The Ultimate Guide to Grocery Store Avoidance
Maximize each trip with pantry, fridge, and freezer-friendly foods
In the age of social distancing, the routine trip to the grocery store has become something of a harrowing experience. It's a claustrophobic, passive-aggressive game of keepaway with strangers in the toiletries aisle. It's multiple fly-bys past a fast-dwindling meat case, in anticipation of that one perfect opening — and gods be good, they've spared you 14.5 ounces of farm-fresh haggis for your anniversary dinner. Delectable.
Thankfully, one's fate in the meat department lottery need not dictate survival vs. starvation (but seriously, has everyone been feeding a zooful of tigers since the pandemic started?!) A truer indicator of success at the grocery store is the efficiency of each visit — you want a cameo in this sideshow, not a recurring role (or maybe you remain behind the scenes entirely by capitalizing on the curbside pickup or delivery options available).
In any event, you can limit your appearances by acquiring a cartful of nutritious foods that can endure in your pantry, refrigerator, or freezer for weeks or even months at a time — even from the produce section whispered about in folklore and legend.
Foods that fare best the longest
In your pantry/cupboards
Canned fruits and vegetables: Obviously. Try to choose canned fruits without added sugar (i.e. avoid those packed in light or heavy syrup)
Dried fruit: Dried fruit such as raisins, dates, and apricots make for a good source of quick energy due to their high sugar content. Just make sure you are putting those calories to use.
Honey: Much healthier than refined sugar as a sweetener, honey has natural antibiotic properties that can allow it to hang out in your cupboards for well over a year. If it crystallizes, you can liquefy it again by transferring to a glass jar and placing it in a warm (not hot!) bath, stirring regularly.
Dried legumes: Beans and lentils are much acclaimed for their economy and heartiness. They are dense with fiber, protein, and other important nutrients.
Nuts and seeds: Rich in protein and unsaturated fats (the good kind), nuts and seeds are another great meat alternative and come highly recommended by nutritionists (in moderation).
Dried grains and pasta: The foundation for an infinitude of meals, dried grains and grain-derived products have very long shelf lives if sealed tightly from air and moisture.
Dried herbs and spices: While these never truly spoil, their potency does depreciate over time. According to the preeminent seasoning maker McCormick, whole spices can last up to four years, ground spices between three and four, and dried leafy herbs between one and three.
Dehydrated milk and protein powders: As long as they're kept cool and dry, you can incorporate these into your recipes, shakes, and smoothies for several years (or until the cartons run out)
Fats and oils: Many of us are good at storing fats, and many fats are good for storing. Keep near or just below room temperature for best results.
Winter squashes: These colorful and vitamin-rich vegetable specimens (butternut, acorn, pumpkin) can last a whole fiscal quarter in a dry, dark cabinet or your basement, so long as you allow some air to circulate (i.e. don't stack them).
Potatoes: Same as above — keep them away from apples and onions, as they emit gases that accelerate spoilage.
Onions: Long a social distancers best friend, the ever-aromatic onion can linger in a cool, dry cellar even longer than it does on your breath, up to a year or more. Some suggest stuffing them into hosiery and hanging them from basement rafters, which sounds like some serious serial killer flex, but you do you.
Garlic: Speaking of social distancing and hanging from rafters — this worst enemy of vampires lasts about four months at humidity-controlled room temp. Remember to wear your masks (unless traveling to Transylvania, which is still in Blood Red Phase).
Waxed cheese: The waxy rinds common to certain cheeses such as Gouda can preserve them for up to a quarter of century at cellar temperatures! Of course, you'll surely cut into that wheel before then, once first post-quarantine fondue comes around.
In your refrigerator
Apples: How about them apples? They've got longevity bagged up — when enclosed in plastic, they're solid for a month in the vegetable crisper (eat the larger ones first, as they spoil faster).
