Pandemic Shopping: What to Buy Online Vs. in a Store

Pandemic Shopping: What to Buy Online Vs. in a Store

When it comes to supporting our immune system and warding off illness, we all know it’s important to eat healthy and, therefore, shop for the freshest and most nutrient-packed products. But COVID-19 and its accompanying decision-making factors (including exposure risk, comparative pricing, and available inventories) are leaving the country with one overarching grocery question: Do I purchase online or in the store?

For Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, author of The Flexitarian Diet and The Superfood Swap, that question is a complex one.

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The Coronavirus Conundrum

“People are cooking more at home, but they’re going to the grocery store less. And to top it off, many of us are facing job insecurity, so nobody wants to waste anything, either,” she notes.

“Those are three big factors at play, all of which point to the fact that it’s good to have a plan in place — provided you have some flexibility.” Case in point for Blatner herself, who notes that no matter how great a grocery list she crafts, she’s bound to encounter shortages at the store — providing the perfect opportunity to pivot.

“My husband and I try to have fun with it. When your brand of pasta or bread or yogurt is sold out, it forces you to try new things and discover options and flavors you would normally pass over.”


Shopping Showdown: Online vs. In-Store

pandemic shopping - groceries delivered

When it comes to the question of what to purchase online versus in a store, Blatner is in favor of combining the two. “Both are good for different reasons,” she says, noting to only consider in-store purchases if you’re healthy, and the importance of cart wipes, proper face mask and glove attire, and hand-washing hygiene before and after for any grocery trips.

What the store is better for

“There are certain items that I prefer to choose in-store,” says Blatner. “I want to be able to pick my own avocado because I know how ripe I like it, and the same goes for bananas. I want to see the lettuce before I buy it because I want to see how fresh it is.”

Time is of the essence, too, especially when it comes to items like fresh meat, seafood, dairy, and eggs. “I like being the one to purchase these items because I know how quickly I’ll be able to get them into the fridge or freezer,” she says. “I don’t have to worry about how long they’ve been out at room temperature.”

When it’s time to buy online

Pantry items and dry goods are the options to look for online, Blatner notes, from pasta and rice to beans and soup. “With these items, it doesn’t matter how long they’ve been sitting out, I don’t care who picked them, and there isn’t as much variety to have to choose from. So I’m all for getting them online.”

And by spending the time and energy to make those purchases online when possible, Blatner notes, you’re decreasing the time required of those decisions in-store — a step that is key right now for many who are looking to minimize time spent in public spaces.


Additional Shopping Tips

pandemic shopping - social distancing

“A lot of people are asking themselves, ‘How can I not go to the grocery store as often, and when I’m in the grocery store how can I limit my time?’ And something that helps with that is breaking up your purchases into these two categories,” says Blatner, who also suggests creating a list that’s planned according to the store’s sections, ensuring you can shop as efficiently as possible.

To help with those lists, see below for Blatner’s breakdown of items to purchase online and in the store.

pandemic shopping list - graphic for online vs in store

Coronavirus Shopping List: What to Buy in Store

  • Fresh meat and seafood
  • Eggs
  • Dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt)
  • Fresh produce (bananas, apples, lettuce, avocados, kale, cabbage, carrots, garlic, onions)
  • Frozen produce (berries, broccoli, kale, spinach, cauliflower rice, butternut squash)
  • Frozen chicken breast
  • Sprouted whole grain bread
  • Sweet potatoes, white potatoes


Coronavirus Shopping List: What to Buy Online

  • Soups
  • Crackers
  • Oatmeal
  • Popcorn
  • Nut butters
  • Canned beans
  • Canned tuna and salmon
  • Pasta (garbanzo/lentil)
  • Pasta sauce
  • Olive oil