Menu planning in times of (perceived) scarcity COVID-19

Menu planning in times of (perceived) scarcity COVID-19

My standard menu planning process is to do it as a batched task. I will menu plan for a month then shop weekly for key ingredients and do top-up shops as needed for milk, eggs, bread etc during the week as needed. You can see my monthly menu process in detail here.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has seen panic buying in Australian supermarkets and other food stores. As a consequence, there are now limits on how much of certain items you can buy. I wholeheartedly support this, so everyone can have access to these items. These limits and a shortage of many items has meant a change to my regular menu planning process.

We were in a pretty good position to start with when all the panic buying started. I always have a well-stocked pantry, so we had plenty of the basics I need for cooking and baking. We only have a standard sized freezer compartment in our fridge and that has a large range of frozen fruits for smoothies and some stores of frozen meats. The reality is we simply don’t have space for hoarding huge amounts of food on top of what we need for our family of 7 to eat in a week!

At this stage, it appears the shortage of food items is due more to supply chain issues than actual food scarcity or shortages. National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) chief executive Tony Mahar said recently:

We’re definitely not going to run out of food. There’s no food shortages in Australia… we produce enough food for 75 million people in this country and there’s only 25 million of us. {source}

But at the moment the reality is I cannot take a shopping list to the supermarket, greengrocers and butchers assuming I will get all the items I want on the list or that I can purchase them at a price that I am willing to pay.

How I am menu planning in times of (perceived) scarcity COVID-19

The last couple of weeks this is how I have tackled menu planning:

Work with family favourites

Everyone in our family to date seems to be coping well with the current climate of uncertainty and change. None of the kids are anxious and as parents we are both calm and considered about the situation so I think that helps.

With that said though, with so much change going on, I am not looking to serve up any new and different meals for them any time soon. With us all in the home so much more now, I want dinner time to be as harmonious as possible. This means I am serving up family favourites more frequently than usual and where I can, I am making them in larger quantities so the kids can have them for breakfast/lunch.

This has been working really well for the kids and it also is working well for me, as it is quicker for me to cook meals that I know and most of the meals the kids love the most are pretty easy and quick to cook.

Use what I have

As I noted, I do have a well-stocked pantry and some items in the fridge/freezer so I want to make sure I use what I have on hand. It is easy to also start to feel like I should panic buy, but I know there are others out there who don’t have a stocked pantry and really need these items, so I am aiming to use some of what I have and not hoard it.

Have a desired plan for the week

Before I head out to buy the groceries I will write a desired plan for the week. I will base this off what are favourite meals for the kids and what I have on hand. It is actually much easier to plan for dinner at the moment as there are no after school activities to factor in, no in face meetings I have to attend, so I can cook pretty much any time of the day I want!

The desired plan isn’t specific like I would usually have but looks more like this:

  • Monday – hamburgers
  • Tuesday – satay
  • Wednesday – pasta and sauce
  • Thursday – meat and veg
  • Friday – homemade take away
  • Saturday – wrap style meal
  • Sunday – roast

Being flexible while shopping

With my desired plan and a flexible and open mind, shopping becomes less of an arduous task. My kids love these chicken burgers that a local butcher makes, so my preference was to get those, but if I couldn’t them, I could either make them myself or buy beef burgers. As it was I could get chicken burgers but was limited to 10 – this really isn’t enough for us, but I was happy to get what I could!

I take the same approach with the other meals. For the meat and veg meal, if I could get lamb chops, my kids would love it, but if all that is left is sausages, then that would have to do. I have passata so I know I can make a tomato based sauce for the pasta, but whether that ends up being this chicken pasta sauce or a veggie pasta sauce will depend on what I can buy.

All of the kids love our homemade tacos so our preference would be to have beef mince for our wrap meal, but it has been hard to come by so my second preference would be buying chicken breasts to make sweet chicken chilli wraps.

Price considerations

An unfortunate reality of this current (perceived) food scarcity in the COVID-19 pandemic is that there have been prices rises to a great deal of fresh fruit and veg and meat. Red capsicums are over $14 per kilo, broccoli is over $10 a kilo. Beef mince at my local butcher was $5 a kilo more expensive than usual.

I also take into consideration the price of food, so while I could have bought lamb chops, they were really too expensive for me to buy for the whole family for that shop given the increased prices of everything else. I will look to buy fresh fruit and veg that is still reasonably priced and that gives the family variety.

Putting it into perspective

When planning out the evening meals for the family I am well aware that we are very lucky. We are well, we are healthy and strong and we have everything we need, even if it isn’t as planned! The Coronavirus pandemic is seeing food shortages for many who are homeless as panic buying strips supermarket shelves and charities are struggling to source food, or have to close due to social distancing requirements.

Then there are the thousands of sick and dying around the world. My thoughts and prayers go out to those who are really suffering and to the amazing healthcare workers who are doing their best to help them.

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