Sometimes the two groups I work with – families and educators – need quite different kinds of information, sometimes they need exactly the same advice, and sometimes it’s a bit of both.  Right now, with supermarkets struggling to keep completely stocked warehouses and retail shelves, it’s a bit of both.

I made this video for the Australian Childcare Alliance because so many of their members were reporting big holes in their supermarket deliveries that were disrupting their planned menus for 30, 60, or even 180 children in the next week or two.

Tinned food, dry goods

In particular, tinned foods like tomatoes, chickpeas and tuna, were missing or in strictly limited supply: if you’re buying for your family then four tins of tomatoes is not a bad haul. If you’re buying for an early learning centre of 200 children, that’s a disaster.

Pasta and rice were also reported missing or in low supply in some centres, and even playdough is taking a hit when there isn’t enough flour left in the order to cover that as well as the cook’s baking needs.

Ingredient substitutes

In the video I looked at a number of easy ways to substitute missing ingredients.  The trick was, I had to make it as easy and fast as possible for the poor cooks who are quite rightly used to using convenient foods like tinned tuna and tomatoes.

There’s no way, for example, that they have time to peel and deseed fresh tomatoes in a busy kitchen just to replace the tinned version. And the fact is, you don’t need to.

Fast and fresh

When I was first cooking I remember scrupulously boiling and peeling and deseeding tomatoes to make a sauce.  The theory behind that – which you’ll still see in most recipe books – is the skin and seeds can be bitter and have to be removed. But over time – after having to rush it on a few occasions – my experience showed that bitterness is not really an issue once they’re properly cooked down. In fact, the seeds have natural pectin which helps any later sauce to thicken so there’s quite an advantage in the end result to leave them in, too.

If you watch that part of the video you’ll see how I prefer to do it these days – either fresh and quartered, blended then used as puree with the seeds, skin, core and all, or roasted gently then blended and used immediately or in another dish.

How many, how long

The video also includes tips like:

  • how many fresh tomatoes (Australian sizes) you need to replace a standard tin
  • how many cups or grams of dried chickpeas you need to replace a tin
  • substitutes for tinned tuna, and
  • making playdough without plain or SR flour

Eggs in a basket

This should only be a temporary problem to deal with an unexpected drain on the usual supply chain – not on the availability of supplies themselves.  It does make you realise, though, how easy it is to be reliant only on the big supermarkets for 100% of your grocery needs.

In the video I also encourage cooks – as I would families – if time allows to look locally for their butchers, bakers, fruit shops and other food suppliers who can help with ingredients missing from the big orders at present, or who know even more about ingredient substitutes in their field.

How about you?

Have you missed out on an important item in your order that you suspect is because of the COVID-19 panic shopping by other people? Are you completely dependent on supermarket shopping? And that’s not a criticism because of course time matters and that’s exactly why most of us are stuck with the big guys, I’m totally with you on that.

Even if you aren’t you might find some inspiration to mix things up on your menu in this video – either in an early learning centre, OSHC service, school canteen or just at home this week.

Enjoy – and don’t panic!




Video – Ingredient substitutes in the COVID-19 buying panic

by Bec Time to read: 3 min