What to do When You can’t Find What You Need at The Store


I remember the first time it happened to me. 

Driving through town with a friend on the way to a doctor’s appointment, we passed an overturned grocery truck. 

And when we stopped at the grocery store on the way home, the dairy shelf was empty, with paper signs hanging from it, letting customers know that the milk truck had been interrupted, and there would be no milk until the next morning. 

what to do when you can't find what you need at the store

That was my first clue to just how fragile the supply chain could be. 

And now? We all know about the major interruptions that have happened as a result of panic buying. 

The truth is, we might not find what we need the next time we step into a store. So what do we do? 

It’s important not to let panic takeover in these situations. Know that there are alternatives, and everything will be okay. 

Adapt and overcome. Making it through a shortage is all about knowing how to make what you want or need out of what’s left. 

Toilet Paper

This is probably the hardest, right? Not very many of us want to switch over to the family cloth! 

Unfortunately, toilet paper is one of the most panic-bought items in the U.S. right now, so we might need some alternatives:

As a side note, menstrual products may not be flying off the shelves yet, but you can completely eliminate the need for them with a menstrual cup.

Hand Sanitizer

When you can’t walk into the store and find a bottle of hand sanitizer, you know people are panicking! Here’s the good news; good old fashioned soap is actually more effective at annihilating germs than hand sanitizer is. 

I’m obviously a big fan of making your own soap and having truly good, germ-fighting hand-washing experience, but hand sanitizer has its place and you can make your own! 

While more and more people are making their own hand sanitizer, wiping out rubbing alcohol and witch hazel inventories too, I bet you already have the ingredients on hand, so check out this homemade hand sanitizer recipe and make some.

Facial Tissue

In our area, the Kleenex is gone or nearly gone too! This is a lot easier than toilet paper though! We might not want to use handkerchiefs, but they are washable. You can do it!

In fact, my family went through a phase of using handkerchiefs when I was a kid, and we were trying to minimize paper product consumption, and it wasn’t so bad! 

Paper towels, and disposable wipes

This is a great opportunity to get away from paper waste! Use microfiber cleaning cloths to do your dirty work. You can find microfiber cloths usually in the cleaner aisle, or with car cleaning supplies, or buy them online

You may not like the idea of cleaning with a washable cloth at first, but microfiber is different from regular washcloths in that it’s softer, and leaves your surfaces shiny. They also wring out nearly dry which makes them great for cleaning windows, furniture, and stainless steel. 

Chewable vitamin C

I was shocked last week when I went to the store to find the vitamin C aisle decimated! I think that’s when I realized people were taking this panic buying seriously.

My kids have a hard time swallowing pills, and I usually buy chewable vitamins for them, but we’ve got a workaround! We came home and crushed vitamin C pills to make homemade vitamin C gummies for them. Bonus; they’re actually better than chewable tabs from a bottle. 

Solutions for when the grocery store shelves are empty

What about groceries? 

There are so many groceries flying off the shelves, and also, so many that aren’t. While we may not be able to find much in the way of pasta or tortillas right now, we’re not in any danger of starving. 

In fact, NPR reported that while dried and canned food sales were massively up, fresh produce was vastly down. 

Spaghetti dinner may be off the table, but fruits and vegetables are definitely on, so can we really complain? 

I’ll be honest, we may run out of flour before this is over. We’ll most likely run out of milk long before we truly need to go back into town and restock, but none of us are going to run out of food, because the supply chain is still there, and panic buyers aren’t even buying most of it. 

That said, here are a few things you can make with ingredients that aren’t likely to be sold out, in order to make up for condiments that might be, or that you might run out of during a quarantine: 

Homemade mayonnaise. This is so simple to make – it literally takes two minutes – that you may never go back to buying it. 

Homemade ranch dressing – without a mix. One of my favorite recipes. You can use plain yogurt if you don’t have buttermilk since we’re all not running to the store for a single ingredient these days. 

Strawberry Vinaigrette salad dressing. This is also super easy to make if you have a blender, and even great for your immune system thanks to the apple cider vinegar and raw honey!

Homemade Hot Fudge Sauce (c’mon, this one is essential!)

 Cook and De-gass beans. Dry beans are such a great stockpile staple, but they have a rather well-known side effect. Take care of that with this recipe. 

Make your own tortillas. Like I mentioned earlier, in our area, this isn’t a packaged tortilla in sight, but that’s alright, because we can make our own with either masa for corn tortillas, or wheat or spelt for flour tortillas. You do not have to own a tortilla press for this! I use either a rolling pin (for flour), or press them between two cutting boards (for corn). 

Make your own bread. If you’re gluten-free, try this amazing gluten-free sandwich bread. We also have a sandwich wrap bread recipe that is foolproof (it’s a lot easier to make fluffy bread that isn’t in a tall loaf). 

Eat eggs. If you’re on a smallish homestead like us and have a flock of hens doing their thing this spring, you may be covered up in eggs, and during a quarantine, that’s a good problem to have! We put together this amazing list of frittata recipes just for this situation.

I hope this helps you get through grocery store shortages. Leave a comment and let us know your best tips for what to do when you can’t find what you need at the store – we could use some community brainstorming!

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  1. Hello Elise!

    It is astonishing: milk is now available in Germany again. Getting toilet paper is still difficult inside.
    I don’t understand why people buy so much toilet paper.

    In Germany you are only allowed to leave the house if you want to buy something or have to work. For everyone else there is curfew.
    This is a good opportunity to do things yourself.

    If it is difficult to buy food, you can cook very simple dishes, for example onion soup or potato soup or vegetable soup
    Do you have wild herbs? With us you can collect wild garlic. Pasta with wild herb pesto is delicious and very affordable.

    best regards, Sibylle from Germany

  2. I’ve been tempted to buy baby wipes myself since our stores never seem to have any toilet paper anymore. I have friends with kids still in diapers though and they’ve said that they had a hard time finding baby wipes because people were buying them to use as toilet paper. So if you all are tempted to buy baby wipes and they’re in short supply at the store, please try to find another alternative if you can.
    I’ve seen a number of news articles on people clogging pipes with what they’re currently flushing down the toilet. So it’s good to remember that only toilet paper and flushable wipes should be flushed down the toilet. That probably seems like commonsense to most of us, but judging by the number of calls plumbers are currently getting it’s not commonsense to everyone.

    I keep forgetting that I can make my own hot fudge sauce. I’ve made it before using sweetened condensed milk but I think I’d like to try your recipe since I currently have a gallon of whole milk I need to use up.

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  4. Since local stores never offer toilet paper, I’ve considered buying baby wipes. Friends with young children stated they had trouble locating baby wipes because people were using them as toilet paper. If baby wipes are out of stock, please locate an alternative.
    I’ve seen news stories about individuals plugging pipes with toilet waste. Remember to only flush toilet paper and flushable wipes. Most of us think that’s plain sense, but based by the amount of calls plumbers get, not everyone agrees.

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