Tips for buying groceries online in a pandemic

Getting started

Plan ahead by loading your cart several days before your supplies run low. It might take several days to get a delivery slot. 

If you’re struggling to secure a pick-up or delivery slot, log on early in the morning. I’ve had the best luck between 4:30 and 6AM.

What to buy 

Buy a combination of fresh and frozen produce, buying two (not ten) of items you consume frequently. 

Choose fresh produce that lasts in your fridge for up to two weeks like: Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery, carrots, beets, sweet potato, fennel, zucchini, parsnips, purple cabbage and zucchini.

Stock up on frozen foods like spinach, green beans, edamame and berries. 

Pick plant based proteins like dried or canned beans, chickpeas and lentils.

Opt for canned salmon, tuna or canned chicken packed in water (you can drain off the liquid).

If you buy chicken, ground meat or fresh fish put a stash in the freezer for later use.

Choose hearty whole grains like quinoa, farro, bulgar and steel cut oats. You might finally have time to cook them!

Select your delivery method

Choose curbside pick up or doorstep delivery. Fees vary but are higher for door-to-door service. Tips can be added to your online purchase.

In some areas curbside pick up (where they load your trunk) means an easier time securing a slot. 

Day of guidelines

Keep your phone or device handy in the hours preceding your scheduled order. Some items may not be available and your shopper will text you to approve or decline suggested substitutions in real time.

Other options

If you’re willing to relinquish some control over which fresh items you get try an online delivery service. Some examples are Misfits Market, Imperfect Foods or a local farm/Community Supported Agriculture membership.

These services range from $28 to $50 per week depending on size and customization preferences. Some accept SNAP/EBT (both Misfits Market and Imperfect Foods) and shipping fees range between $4.50 to $6.00 per week. While the boxed produce shares may not allow for 100% customization they’re a great way to try out new foods – especially if you enjoy getting creative in the kitchen. 

What to do when you get groceries home

There are varying schools of thought about how to best unpack groceries at home. Since this is an entirely new and evolving situation, you’ll need to decide what feels most comfortable for you. 

Thorough hand washing is critical after you carry groceries into your home, as well as before and after you put food away. Some reports suggest setting up a sanitizing station where you wipe down the exterior of cans, boxes and bags with a disinfectant wipe or cleaning solution. The problem is a lot of items (like bananas) can’t be wiped down with a bleach solution. So what to do?

What about sanitizing food packages?

The decision about whether or not to sanitize food packaging is based on personal preference. Here are the latest official CDC guidelines based on our current understanding of the coronavirus. 

“It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object, like a packaging container, that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging.”

How should I clean fresh produce?

If it comes in a bag you can wipe the outside or simply wash your hands before and after you handle it.

For loose-leaf bulk items like broccoli crowns, individual apples or unwrapped leafy greens and fresh herbs I advise:

Do not use bleach or isopropyl alcohol solutions, soap or other cleaning chemicals to wash your food. 

Veggie washes and vinegar solutions do not kill coronavirus. It’s okay to keep washing with running water. 

The virus doesn’t live more than 1-3 days on any surface (including metal) so if you’re worried just keep things in the fridge for a couple of days.

Wash (with clean water) before prepping and cooking fresh produce. 

If you’re worried about things like an apple skin, you can peel it for now (even though this is not considered necessary). 

Perhaps buy fresh produce like bell peppers in a three-pack instead of loosely (for now). 

What to do and say when your kids ask: “What’s for dinner?”

Did you read the Boston Globe article: “The question no parent wants to hear: ‘What’s for dinner?’” 

If family mealtime has you stressed out start doing these three things today:

#1 – Forget planning meals for an entire year, just start with the next few days. 

Grab a piece of paper and jot down three meals you can make this week. Say to your kids: “I am taking suggestions for dinner.  What would you like to see on the menu this week?” 

Post the menu on the refrigerator door so everyone is aware of the plan.

If your family members have special nutritional needs or strong preferences, consider assigning each person one day to choose what’s for dinner. Honor that schedule regardless of whining.

When people start complaining about what’s for dinner, calmly say: “It’s Joey’s choice tonight. I know this isn’t the meal you picked. What would help it?”

#2 – Memorize these four words: “What would help it?”

