EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - Old guys were wandering around Stop&Shop this morning during OPT (Old People's Time) which runs from 6:00 to 7:30 am.  They looked a bit panicked, showing distressed eyes above their masks.  Not all the agita was caused by the fear of contracting COVID-19 from a cantaloupe, though.  They were puzzled by doing a job that seemed not to be generally theirs - grocery shopping.

"Is garlic salt the same as garlic powder" asked a man in a patriotic mask.  From behind my own peace-sign bandana, I replied, "No, unless you're the cook and you remember not to add other salt."  There was no garlic powder or onion powder on the spice shelves, but there was plenty of marjoram and lots of cloves.

In the organic foods section, another guy asked, "Hey!  Is this all the milk they have?  I can't bring myself to drink flax milk.  I just can't."  I pointed him, from a safe distance of six feet, to the milk section at the far end of the store which was plentifully stocked.

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It was clear to me that the shoppers were not the cooks, especially in my generation.  (Hey, wasn't I there at OPT as well?)  Why did they assume that I knew where everything was?  Why did I know where everything was?

Shopping today is a challenge in many ways, mostly because of the absolutely essential need for social distancing.  However, doing it right can save time, money, and provide a bit of perspective on the impact of how this virus has changed a simple visit to the grocery store.

The following is a list of suggestions to improve shopping right now:

  • Do not go out for a small amount.  Do a big shopping and drastically limit the number of times you leave your house to shop.
  • Do not panic.  Dress properly.  Do not linger in the store, but don't waste time by rushing and missing what you need.  Make this one trip count.
  • Be courteous.  Everyone is on their last nerve. Say good morning to the only new people you will interact with for several days.
  • Don't buy what you don't need or can't use.  I am proud of the fact that I have not used a single paper towel in two weeks.  I have re-purposed all our old tea-towels and rags for cleaning.  There were paper towels on the shelf today, and I was tempted to buy them.  Why?  I left them for the folks with lots of spillers in the family.
  • Make a list.  A list helps you organize your trip and prioritize what you need over what you want.  Get the chicken, milk, and beans before you grab your chips and soda. (Hey, you need your TV-binge food, too, but time in the store is an issue.)
  • Send the person who cooks to do the shopping.  A good cook knows how to switch-out one food for another.  A good cook knows where stuff is.  Again, get good groceries and minimize your time in the store.
  • Buy food that makes meals.  Prepare meals in your head while you shop. Combine items on your list with fresh foods. Okay, so you scored the chicken breasts.  What's the rest of the meal? Grab those bags of salad.
  • Be flexible.  During this quarantine, some items may not be available.  Others may be very expensive.  This morning, a dozen eggs cost over $6.  My idea to make a quiche or frittata will have to wait awhile. 
  • Be creative.  Buy and use what there is an abundance of.  Mushrooms were cheap today, and there were lots of nice, fresh ones.  Making some tasty sauce with mushrooms in the slow cooker right now.  See what I mean about sending the cook to shop? 
  • Respect and appreciate the staff.  They didn't sign up for this.  Today, Megan was my cashier.  I said, "Thank you, Megan." When I came home, I actually went to that website at the bottom of my receipt and sent a nice note to management about the store and the cashier.  Kind words travel far.

I shopped well today during OPT at my local grocery store.  Because of that, you won't be seeing me there for a good while. Hope those old guys can find what they need.