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Use These Supermarket Swaps When Grocery Store Shelves Are Empty (or Unpredictable)
By Leah Zerbe
May 12, 2020
Sure, toilet paper gets a lot of press when it comes to empty supermarket shelves. But have you actually tried to cook from scratch these days?
Whether you order online, practice curbside pick up, hire a delivery service or venture into the store yourself, it’s clear the food distribution system is facing disruptions.
What you order isn’t always there. Store substitutions often make no sense. And a quick trip inside even the most well-stocked supermarket is not what it used to be.
A shockwave through the food chain can ripple out and last for months. But no matter the challenges of the times, it’s good to know how to make smart swaps to make sure you and your family are consistently getting the key nutrients everyone needs.
Here are some ideas to turn to when a health-focused swap is in order. And, of course, it’s always a great idea to check with local sustainable farmers first to see if the ingredient you need is available locally and raised in a healthy, homegrown and humane way.
Some of the swap suggestions on the list provide similar nutrients, some offer a different nutrient profile but similar texture, while others may not taste the same, but can help you figure something out when you’re in a pinch.
Please note: Some swaps on this list may be more readily available compared to others. Use this outline for health-minded swaps and substitute ideas when possible, based on your menu and needs.
Whether you’re looking for a protein boost when the meat cooler is empty or you just want a veggie-based option with similar texture, the different options below will help you get through a selection slump at the supermarket.
Portobello mushrooms for burgers
Jackfruit for pulled pork or shredded chicken
Lentils instead of ground beef (1:1 ratio of uncooked lentils to 1 pound of beef for burgers, meatballs, sautes, burritos and more)
28 ounces cooked black beans for 1 pounds of ground beef
Zucchini and squash instead of crab meat for crab cakes
King oyster mushroom stems for shrimp
Artichokes (breaded and pan fried) for breaded fish
If you’re feeling short in omega-3 fatty acids, source a trusted omega-3 supplement
Turnips, cauliflower, squash, rutabaga, celery root or parsnips for mashed potatoes
Butternut squash for sweet potatoes
Squash, parsnips or beets in recipes that call for carrots
Chives, scallions or (if you’re desperate), celery for onions
Onions, chives, lemon zest or garlic scapes for garlic
Bean (including green bean) salads when the spring greens are sold out
Organic Supergreens powder for nutrients found in beets, carrots, broccoli, wild blueberry, kale, pomegranate and spinach
Vitamin C-rich bell peppers, kiwi, guava, papaya and pineapple when citrus is out of stock
If your grocery store is having trouble stocking fresh produce, make sure you’re taking a high-quality vitamin C supplement and high-quality multivitamin with ingredients in “body-ready” forms for absorption support
Don’t panic. I repeat. Don’t panic. With a little work, you should be able to find something on this list to swap in as a health-focused drink or herbal support.
Dandelion root tea (caffeine-free)
Matcha tea, including this instant powder mix containing 135 mg caffeine per serving
Dark chocolate (contains some caffeine)
Instant cold brew mixes (contain caffeine)
Kombucha (a little caffeine)
Hot chocolate, including this instant cocoa powder mix
Instant vanilla chai powder for restful sleep and skin health promotion
Forage for common weeds and turn them into tea, including:
Red clover (leaves and flowers; fresh or dried)
Stinging nettles (leaves; dried)
Mullein (leaves; dried)
When that’s not possible, try:
High-quality echinacea and astragalus capsules
Elderberry capsules (make sure they have 0g of sugar per serving and no artificial sweeteners
Collard, romaine, cabbage or Swiss chard leaves as wraps for bread
Zucchini noodles for pasta
Cauliflower rice for rice
Homemade sourdough bread (it takes some patience but is doable!)
(Bake times may be impacted by swaps, so pay close attention to the oven.)
Olive oil (not for anything heated)
Avocado oil for high-heat cooking
Coconut oil (1:1 ratio)
Mashed avocado spread for toast
Mashed bananas for baking (1:1 ratio)
Full-fat Greek yogurt for baking (for every cup of butter, use half a cup of Greek yogurt)
Pumpkin puree for baking (¾ puree per 1 cup butter)
Unsweetened applesauce for baking banana bread or zucchini bread (take the amount of butter called for and divide it in half: that’s how much applesauce you should use)
Flax seeds for chia seeds for eggs as a binding agent (1 tablespoon of seeds with three tablespoons of water and stir to incorporate)
Unsweetened applesauce for eggs in cakes, muffins and quick breads (1 eggs = ¼ cup applesauce)
Baking soda and vinegar for cakes, muffins and quick breads (1 teaspoon of baking soda mixed with 1 tablespoon white vinegar and 1 tablespoon water = 1 egg; best for recipes where 1+ eggs are called for)
Banana or fruit purees for cakes, muffins and quick breads (? mashed banana or other pureed fruit = 1 egg)
Homemade “almond cheese” for feta or ricotta
Homemade “cashew cheese” for brie
Walnuts, hemp seeds, nutritional yeast and salt in the food processor for parmesan cheese
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Strained, nonfat yogurt
Greek yogurt with mustard, salt and pepper
Keto Cocoa Fudgesicles for Everyone
Dairy-Free Vanilla Collagen Ice Cream
Grain-Free Chocolate Granola
Opt for faucet, pitcher or countertop water filters to help lower levels of and remove chlorine and other contaminants from your local water supply
Use a clove of peeled garlic and hold in your cheek; suck on it for 20 minutes or so to release its natural compounds
A dollop of local honey in warm water will help, too
Save and freeze veggie trimmings like carrot and celery tops, fennel and/or turnip scraps, garlic and onion skins, and add to a few onions, garlic, peppercorns and spices like thyme and oregano.
When you have enough for a pot, cover with water, boil, and then simmer 2 hours before straining and keeping liquid for homemade veggie broth.
With an B.A. in journalism from Temple University and a M.S. in exercise science from California University of Pennsylvania, Leah Zerbe covers health news and functional fitness topics. She’s also a certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and is a certified yoga teacher through Yoga Alliance. Leah resides on her family’s organic farm in Pennsylvania.