This is a strategy I call the “Add-On” and it’s one antidote to dealing with dinnertime drama. Read my full article on how to implement the “Add-On” here.

The “Add-On” is one small portion of a condiment-like food kids can dip, squeeze, sprinkle or spread—and here’s the important part—to the food that’s already on the table. Unlike other suggestions for navigating food refusal in kids, the Add-On engages kids creative thinking to cope with what’s in front of them. It doesn’t mean they get a separate meal but offers them a little slice of power they’re hungry for at the table.  

# 3 – There is a way out of short order cooking or making different meals for different members of your family.

Step 1 is to not feel guilty for having tried to please all the people you love.

Step 2 is finding ONE tiny thing you can change to start moving away from this behavior.

Start by referring to the meal plan hanging on the fridge and say:

“I’m going to make one meal from now on, so we have more time to be together during dinner.”

Craving more help?

I coach parents with practical ways to connect instead of clash with their kids over food

If you live in the Boston area, check out my upcoming family-focused nutrition classes!

How to Grocery Shop in a Pandemic

My premeditated trip to Trader Joe’s began at 7:40AM with the momentary thrill of pulling into an empty parking lot. But the cheerful sign (in TJ’s signature font) told me the store hours had been reduced. Covid-19 means they completely sell out in five fewer hours each day.  

I drove back an hour later, arriving fifteen minutes before opening time. Both parking lots were overflowing—Ah yes, the Trader Joe’s I’m used to. I contemplated aborting the mission. Then I remembered my bare-shelved fridge and two homeschoolers.

I nervously joined the throng of patrons appropriately self-spacing on the sidewalk. We waited in silent solidarity until the giant door slid open. And that’s when it got interesting because you can’t really “social distance” in Trader Joe’s. 

I spent twelve minutes and 140 dollars inside, receiving accolades from the cashier at checkout.

She said, “You move fast – that’s good. If you don’t come at 9, you shouldn’t bother coming at all.”

It was totally surreal like living a dream or being stuck in a strange movie. Until I realized it kind of felt like being on a meditation retreat. I’ve been meditating for two decades now, sitting several retreats a year. I take a vow of silence on these “vacations” which unearths all kinds of interesting things. I’m not a novice with unexpected musings I just haven’t encountered many in the supermarket.

In these times of Covid-19 I think grocery stores are fertile ground for not only viruses but something we actually want and all desperately need: Mindfulness in our activities of daily living.  

Moving swiftly through the aisles, I felt the oneness of us all pushing carts. Silently paying attention to our bodies and the bodies of others. Weaving in and out with kindness to snag, limit two, of whatever items were in stock. Noticing hands (my own and others) as they reached, touched and grabbed. Sensing limbs, breath and my jumpy mind as I maneuvered through tofu and greens. Consciously trying to give others space and not take more (literally or physically) than a reasonable share. 

A “we’re-in-this-together” feeling hung in the air. And patience, it seemed, prevailed even in the midst of obvious fear. In spite of uncertainty and not-enoughness people were trying in new and unusual ways. The only thing lacking from a meditative perspective was deep-belly, full-bodied breaths.  

In an instant that twelve-minute shopping spree became a chance for mindfulness practice. Amidst worry and uneasiness came an opportunity to pay attention in the simplest of ways. The routine task of filling a grocery cart became a heightened experience in that moment.

It’s true that as a dietitian I take grocery shopping seriously, but today was different in more than just a germ-o-phobe way. It was obligatory and otherworldly; Straightforward yet salient. Fastidious, raw and wide-awake in a mind-body sense.

It made me hopeful that these unsteady times will deliver some long-lasting lessons. Like how we might approach grocery shopping with greater kindness and compassion. It’s one item we can add to the list of possible ways we have to awaken.

