Your ultimate coronavirus social distancing shopping list is here.

By Stacey Ballis
March 14, 2020
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This coronavirus stock-up-for-lockdown shopping situation is no joke, and while we shouldn't panic, we should take preparedness seriously. Even though I’d stocked up on the majority of the supplies I needed before there was a rush on everything, I still had to bite the bullet and hit my local Costco recently to make sure I had enough supplies to get us through the next weeks as social distancing becomes the norm. That said, by no means do we recommend hoarding products. Get what you need, and save plenty for your fellow shoppers.

I did survive the trip, and if you too have to get out there to finish stocking up, here are some of the best things you can buy while you are there—and none of them are toilet paper or bottled water. Costco can be full of temptations in the snack and sweets aisles, but mostly this is the ideal time to be buying staples and nutritionally balanced ingredients for hunkering down.

Plan Ahead for Your Costco Run

Be prepared. My Costco was a madhouse this weekend. But everyone was respectful while moving through and around each other with ample distancing, and everyone was being patient with the long lines and waits for checkout. I saw many people let folks with only a few items get in front of them in line when they had a cartful, and in general it was an experience that gave me more faith in humanity and our ability to help each other through this.

Plan on devoting twice the time you would normally spend just on the shopping part: Imagine you are at Costco on the Saturday before Christmas or Superbowl Sunday, and you will have a sense of the crowds and how hard it will be to navigate the aisles. If you can, bring a shopping buddy who can work another aisle to grab items so that you can keep your cart in the center and not get stuck behind a parent wrangling a toddler and a palette cart stacked with Charmin.

Allow a minimum of two hours for checkout, and no, they probably don't have any boxes left. Come prepared with your own bags or be ready to just load all your stuff loose in your car and deal with it at home. You will not find parking near the doors, and to be honest, there are not enough spots reserved for people with disabilities, so get some extra steps in and park on the fringes. You’ll be grateful on the return when there isn’t a line of cars at a standstill waiting for you to load your stuff and return your cart. 

Here’s What to Buy

Here is the best stuff to get at Costco if you are going to be working from home, practicing social distancing, or quarantined.

Rice and Beans

Everyone is saying it, but it bears repeating. These affordable pantry powerhouses are even less expensive in bulk, provide complete protein and nutrients, and last forever, so for the first time those huge bags don’t seem like such a bad thing. Cases of canned beans, any variety you like, or bags of dried which just need an overnight soak before cooking, and the large bags of rice will be your best pals. Especially if you have an Instant Pot or other pressure cooker, which make cooking fast and easy.

Frozen Fruit and Vegetables

Produce is going to be the thing you are going to miss most, so bags of frozen veg, especially green stuff like broccoli and spinach, and fruits like berries, peach slices, and mango will keep you getting your essential nutrients.

Frozen burgers

A fast and easy burger is a welcome thing anytime, but especially useful right now. You can cook burgers straight from frozen, or thaw as many as you need to use the meat in other applications like meatloaves, adding to jarred pasta sauces, fried rice, or any other place you want an extra boost.

Potatoes and Onions and Aromatics

Any type of potato or onion will last a very long while in a cool dark place or in the fridge, so don’t hesitate to stock up on these. Ditto ginger, garlic, and chili peppers, all of which will be so helpful in bringing some flavors to the party when pantry cooking.

Citrus and Apples

Vitamin C is important for your immune system, and also it would be unfortunate to avoid coronavirus and get scurvy. Citrus lasts a good long time in the fridge or a cool place, so load in lemons and limes for brightening cooking, and plenty of oranges, tangerines, and grapefruit. An apple a day might not keep the doctor away, but they are hardy when kept cold and are great for fiber and low-sugar snacking. Dip in nut butter or eat with cheese for a balanced snack or light meal.

Canned Fish

Tuna and salmon were still in abundance at my local Costco and will be great sources of shelf-stable protein in the weeks to come. In my college days a favorite go-to was cooked rice combined with a can of tuna and a can of navy beans, dressed with olive oil, a splash of vinegar and salt and pepper with a pinch of chili flake. I am about to revisit this dish, and not unhappily.

