Has this happened to you yet?

A couple weeks ago, I was at the grocery store and was shocked to see the entire pasta section was empty.  I figured they would be running low, but I hadn’t figured on them being completely wiped out!

Okay, sure, the pasta wasn’t essential.  We weren’t desperate for it.  But I had already started thawing a batch of my home-made turkey marinara.  I had a plan for dinner, and that plan was disrupted.

I don’t mind admitting, I felt a small jolt of panic. 

social distance meal planning

What if this is just the beginning?  What if the stores keep running out of food?  I felt an impulse to start throwing anything I could find into the cart.  Instead of giving in to that impulse, I forced myself to pause and take a breath.

I told myself, “If pasta isn’t an option, you can find something else.”  So I doubled back and found a take-and-bake french loaf.  Garlic bread!  That would work!

My experience made me realize something.

My old meal planning methods aren’t going to work in this new social distance lifestyle.  Everyone is eating out less, cooking at home more, and stocking up on extra groceries. 

The stores are doing their best, but we can’t expect them to keep up with inventory the way they used to.  And this situation isn’t going away any time soon.

It’s time to adjust the way we approach meal planning.

After my pasta predicament, I went home and came up with a new meal planning strategy.  It is a simple four-step process that works with the social distance lifestyle.  I’d like to share it with you!

meal planning social distance


The FREE template, “Meal Planning: Social Distance Style,” is available to download at the end of this article



In the left hand column of the template, you will begin building dinners utilizing what you already have.  I find it much easier to start with one type of ingredient.  You might choose to start with the proteins. 

Scan through your entire inventory of dinner proteins, and list everything you have to work with.  If you have a value pack of chicken in the freezer that’s enough for three dinners, then you would list “chicken” three times.


You would then scan through your inventory of other types of dinner ingredients.  Match up grains, vegetables, sauces, etc., with the proteins you already have..

Start with the least flexible meals.  There are only so many sides that go with turkey marniara, whereas plain chicken is a blank slate.  So, claim that last box of pasta for the marinara, and find some other way to use the chicken.

At this point, pause.  Many of us have felt the same panic-impulse I did when I saw the empty shelves.  That fearful temptation to throw a bunch of random ingredients into your cart.

The way we fight that impulse is with information. 

Look at your list.  How many dinners could you assemble using what you already have at home?  How many days could you survive without any new groceries?  Seeing the inventory written out relieves the fear, prevents the panic, and helps you stay wise at the store.


Now we’re ready to make our grocery list.  These days, we should expect the stores to be out of what we’re looking for, so let’s have back-up plans in place.  So, for any incomplete meals, list 2-3 ideas for different ingredients you might buy to finish off the meal.

If I had been using this template when I was making the turkey marinara, I might have listed: pasta, fresh bread, frozen garlic bread.  Seeing the empty pasta shelves would have been disappointing, but I would have calmly moved on to the second option on my list.

This is definitely a strange season.

The unpredictability alone is enough to make our heads spin.  Almost every aspect of the way we run our lives, even something as basic as deciding what’s for dinner, is met with obstacles.  Sure, we could power through for a week or so.  But now we know we’re in this thing for the long haul.

It’s time to stop playing defense, and get proactive!

Let’s start adjusting our home-management routines so that they work with this new social distancing lifestyle.  Who knows?  We might just stumble upon a new system that works even better than the old!

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