On the drive home I thought of ten tips for grocery shopping in Covid-19 times:

  1. Check your local store’s website before leaving home as many places have shifted hours.
  2. Honor the hour(s) reserved for elderly and vulnerable populations.
  3. Make a list of only your highest priority items. The rest will have to be ad lib. 
  4. Use a paper list, not an App on your phone. This way you can toss it when you’re done. (Cell phones have been dubbed “the third hand,” so keep that thing in your purse or pocket while you shop). 
  5. Remain flexible, invoking the mantra: “If it’s gone, simply move on.” I love meal planning but right now the priority is food flexibility. If you’re clinging to making a menu for the week make sure it isn’t fueling rigidity. 
  6. Don’t hoard. Next time you shop you might be the one who comes up empty on something you really need. 
  7. If at all possible, do not bring your children to the store.
  8. Help your cashier by packing your own groceries. If you’re uncomfortable, wear winter gloves (you can wash them later). 
  9. Thank EVERY hard-working person at your service in the grocery store. They’re underpaid and spend all day face to face with strangers, which probably feels pretty vulnerable right now. 
  10. When you get home, wash your hands. Then unpack your groceries and wash your hands again.

Most importantly, recognize that grocery shopping is a privilege and luxury. If you’re fortunate enough to have what it takes to grocery shop: time, health, transportation, funds and access to a grocery store, try bringing some mindful awareness to the task in the coming months.

How has your perspective widened during a routine task this past week?

What to do when kids don’t eat the school lunch you packed.

Photo by Pixabay on

You plan, prepare and pack their school lunch. It’s a labor of love meant to fuel kids’ best learning and development. Except, they don’t eat it — and you’re feeling fed up.   

When lunchboxes boomerang home, day after day, seemingly untouched, what can parents do? How can we avoid the infuriating routine of packing quality food that inevitably ends up in the trash?  

If you’re tired of bickering over the untouched lunch, here’s my 3-step plan for improving the odds it’ll get eaten.  

Step 1:  NEVER ask your child “WHY” they didn’t eat their lunch.  

There are only two answers to that question. 

“I didn’t like it.” or  “I didn’t have time.”  

Both are probably accurate and you will not elicit change coming at it from this angle. 

Step 2: Ask for kids input instead of invoking defensiveness.


“What did you have to eat today?”

“Did you even open the bag of carrots?”

“Why didn’t you finish your sandwich?”

“You said you wanted a turkey and cheese roll up? You didn’t even touch this!”

“I see you ate the pretzels/goldfish/chips, but nothing else.” 

Instead, engage your child in collaborative problem solving by intentionally asking for their input. 


“How can we change your lunch to make it something you like better?”

“What green food(s) would work in your lunchbox?”

“Let’s make a list of crunchy veggies you’re open to trying at lunch.”

“It seems like protein foods are coming home untouched. What different proteins can we try in your lunch next week?”

“Tell me some foods you’d like to have in your lunchbox this week.”

Step 3: Send your kid packing! 

Set aside 10 minutes to pack your OWN lunch alongside your child packing theirs. You’ll be modeling healthy habits for your child and improving your nutrition as well!

Enthusiasm for consumption correlates with ownership of creating the meal. Get your child involved in packing their lunch daily.  If it’s too time consuming for them to pack the whole thing, ask them to pack one item from the category of things they’ve been most reluctant to eat.  

Keep the conversation going as you adjust lunches week to week. Change what you put in their lunch based on the feedback they give you in Step 3. When certain foods still come home entirely untouched ask a question like: “I’m noticing cucumbers coming back home in your lunch. What other green vegetable would work better for you?”

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How to Talk to Kids to Up Their Interest in Vegetables.

Frustrated over your kids’ refusal to eat vegetables? You’re not alone. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nine out of ten kids in the U.S. do not eat enough vegetables. But what’s a parent to do when every single effort to prepare and present colorful plant-based produce falls flat? If you’re parenting preschool or elementary-aged kids who leave veggies not only uneaten, but entirely untouched, it’s time to improve your game by inviting curiosity to the table.

Here’s my 90-second tip on how to start talking to your kids about veggies in a way that genuinely gets them engaged.

Try sparking intrigue with questions about how and where vegetables grow. Ask, “Where do brussels sprouts live when they’re growing up?” How do they start out, and stand tall for so long?” “How and where do carrots grow? Can they feel the warm sunshine buried down in the dirt like that?” Imagine green beans holding on for dear life on a windy day, or colorful bell peppers getting washed by midnight rain.

Let your imagination be your guide and keep exploring origin of vegetable stories with your kids, even if they aren’t yet eating that particular food. Getting curious about vegetables is the first step toward ingesting them. Lead a playful and creative conversation at your family table tonight and let me know how it goes!

For more tips and inspiration on raising healthy eaters find me on Instagram @tabletalkcoach