SALT LAKE CITY — These unprecedented times are, well, unprecedented. Hopefully, we're staying home and washing our hands often. Remember when people all over the world were buying as much toilet paper as they could? While it is important to be prepared, when enough people buy more than they need out of fear, it can leave others with either more expensive or no options.
Although grocery stores won't be running out of food, we can all make a point to get just what we need and make sure that families hit hard by the novel coronavirus will still have access to affordable food. Just as some people are at greater risk of getting sick during the pandemic, others are also at risk of going hungry or not being able to get essential foods (such as baby formula) to feed themselves and their family. Because of this, only getting what we need when grocery shopping is just as important as it is to stay home right now.
Even if stores are keeping up with demand right now, it's important to make sure that we don't panic buy and empty the shelves again. A group to keep in mind are people who receive food assistance. They aren't able to use grocery delivery services and are forced to venture into stores to get what they need.
"When you hoard food it forces SNAP recipients to make more grocery trips. This can have significant health risks for them with COVID-19," said registered dietitian Shena Jaramillo.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when it comes to stocking up your pantry during the pandemic. Much of this information is geared toward families who can make some changes to their purchases right now. The point is for everyone to work together to ensure that more Utahns and in general, Americans can all have the access to nourishing food and health that we need right now.
Buy enough for just two weeks, if possible
Registered dietitian nutritionist Elizabeth Ward said shopping less frequently can help us limit social interactions in grocery stores.
"You can protect yourself and everyone you come in contact with, especially the workers in grocery stores," she said.
Ward added that buying more food than needed can drive up the prices of many food items, putting increased pressure on food banks who use donations to purchase items.
"If you want to help, buy only what you need, and donate money to food pantries and food banks so that everyone can eat," Ward said.
Do bigger shopping trips if you can afford to stock up for two weeks. This limits time in public places and reduces risk of getting sick or spreading germs, but still leaves enough food for others to shop.
Leave items that have a 'WIC Eligible' sticker
Only certain essential food items are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, also known as WIC, leaving recipients with even fewer options at the grocery store, said registered dietitian Kristin Smith of 360 Family Nutrition.
"Try to avoid stocking up on items that contain a 'WIC label' on the price tag, especially if its not a food thats part of your upcoming meal plan or you are not familiar with preparing," she said.
Participants in the program receive vouchers to buy specific types, sizes and even brands of foods like eggs, milk or dried beans. Stockpiling on these items could leave WIC recipients without access to these essential foods, said registered dietitian nutritionist Michelle Loy.
Sara Gillins, a registered dietitian who specializes in WIC, said she's gotten calls from families who can't find specific items like eggs, milk and bread.
"Right now, what I have heard the most is an inability to find dried or canned beans and infant formula," Gillins said. "Lots of our clients are on Similac Advance and are having to go without or get less than their check allows because the store doesn't have enough to cover what their vouchers allow."
Something to note, with items like eggs, milk, beans and bread, you don't necessarily have to avoid buying them because if they don't get sold it means farmers have to store or toss leftovers that aren't sold. Just be aware of inventory at your store, and if possible, consider buying non WIC-eligible options so that those are still available for those who need it most.
Shop after the 4th of the month if you can
If you can, avoid shopping the first few days of the month to ensure that those who use these programs have access to the food that's covered under the programs.
Don't get overly ambitious on fresh produce
Lot of us want to eat more fruits and vegetables, but what happens when we buy more than we can eat? It rots on our counter or in the fridge. Now is a particularly important time to be realistic and make sure we don't take more than we need and prevent someone else from getting what they can actually eat. Consider these tips to help reduce produce waste.
Consider giving charitable donations
The Utah Food Bank is feeding more people than ever. Earlier this month, the organization announced that it almost doubled the number of clients served. With no volunteers and potentially fewer consistent donations because of the current economic climate, it needs monetary donations. Food is a basic need, our bodies literally cannot function without enough of it. If you still have your job and have some money to spare, consider this an impactful way to give back right now.
Remember, it's our social responsibility to stay home as much as possible, and it's also our social responsibility to keep food available to those who need it. So stay home, stay safe, and wear a mask when you go out. Do this for everyone around you — especially those at higher risk of getting sick, all the grocery store workers and other essential workers in delivery, transportation, health care, public safety and utilities who are keeping things running.
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