If you've recently found that many of the grocery items on your weekly shopping list are unavailable, you're not alone. When the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, millions of people swarmed to stores and cleared their shelves. While many stores have been able to restock, you may still have trouble getting some of the items that you usually buy. How can you cope with the situation? Here are some ideas to help you make the most of limited grocery options and maybe even use them to your advantage!

Make a Meal Plan, but Keep It Flexible

If you aren't already in the habit of making a weekly meal plan, it's never a bad time to start. But what do you do if you get to the store and can't find the items you planned for? An easy way to help with this is to plan extra meals into your week that depend on shelf-stable items. For example, if you usually plan 7 meals at a time, plan for 10, with at least 3 being meals you can make entirely from frozen, canned, or long-lasting ingredients (think frozen stir-fry blends, bean-based soups, and potato and onion dishes). If you can get all your ingredients, then you'll have some extra ingredients that won't go bad before your next shopping trip. If you can't, then the extra meals you planned will help fill in any gaps.

Look at Alternative Ingredients

If you normally buy canned beans but can't find any, learn how to cook your own from scratch. If tofu isn't available, give tempeh a try or substitute chickpeas for a protein-rich alternative. Fresh and frozen produce can often be used interchangeably in cooked dishes. Don't be afraid to experiment a little!

Try Something New

This is a great time to give some new foods a try. If you're doing an online grocery order, you should know ahead of time what ingredients won't be available. Look up substitutions online or try some of the store's suggested alternatives. If cherries are the only frozen fruit you can find, look up some new smoothie recipes. If the only curry you've ever made depends on vegan butter and vegan cream, try a few recipes with coconut milk or blended cashews. If you're going into the store, spend a little extra time browsing. No flour in the baking aisle? Try something from the gluten-free aisle. Each week, grab a few new things that look interesting and commit yourself to trying them. You might find a new favorite!

Buy a Little Extra Without Hoarding

There is no way of knowing how long the current COVID-19 restrictions may continue. They might last a few more weeks or even months in different areas of the world. Things may ease up over the summer and get worse again in the winter. Nobody knows for certain. It's a good idea to prepare in case things do get worse and you're unable to get the food supplies you need later down the road.

It's entirely possible to do this without hoarding. Buy two cans or bags of an item instead of one on each shopping trip and go ahead and buy bulk products from stores that offer it. But don't clear out the baking shelves or take every last can of beans if you won't be using them in the next week or so. Lots of people are still trying to find things they haven't been able to get for weeks, so shop respectfully.

Finding out you can't get the ingredients you planned on can be stressful, but with some creative thinking, this might be a perfect opportunity for you to expand your cooking routine and find some great new recipes. You're probably spending a lot more time at home then you used to, so take advantage and have fun in the kitchen! You never know what great discoveries you'll make.

We love to hear from you! Are you able to find all the cooking supplies you need? How are you being more creative in the kitchen? Let us know in the comments!