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Grocery store shelves still empty? 6 smart ways to stock up on food during quarantine

Time to think outside the big box store with these alternative ways to finding and buying good food to eat.

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If your local store shelves are still empty, try these alternative sources to get the food, supplies and other items you need.

Shara Tibken/CNET

You grabbed the last frozen pizza but snubbed your nose at the last remaining loaf of bread. The area where rice belongs looks like bags were airdropped in and you have two choices of beans: red kidney or none. This is supermarkets' new normal as millions of people all over the US settle into stay-at-home routines, cooking more meals at home. It might also be the effect a touch of panic buying in response to the coronavirus outbreak will have -- but it's not an actual food shortage.

If your usual Publix, Kroger or Whole Foods seems in short supply, you may have considered testing out alternative options, including ordering online. First, check your local Asian, Middle Eastern, Mexican or general grocer. They might be more fully stocked. You can also shop grocery delivery, meal kit delivery, farm-to-table produce boxes and other online options. 

You may not find exactly what you're looking for, but there's fresh food aplenty to fill your fridge and belly. The key is to not get discouraged and to only buy what you actually need so that there's enough stock for others. Read on for more options to fill your fridge and cupboards. (And if you need electronics, fitness gear, medication and household goods, here's where to look when Amazon and Walmart are out of stock.)

Read more: 10 cookbooks to get you through quarantine  

Now playing: Watch this: Coronavirus lockdown: Why social distancing saves lives
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Get in-stock alerts, watch stock livestreams 

Over the last few weeks, several online tools have popped up that let you keep an eye on stock levels at various stores, including Amazon, Walmart and Target. CNET's Katie Conner takes a more in-depth look at how to track items like toilet paper and Chlorox wipes here (you can also track food the same way) or you can explore one of these sites to see what's available online or near you:

The Supply Finder: Livestream of product availability at Amazon, Walmart and Target.

Now in Stock: Browsable list of stock availabilities, plus livestream. Monitors a wider range of stores, including Best Buy, Staples and Kohl's.

BrickSeek: Checks in-store availability at brick-and-mortar retailers near you.

GetMarkk: Crowdsourced stock information at stores near you.

Grocery delivery from chain stores

Walmart: Delivery costs $8 to $10, Delivery Unlimited costs $13 a month or $98 a year and no per-delivery fee.

Whole Foods: Free delivery to Amazon Prime members.

Kroger (select cities): Store delivery costs $10 to $12. Shipping from the warehouse costs $5, free on orders of $35 and up.

Albertson's: Delivery costs $10, free on orders $150 and up.

Safeway (select cities): Delivery costs $10 to $13 (no free option). Pickup costs $4 to $5.

Other services: Instacart (though workers are intending to strike). Shipt ships Costco, Target, Meijer, CVS and H-E-B.

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Online grocers like Amazon Fresh are working around the clock to fulfill orders.

James Martin/CNET

Buy food from online-only grocery stores

Most online general grocery stores have a free shipping option, but some may have membership fees or steep delivery charges. These are some tough times, so you might just want to suck it up. 

ShopFoodEx: Independent general grocer. Shipping cost varies by order and location, 33% discount on shipping for orders $100 and up.

Boxed: Shelf-stable, bulk item wholesaler (think, Costco). Shipping costs $7, free on orders $49 and up.

Thrive Market: Organic, natural foods. Membership costs $60 per year. Shipping costs $6, free on orders $49 and up.

Amazon Fresh (select cities): Delivery costs $5 to $10, free on orders $35 and up ($50 and up in some places). Free pickup.

Peapod (East Coast only): General groceries. Delivery costs $3 to $10, plus fuel surcharge. Free pickup.

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While many supermarket shelves are empty, smaller independent grocers often have plenty of stock.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Specialty grocery stores

Use Google Maps to find your nearest retail store for in-person shopping, like 99 Ranch, which also has online ordering, or one of these top supermarkets serving the country's Latino population. Here are some additional online store options.

AsianFoodGrocer: Shipping cost varies by order and location. $5 shipping on orders $30 and up.

iShopIndian: Shipping costs $4 to $9, free on orders $109 and up.

MexGrocer: Shipping cost varies, free shipping on orders $60 and up with code SHIP2ME4FREE.

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There are several places to buy fresh fruit and vegetables online, as well as meats, cheeses and other staples.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Buy meat and produce delivery boxes

Your local farmers and ranchers cut out the middleman -- the stores -- by shipping direct to you. A quick internet search will yield a list of produce delivery in your area, where you can often select the types of fruit and vegetables you want. The same applies to popular and specialty meats like beef, chicken, pork and even deer.

Here's a great list of seven produce vendors where you can get fruits and vegetables online. Omaha Steaks, Kansas City Steaks and others will ship you cuts of beef. You can also go upmarket and buy cheese from cheesemongers like Murray's, or produce and meals from Harry and David's.

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Meal-kit subscription services like HelloFresh are a reliable way to make sure you have food to put on your table every week.

Shelby Brown/CNET

Meal kit subscription

BlueApron, HelloFresh and these other top five meal kit subscription services will deliver a set number of meals on a consistent, reliable schedule, so you can worry less about what's in stock locally. EveryPlate and Dinnerly are more budget-minded options.

Meal kits cost more than what you'd pay at the grocery, but that might be a better option if you're solo or part of a small household, or new to cooking. Personally, I think it's fun to learn how to make new dishes, and self-quarantine can get boring, so chalk the extra cost up to entertainment.

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GrubHub, DoorDash and PostMates, as well as other restaurant delivery services, now offer contactless delivery options.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Restaurant delivery

Buying food from your favorite restaurants for take-out and delivery can feed you and also support local businesses that are reeling from shelter-in-place orders and other measures that keep people at home. You can order a large amount to feed yourself and your family over the week, or to pad the freezer for an easy dinner down the road.

Here are three rules you should follow for using delivery services during the coronavirus outbreak.