Thanksgiving will surely look different this year, both in terms of the meal itself and the prep. For many, the celebration will be smaller as loved ones are unable to travel as freely to get together. Others may bundle up and have their meal outside, with hand sanitizer being passed around right before the creamed onions. In terms of food shopping, many folks have already been avoiding grocery stores for a while, and you can bet that even more people will opt to order online during the holidays, when grocery stores tend to be even more crowded than usual.
While ordering groceries online is convenient and can be a major time-saver, it’s important to put your order in at the right time—otherwise, you won’t get what you need. To find out what that delivery sweet spot is, I reached out to Laurentia Romaniuk, a trends expert at grocery delivery service Instacart. Romaniuk looked at data from when orders spiked for Thanksgiving last year, and also for Thanksgiving in Canada (October 12) this year, to gather intel on what to expect this November.
When to put your Thanksgiving grocery order in
Romaniuk recommends making two Thanksgiving shopping lists: one of foods that don’t need to be bought fresh and can be bought farther in advance, and one of foods that only last a few days and need to be purchased closer to the holiday itself. “Last year, we saw sales for many Thanksgiving-related food items and ingredients spike after the week of November 11, so we’d recommend purchasing any shelf-stable ingredients you might need, like canned cranberry sauce, canned pumpkin, stuffing mix, and crispy fried onions, with plenty of time to spare before Thanksgiving,” she says. (Basically, do your shopping for that first list during or before the second week of November.)
Fresh items obviously need to be bought closer to the holiday, but Romaniuk has suggestions on timing there, too. “The best time to order your fresh grocery items, including produce, proteins, and dairy products, is early in the morning or first thing when your local grocery store opens,” she says. “Grocery stores will typically restock items overnight, so that’s when you may experience the best item availability.”
Romaniuk also recommends avoiding shopping the Sunday before Thanksgiving. In general, she says, Sunday tends to be the busiest day of the week, which means you’re more likely to have a longer wait time. “By Sunday evening, inventory can be low on many staples and popular items,” she adds. For this reason, she recommends shopping the Tuesday before Thanksgiving instead, which allows a day for shelves to be restocked.
Items peaking in popularity this year
While there are some food items that are in high demand every Thanksgiving, like canned pumpkin puree, Romaniuk says Instacart’s trends team is anticipating some new items to be popular this year. “Early indicators show that more people are opting for smaller cuts of turkey this year rather than buying the whole bird,” she says. “Turkey drumsticks, wings, thighs, breasts, and cutlets are all trending upwards since many families are opting for smaller celebrations.”
Romaniuk says there’s also a growing interest in umami ingredients like liquid aminos, dried mushrooms, tempeh, Worcestershire sauce, and sardines. For example, she says that compared to this time last year, Instacart sales for liquid aminos are up over 1,000 percent. “I expect we could see many people incorporating these deliciously savory ingredients into stuffings, gravies, and veggie side dishes to add a little extra flavor and punch,” she says. So if these items are on your list, you may want to buy them early.
If you plan on making baked macaroni or any other pasta dishes with alternative pasta this year, Romaniuk says that’s something else you may want to stock up on in advance. “This year alone, sales for Banza macaroni and cheese products are up 333 percent,” she notes. That’s a good indicator more families might be serving up the brand’s chickpea-based, vegan mac and cheese as a Thanksgiving side dish.
Here’s how a registered dietitian loads her plate on Thanksgiving:
Even though Thanksgiving may look different this year, the meaning behind favorite dishes is something that transcends distance and makes up for a less-than-perfect execution. So, if you’re unable to spend the holiday with loved ones, you can still make foods that remind you of when you were able to share the holiday meal together in the past. And, hey, at least when you order your food online you won’t be the one throwing elbows in aisle five to get what you need. The little things count a lot this year, don’t they?
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