Eggs

Eggs last really well in the fridge, so now is the time to buy those flats of 24. Terrifically versatile, healthy protein, a breakfast/lunch/dinner sort of adaptable food, and essential if you have any plans for #coronabaking.

Yeast and Flour

Speaking of baking, being able to make your own bread is a wonderful thing to do, really great for stress relief, and if you are stuck at home, your house smells amazing! Bread is just flour and water and yeast and salt, so grab one of the one-pound packages of dried yeast and a large bag of flour at the Costco and you will be able to get your bake on. Any leftover yeast can be stored in the fridge or freezer, but you might just find that baking bread becomes a part of your regular routine even when this is all over.

Yogurt and Cottage Cheese

Again, these are both high in protein as well as calcium, and can be eaten as-is or used as ingredients in other dishes. Use yogurt to make salad dressings or smoothies, add cottage cheese to pancakes for extra protein, or whip them together as the basis for a dip!

Hummus and Nuts and Dried Fruit and Nut Butters

Costco has my go-to store-bought hummus, their Basha brand. It is velvety smooth, super delicious, and comes in a giant tub that lasts a long time. It is the perfect thing to have in the house at a time like this, same goes true for their nuts and dried fruits. Raw almonds or walnuts are good for snacking but can also be good add-ins for everything from salad to stir fries to crunchy toppers for pasta dishes. I love the Costco dried cherries and mango slices for snacking or adding to yogurt, and obviously they are good to have around for baking projects as well. And it should go without saying that both peanut and almond butter are going to be handy to have around.

Canned soups and stocks

This is especially important in case you or someone in your home does get sick, either with COVID-19 or another seasonal ailment. Easy on the system and comforting.

Bagels or English Muffins

Both will fare better in your freezer than sliced bread, and work great for breakfast toast, sandwiches or burgers.

Cured meats

For sandwiches and snacks, regular deli meats like turkey or roast beef won’t last nearly as long as cured meats like hams, salamis, and other charcuterie. Plus, you will feel so fancy! My Costco was out of the spiral sliced hams, but if yours has one, be sure to grab it!

Block and brined cheeses

Parmesan, Swiss, Gouda, and cheddar are all cheeses that will last a long time, as are tubs of chunk feta or whole mozzarella balls packed in brine. Good for snacking, sandwiches, or as ingredients in other dishes, you can’t go wrong here, if you overstock, you can have a post-lockdown cocktail party!

Pastas and Jarred Sauces

My Costco was getting a bit low, so you might not get your favorite shape of pasta or brand of sauce right now. But having both on hand will make for instant dinners when you don’t have the bandwidth to try and get overly creative.

Protein Shakes and Electrolyte Drinks

If someone does get sick in your household, these might be two of the most important things to have on hand, since both hydration and nutrition are essential to recovery. Look for brands with low sugar.

Protein Bars

At the Costco I swear by the boxes of Pure Protein and RXBAR protein bars, both of which come in assortments. Not too much sugar, good source of protein, and an ideal thing to be able to toss in a pocket or bag in case you do have to venture out. The ideal thing to eat after an at-home workout, or as a mid-afternoon pick-me-up to keep you from face planting in the Girl Scout cookies.

Treats

As much as it is essential to have as well-rounded and nutritionally sound a diet while hanging out at home, that doesn’t mean the pleasure principle goes out the window. For me, as someone who works from home full-time anyway, the key is making sure that the foods that tempt me the most aren’t around in quantities that turn me into a blind eating machine. Opt for the packages of lunch-box-size individual bags instead of giant, party-size bags: It will help you with portion control and prevent things going stale.

For salty stuff, try popcorn, pretzels, nut mixes instead of chips or fried stuff. For sweet stuff, think about some of the fun options Costco carries, like dark chocolate bark and palmier cookies. There has never been a more defensible time to buy that two-pack of the giant Nutella jars, but get them quick: My store was down to just about one box left.