Carrots: Subtly sweet and highly complementary to healthy eyesight, carrots also take kindly to plastic bagging — more kindly than most, I reckon. Slipping a paper towel in with your Bugs Bunny cigars will help absorb moisture.
Citrus: Whole oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes are still good to go after two or three weeks in the fridge, but unlike apples and carrots, they need to breathe (a mesh bag is fine).
Cabbage: Few forms of roughage can tough it out like a head of cabbage — wrapped in plastic, it can survive up to two months in the fridge.
Radishes: Cut the tops off and take a load off — you won't have to worry about using refrigerated radishes for up to a month (unless you want to).
Beets: Could very well outlast everything in your fridge with the right setup (perforated plastic bag in the vegetable drawer). Would sure beet starving to death!
V8 juice: You could say Bloody Mary three times in the mirror, or you could keep a few cans or bottles of V8 vegetable juice cocktail in the fridge for stay-at-home brunches — unopened, it can last for years (even when opened, you still have a couple weeks).
Hard cheeses: Unlike soft cheeses, hard varieties are still viable after 2 to 4 months in the fridge before opening. After you finally do cut the cheese, you can still count on it for up to six weeks if wrapped properly to prevent mold from taking hold (best practice is to apply parchment or wax paper before wrapping in plastic).
Extending perishable foods with your freezer
To many folks, to shove something in the freezer is to give it a new lease on life. Soups, sauces, fruits, vegetables, and leftovers of any and every kind go here in hopes of one day reemerging to a second chance. Zip-top freezer bags are the best storage option for space-saving and versatility, while lidded plastic and glass containers (just allow to freeze first before capping to prevent shattering) also "slap," as the kids say.
That said, the freezer can also give you peace of mind if you're leery of buying items that spoil quickly. While freezing is not always ideal for texture and flavor purposes, it can buy you extra time to put highly perishable foods to some use before degenerating to an irreversibly sad, stinky, or smooshy state.
Leafy greens: We've all had the best intentions of a big bowl of salad every day only to opt for Kraft Easy Mac and chikky nuggies instead. Don't let the dream die — rinse the greens under cold water, roughly chop, blanch and shock (boil for a short period and plunge into an ice bath), squeeze the moisture out, and freeze separately in tightly-packed "salad balls" before bagging.
Herbs: Rinse, clean, chop, dry, spread and freeze on sheet. Some recommend freezing serving-sized portions in oil using ice cube trays, ready to pop right into your soups or sauces.
Avocados: Even the sveltest, slinkiest cat burglar might struggle wriggling through the ripeness window of an avocado, which is about 2-3 Earth hours, give or take. Peeled, pitted avocados can be frozen in halves or chunks, in wax paper or a lined baking sheet. Use a little lemon juice or vinegar to prevent browning. Thawed avocado is best reserved for blending or pureeing purposes.
Bananas: Ripe bananas go dark faster than some men's souls. Still, they're salvageable. Peel before freezing and savor later in baked goods and/or frozen desserts and smoothies.
Milk: Expiration date fast approaching? There's still hope. Milk can be frozen in the same jug it came in — remove about a cup to allow the remaining liquid to expand. After mandatory thawing in the fridge (not at room temperature!), you'll be left with something chunky and watery (skim milk has no fat and thus no chunks) but still safe to consume. Like thawed avocados, it's better employed in cooking/recipes.
Cheese: Although not ideal, processed, shredded cheeses fare the best in the freezer — think mozzarella on a frozen pizza.
Baked goods: Don't feel like eating a whole cake at once? Where is your commitment? While most goodies (breads, rolls, muffins, biscuits, pastries, etc.) typically don't stick around long in a house full of kids, smaller households will find value in staggering their treats over time. Wrapped in a preliminary layer of plastic, then in aluminum foil, baked goods suffer little degradation in quality after being frozen.
Matt Swanseger's (email@example.com) current record is three weeks between grocery store trips. No matter how dire things get, he will never freeze milk.