A little planning goes a long way to make grocery shopping smooth, efficient – and even fun! As you master the basics, you can focus on food in healthier ways!
Grocery shopping, like anything else, takes practice. If you are going to be good at sports, for example, you need to practice. In sports, you may start out by tossing the ball around with your friends. Then you may work your way onto a little league team, and then a school team. As your aspirations grow, you may be able to get on a college team and then a pro team.
Throughout that process, there are steps you need to take. You need to know how to throw the ball. You need to know how to scrimmage. You need to know different techniques unique to that sport. You need to be good at whatever sport you are playing. You need to be fast and agile. You need good hand-eye coordination. You need to develop teamwork. All of those steps take time. As you are patient, you build your reservoir of knowledge and skills to excel at your chosen sport, and to teach others.
So it is for grocery shopping. You start with basic skills and work your way up. Start with a plan. Have a plan in place well before you even go to the grocery store. Don’t just think you are going to stop at the grocery store after work and figure it out then. That might work if you are only stopping for one or two forgotten items, but most of the time it doesn’t.
The expression, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” applies here. Not planning makes you spend more time at the grocery store trying to figure out what you need. You may end up buying a product that you already have at home. You are also more apt to buy on impulse. You will likely end up spending too much time and money buying items you don’t want or need. When you stay focused, that’s when you can buy the products you need at the prices you want, in the amount of time that you need to.
Here are 5 tips to focus on as you plan your next grocery shopping trip.
1. Know Your List.
The first step is meal planning. If you are meal planning for a week out, for example, decide what you want to eat this week. What is going on this week regarding work, school, or other activities? What are your meal preferences? If there are others in your household, what are their food preferences? Be sure to take into account food restrictions, allergies, or other dietary guidance. Write down every meal and every snack. Have a plan before leaving the house. Make note of what items you already have on hand and what you need to buy.
2. Know the Store(s).
Once you are at the grocery store, review your list and tackle each area strategically. Group items together. If you need different grains or breads, for example, get everything you need from the bakery at once.
Focus on the perimeter of the store, which has the healthier items. The inside aisles have seasonal items as well as packaged foods such as condiments (salad dressings, sauces, etc.), canned goods, and snack foods.
Remember that not all items are where you think they are. If you can’t find an item on a certain aisle, ask an associate or look on a different aisle or two. For example, I was looking for horseradish one day and my first inkling was to look at it on the condiment aisle with the ketchup, mustard, relish, mayonnaise, etc. After looking high and low in that area, I finally asked an associate.
It turns out in that store they keep horseradish in the refrigerator section next to the sour cream. The particular brand of horseradish they sell required refrigeration and that was the most logical area of the store for them. What’s seems logical for them made baffle you, however, so do your due diligence. Look around in terms of quantity sizes, brands, etc.
3. Coordinate Logistics.
Once you have your plan and your list, it’s time to decide what grocery store to visit. Will a generic grocery store be sufficient, or do you need more specialty items? Are there grocery staples (items you use regularly) you could save money on by purchasing them wholesale? Can you purchase that same item or a similar one at a store you are already planning to visit?
If you have more than one grocery store to visit, plan your trip accordingly. Save time, money, and gasoline by grouping your trip and planning your route to and from those stores. Do your nonperishable errands first (clothing, toiletries, other non perishables, etc.) first. Focus on purchasing refrigerated and freezer items last. Be sure to bring an insulated cooler or bag with you if you’ll be out for a while.
If you are not sure if a store carries a certain item, call ahead. Don’t make a trip for nothing. Most grocery stores can easily assist you. They may have the item in stock or can easily order it for you.
It’s important to not only decide what you need to buy, but also how you need to go about your shopping. Where in the store do you need to go? Will you have the kids with you? If so, they can likely help you shop for the items you need. Make a scavenger hunt or other game out of it.
4. Read Food Labels.
Read food labels and compare items. Just because you are on a certain eating plan (vegan, vegetarian, Bright Line, Fats First, Keto, etc.) doesn’t mean you are automatically healthy. Your food choices make the difference. Part of what makes you healthy are the foods you select within the constraints of that eating plan. Factors such as organic or non-organic, and ingredients within popular food items can make or break your food experience and your health. Are there growth hormones in your meat? Are there additives or preservatives that don’t need to be in your food? Find out what’s in the food before you buy it.
For example, we recently purchased sour cream for a recipe. We focused on light sour cream to get a little less fat and calories. You would think the term lightwould mean healthier. Not necessarily. Just because a product says light, or fat freeor reduced fatdoesn’t make it healthier. Sometimes your best choice is a regular (full fat) item.
In this case, the brand you buy made all the difference. Some brands of light sour cream have a lot of preservatives and other fillers to try to compensate for the lower fat and calorie count. Yet one brand we found was simply a lighter version of regular (full fat) sour cream. The ingredients were simply milk and cream and Vitamin A. That’s it. No artificial anything. A little food research pays off in your wallet and on your waistline.
5. Approach Sale Displays with Caution.
Although one or more items in a display may be on your grocery list, they are not necessarily the best deal. Grocery stores work with suppliers to promote food items, so they have an incentive in getting you to buy certain products. Many times displays offer higher ticket items when a less expensive, perhaps healthier item, maybe just an aisle or two over. Pay attention to what you actually need. Understand your options before you buy.
For example, around the 4th of July in the United States, a popular grocery display is barbecue foods and equipment. There you typically find foods such as hamburger buns, condiments, such as ketchup, mustard, relish, and barbecue thoughts, and different bbq utensils such as tongs for the grill, aluminum foil, containers, and so forth. These are set up to help you focus on the holiday, but that may or may not be what you need. Chances are, a healthier food item is just an aisle or two over. So look around.
BONUS TIP: Scan at the Speed of Light.
If you’re at a store where you need to scan and bag the items yourself, have a plan ready for that, too. Put any produce or similar items in one area of the cart while putting packaged or processed foods in another area of the cart. That way you’ll be able to check out in no time. Even if someone is scanning the groceries for you, grouping your groceries also helps them speed up the process so that you can get out the door in a timely manner. You’ll also avoid food items getting broken or crushed in transit.
Get ready for your next food adventure!