What the pandemic brought to the kitchen table
The past year has looked like no other in lots of ways. For this post, I want to focus on one in particular: food. Let’s take a moment to reflect on how the pandemic changed the ways in which we fed ourselves and our families; what may have worked or didn’t work, and how we can carry the positive changes into the next year and beyond.
A lot of restaurants struggled this past year. We saw permanent shutdowns, temporary closings, re-openings with different menus and smaller staff, radical changes to businesses’ missions, expansion of delivery and curbside ordering, and restaurant owners and staff constantly re-imagine and pivot in order to make 2020 financially viable. As customers, we also re-imagined what restaurant patronage looked like. For some, that meant buying gift cards as a way to spend now and eat later. For others, it meant getting take-out from a different establishment each night. For a few, it meant “adopting” a favorite business or even a favorite server on a crowdfunding platform. Some of us stuck to chains because it felt safer, somehow. Others of us chose local in order to keep more dollars in the community and support our neighbors.
Whichever method you chose, it is hard not to recognize that restaurants are part of what helps make our city unique. By supporting them, we lift up not only the owners and employees, but also local food producers, farmers, and distributors.
Some of us leaned in hard to technological assistance. This may have looked like restaurant delivery apps like GrubHub, DoorDash, or local delivery cooperatives. For many, the convenience of these apps offset the delivery fees. It was hard, though, not to realize that the restaurants bore the brunt of this convenience in the form of reduced profit per order and loss of marketing control. As pandemic restrictions are lifted and more people are vaccinated, we may see the use of restaurant delivery apps decrease or continue to evolve.
We also brought grocery apps into our phones. The apps from the big stores like Kroger, Meijer, and Wal-Mart are all pretty similar: pick-up and delivery options, same-day options, options for order updates, pre-pickup substitution approval, and fees based upon the amount you spent. One of the main draws for these apps is that you could both shop for and receive your groceries from the comfort and safety of your home or car, thus lessening any extraneous contact with people not in your household. Of course, these grocery apps existed before the pandemic, but I’m willing to bet that since so many people learned how easy they are to use, their popularity will continue to grow.
For those of us who continued to grocery shop in person, we turned it into an Olympic sport: speed, accuracy, and skill meant that you were at the top of the shopping game. Here are some skills we can take away from the last year to make the most out of grocery shopping in the future:
- discard what is expired or won’t be used
- make room for new groceries
- identify foods you can use for meals
- know what you already have
Making a list
- build your list throughout the week
- consider a “staples” list
- use a shared family list
- include “amounts needed” for ingredients
- organize your list based on the store layout
- plan for meals and snacks
At the store:
- bring your list and don’t go hungry
- try using a smaller cart
- for efficiency, shop at the same store
- unload your cart based on how you will store it
- reserve your time early
- take advantage of order modifications
- specify substitution preferences
- deliveries have a fee, tips for drivers encouraged
- find out who is doing your shopping
- At the store:
- empty bags and organize items by storage location
- use the FIFO method (first in, first out)
- identify what needs to be frozen, repackaged, or prepped
Was there an increase in home cooking? For many, yes — we simply couldn’t eat in restaurants in the same ways we did pre-pandemic. But, this was not the case for everyone! Healthcare workers, for example, may have experienced schedule changes or lifestyle demands that made it difficult to prepare meals at home. WFH-ers may have found that more people in the shared household space made it challenging to navigate meal planning. People who were working and/or schooling from home may have also had to reconfigure their dining room or kitchen into makeshift offices or classrooms, likely changing what meal prep and eating looked like. Some people saw their pantries get more bare than usual as they decreased the incidence of grocery shopping for fear of exposing themselves to the virus. Others may have bought in bulk and had to contend with extremely large amounts of non-perishable foods. Really, the only constant when it came to cooking at home was that it most likely looked different for every household.
Avoiding kitchen burnout is probably the #1 cooking and meal preparation habit that we’ll take away from this past year. Whether that looks like using meal planning apps (we like Mealime, Supercook, and Big Oven) embracing quick and healthy meals, experimenting with meal kit services, or stocking your kitchen with healthful “convenience” foods that take little more than assembly to create a satisfying meal — it’s all about removing barriers that are keeping you from achieving your mealtime goals.
So, how did feeding yourself or your family change over the past year? What worked that you want to bring with you into the future? What are some ways you can continue to improve?
Whatever skills and practices you choose going forward, we are here to support you and answer your questions about nutrition, fitness, health, and well-being. We love to hear from you!