Whether you (or your spouse) have been heading out to the grocery store, or relied on services like Amazon Prime Pantry, Instacart, or Shipt, contending with empty store shelves and hard-to-find ingredients means that you’re forced to get really creative when you cook.
Since most grocery stores in the U.S. typically stock a whopping 40,000 items, we’ve become accustomed to having everything at our fingertips. Now that things have changed for a bit however, we’re forced to live much like our grandparents did—stretching meals and making the most of what we have.
The reasons behind the grocery store shortage are complex. Not only are people panic buying and hoarding food, but with shelter in place orders and everyone stuck at home, the U.S. has switched from being a nation of people who love to eat out, to one that is now making more homemade meals than ever before.
Due to safety concerns, people are also buying more groceries, but less frequently. At the same time, manufacturers are producing less of certain items—which is why you may find only one variety of yogurt, for example.
Plus, because of coronavirus outbreaks, some beef and pork plants have closed, making those options limited at the grocery store.
Of course, with everyone stress baking, most people can’t get their hands on yeast, baking powder and certain types of flour.
Fortunately, there are a ton of simple substitutions for hard-to-find grocery store ingredients that will help you pull off healthy meals in no time.
WHEN GROCERY STORE SHELVES ARE EMPTY, TRY THESE SUBSTITUTIONS
1. TUNA FISH
High in protein, shelf-stable and a food most people like, it’s no wonder tuna fish has been tough to get. If you can’t find canned tuna fish, try to look for the packets.
Also, consider other types of canned fish including:
- Smoked trout
- Kipper (herring)
Canned salmon in particular, is a great option because it’s high in protein and I think, has a more appealing taste than tuna fish.
Not only can alternatives encourage you to try out new recipes, but exposing kids to new types of foods can encourage them to be healthy, adventurous eaters.
If you love to eat eggs but can’t find whole eggs, you might be able to find egg whites or Egg Beaters. The yolk of the egg is where most of the nutrition is, but for now, egg whites are still a good substitute for breakfast and other meals.
Tofu can also work as an egg replacement for scrambled eggs—here’s an easy recipe.
For baking recipes, there are so many great alternatives:
- Chia seeds (Related: 7 Kid-Friendly Ways To Use Chia Seeds)
- Commercial egg replacers like Bob’s Red Mill
- Flaxseed (here’s a recipe for a flax egg)
- Nut butters
As an Italian-American born and raised in New York, I love a big bowl of white pasta just like the next person, but pasta has been one of those hard-to-find items at the grocery store.
Luckily, it has come a long way in recent years with gluten-free and plant-based pastas and many are just as delicious—and maybe even healthier—than regular pasta.
I love Trader Joe’s brown rice pasta, but look for other types of gluten-free pastas like those made with quinoa, chickpeas, black beans or lentils.
Another option is to go low-carb and boost your kids’ vegetable intake by making spiralized vegetable noodles. Try:
- Sweet potatoes
Whether it’s to pass the time, beat boredom or simply have some sweet treats on hand, many families are baking which means flour has been in short supply.
The good news is that there are a ton of other options. Look for pre-made baking mixes for muffins, breads, scones, cakes, pancakes and waffles.
If you want to bake from scratch however, there are several gluten-free options which I love:
- Almond flour
- Coconut flour
- Oat flour (I use gluten-free rolled oats and grind them in my Vitamix)
- Cassava flour
- Rice flour
Although I enjoy eating plant-based foods, they’re definitely not a replacement for meatballs, burgers or a juicy steak.
Still, when you can’t find meat, vegetables, beans, legumes and soy foods can all be healthy and delicious options and help you save money at the grocery store.
For soy-based options, skip the Impossible Burger which is heavily processed and high in saturated fat and look for recipes that use tofu or tempeh. Here are some I like:
- Marinated Peanut Tempeh
- Sheet Pan BBQ Tofu
- 15 Minute Tofu and Vegetable Stir-Fry
- Simple Vegan Meatballs
- The Best Vegan Meatloaf
Rice is one of the best healthy cheap food staples, but if your grocery store is out of it, look for other types of grains that work just as well such as:
- Shirataki rice
If you’re looking to get more plant-based foods into your kid’s diet, there’s been no better time than the present.
With grocery store shelves low on animal products and more time to cook, it’s a great opportunity to try out new dishes.
While beans are some of the healthiest foods for kids and work in so many different types of dishes, you may not be able to find the types of beans you’re looking for. My advice is to buy what you can and then search for new recipes.
Also, consider dried beans if you can’t find canned. You’ll need to soak and cook the beans and although that takes more time, I think they’re more robust than canned.
If you don’t want to sit and watch the beans as they cook, you can cook the beans in the slow cooker.
You can also make beans in Instant Pot without soaking them—so easy!
Cow’s milk may be hard to find, but luckily there are several options.
For shelf-stable milks, there’s evaporated milk and oat milk—which surprisingly, sales of the latter rose 305.5% in one week, according to Nielsen.
There are other non-dairy milks, but keep in mind that the amount of protein, calcium and sugar varies so read labels carefully:
- Almond milk (Califia Farms is my favorite)
- Coconut milk
- Cashew milk
- Soy milk
- Rice milk
- Hemp milk
- Pea protein milk
- Macadamia milk
- Quinoa milk
9. PEANUT BUTTER
As long as your kid doesn’t have food allergies, peanut butter is an easy, versatile, shelf-stable food. You can try powdered peanut butter, which works well in smoothies.
If you can’t get it at the grocery store however, there are so many other options:
- Almond butter
- Cashew butter
- Sunflower seed butter
- Coconut butter
- Tahini (also good for homemade hummus!)
I find that these are definitely more expensive than peanut butter, that’s why I like to buy the nuts and seeds myself and make the butter in my Vitamix.