who needs extra complexity right now? Right, not anyone.


Share your experiences of how life has changed during social distance, it’s quick and the results from this study will be used to advocate better support for parents.

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