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.
By Leah Zerbe
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.
When You're Out of "The Meats"
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.
- Portabello 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
For Canned Soups, Broth, Boxed Stock or Soup Bones
- 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
When the Produce Section Is Missing Your Favorites
- 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
- Chilves, 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
When Your Favorite Coffee or Tea Is Out of Stock
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.
For Coffee and Traditional Caffeinated Tea
- Dandelion root tea (caffeine-free)
- Golden milk
- 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
For Popular Out-of-Stock Immune and Sleep Tea Blends
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
When Sandwich Bread Is Nowhere to Be Found
- 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!)
When the Dairy Section Doesn’t Have What You Need
(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)
For Yogurt and Cheese
- 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
For Sour Cream
- Strained, nonfat yogurt
- Greek yogurt with mustard, salt and pepper
For Ice Cream and Treats
- Keto Cocoa Fudgesicles for Everyone
- Dairy-Free Vanilla Collagen Ice Cream
- Grain-Free Chocolate Granola
Other Smart Swaps
Instead of Bottled Water Tainted with Chemicals
- Opt for faucet, pitcher or countertop water filters to help lower levels of and remove chlorine and other contaminants from your local water supply
If You Can’t Find Any Throat Lozenges
- 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
Instead of Expensive Boxed Veggie Broths
- 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.