Lets Waste Less Blog

May 2020: How Covid-19 is changing our shopping and cooking habits

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed life dramatically for some people and will impact on many parts of our lives for a long time to come. One of the areas that it has affected is our shopping, cooking and eating habits.

With people either shopping once a week in the supermarkets or using local shops and delivery companies and the closure of restaurants and takeaways, suddenly the British public are doing something that a lot of them haven’t done for ages; cooked a meal at home for the whole family!

Research that was commissioned recently by the environmental charity Hubbub showed that there have been some positive shifts in food-related behaviours including virtual meals, cooking from scratch, wasting less food and families eating together more. But it also shows how many are struggling to put a meal on the table and are worried about food, with increasing numbers turning to food banks for the first time.

So, the content of this blog will be blatantly stolen from Hubbub to show how much people’s habits have changed since the Coronavirus lockdown started. 2038 adults were surveyed between 9 and13 April and 90% of the nationally representative sample say their shopping and/or cooking habits have changed.

What’s cooking?

Two people cooking food together

45% of respondents say they are cooking more since the restrictions were introduced to stop the spread of coronavirus. Over half (54%) of those cooking more said it was because they now have the time to cook that they didn’t before and 42% cite the need to cook from scratch more due to the sort of food they can get hold of.

44% of people are enjoying cooking more since the restrictions began although more than a quarter (26%) are finding preparing more meals everyday exhausting.

Young people in particular are keen to learn to cook more, with almost half (47%) of those aged 16-24 are seeing lockdown as an opportunity to improve their cooking skills, compared with a national average of 34%. 16-24s were, however more likely to find this tiring, with 40% saying they find preparing more meals everyday exhausting.

Eating and meeting

A group of people sitting at a table in front of a window

More than half of people (57%) say they value food more now since the corona virus restrictions started, with 43% saying they are also enjoying their food more.

40% of those aged 16-24 have had a virtual meal over video link (Zoom, Skype, Facetime etc.) for the first time and almost half (47%) of people are enjoying spending more time eating with their family or housemates.

The diet implications of lockdown may have a less positive impact on our health. 36% admitted to comfort-eating more to deal with the anxiety or boredom (40% for 16-24-year-olds) and almost a third (31%) are not eating as much fresh fruit and veg as usual due to avoiding shops as much as possible.

Struggling for food

Whilst a reconnection with food has been a positive experience for some, for others the pandemic has reduced their food security. 45% of respondents said they were more worried about food than before and 43% are worried about the extra cost of providing food for their household. Almost a fifth (18%) of the population is worried about getting access to free food such as through a food bank or community fridge. 7% of people said they have used a food bank for the first time since the restrictions began, rising to 15% of those aged 16-24 and 14% of those aged 25-34.

Food savvy

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Concerns that a surge in panic buying would lead to an increase in food waste levels appear to be unfounded. Almost half of people (48%) say they are throwing away less food since the restrictions began and only 6% say they are throwing away more.

Of those wasting less, people say they are planning meals more carefully (51%) and are getting better at using leftovers (41%). People are also making better use of their freezer, with 35% using it more and 29% freezing a wider variety of foods. Portion control is also a factor, with 27% now giving more accurate portion sizes and just over 1 in 4 (26%) are leaving less on the plate.

Of those wasting less, one in six (17%) are paying less attention to use by dates, eating more out of date food than usual. One respondent recently found a can of beans from 1989. Others consumed a can of coconut milk six years past its sell-by date, a five-year-old bottle of beer and a six-year-old bag of pasta with, fortunately, no ill effects.

With a reported surge in people growing their own and demand for compost through the roof, 45% of people said they’d like to have more skills in growing food, rising to 58% of those aged 25-34 - the most of any age group.

Shifting shopping habits

A box full of fruit

More than a quarter (26%) said they are buying better quality food as they are not going out or spending money on other things. While more than a third (34%) of people are supporting smaller/local businesses more than ever before, 43% say they are buying fewer takeaways as they are worried about contamination. A further 42% say they are not buying takeaways because money is tight. 29% said they were using their local corner shop/convenience store for the first time.

And there are signs that this will this continue once the restrictions are over. The majority (89%) of those who’ve made changes say they will continue to use at least one of the new shopping alternatives to supermarkets once the restrictions have ended. Many will continue to use local shops (41% will carry on using their local corner shop, 20% the local butcher, 13% the local farm shop and 15% the local greengrocer). And many will continue with home deliveries – 11% will continue with their fruit/veg box, 9% with milk delivery.

Hubbub’s top ten tips to make your food go further whilst in isolation

  1. Plan ahead – plan your week’s meals and only buy the food you need.
  2. Avoid panic buying – we are all still able to shop once a week, so you don’t need to buy enough food for a month.
  3. Check expiry dates when you’re shopping.
  4. Remember that food might still be eaten after its ‘best before date’ – check it looks and smells okay – food past its best can still be enjoyed.
  5. Make room in your freezer so you have plenty of storage space and check out Hubbub’s helpful guide to what food you can freeze (opens in a new window) – it’s more than you think!
  6. Many of us have neighbours who might not be able to get out to shop, so offer to share surplus food with them, whilst remembering to observe government guidelines on hand washing and social distancing.
  7. Make the most of store cupboard staples to bulk up meals – now is the time to make use of those chickpeas, beans and rice that have been sitting in your cupboard for some time.
  8. Batch cook meals and freeze them for future use.
  9. Check out some of the online resources for free cooking and growing tips and lessons, such as social media channels for Hubbub, Mob Kitchen and Borough Market.
  10. Take the opportunity of more time with your children to teach them valuable cooking skills to set them up for a healthier and more sustainable future.

With thanks to Hubbub for the use of their material. For more information about Hubbub and the work that they do, including the community fridge network visit the Hubbub website (opens in a new window).

For more information about reducing food waste, check out our Love Food Hate Waste pages.


Every month Worcestershire County Council's Waste Prevention Project Manager Emma Stuart will share her ideas, thoughts and tips about everything to do with waste to help you reduce the amount you throw away.