When I was in my first few years of working out and eating healthier, I often found myself perusing the aisles of the Union Square Whole Foods in New York City mesmerized by the colorful produce. I’d get so excited about stocking up on wholesome ingredients that I’d just buy and buy because the food looked great. During the week, however, more of the groceries than I’d like to admit would go to waste due to lack of proper planning. (Moment of silence for all the produce that’s died in the fridge. Painful to think about!)
Although it seems like an everyday task, grocery shopping involves lots of little details, especially if you’re just getting in the groove of healthy meal planning and cooking. Since life tends to be pretty busy, those details can feel overwhelming and even become a hurdle to staying in the habit of grocery shopping effectively – or shopping for the things you need when you need them (so you don’t keep cleaning out a refrigerator full of rotten produce).
And make no mistake: for most people, grocery shopping fairly regularly is fundamental to eating healthfully. We’ve got to home cook at least some of the time.
If you’ve been checking out my blog for a while, you’ve heard me share how helpful it is to have a rinse and repeat process for grocery shopping. A system. This turns grocery shopping into a habit so it becomes more sustainable by reducing the amount of time and energy required to get it done. Because that’s the goal for most, right? To eat and move your body in a way that nourishes you and that you can picture sustaining forever – a Forever Plan.
So today I’m sharing my system for making grocery shopping easier. If you’re new to grocery shopping regularly, I hope this helps you jump into the swing of things. If you’re a more seasoned shopper, I hope you pick up a new tip or two!
The two phases of grocery shopping
There are two parts to a successful shop:
The planning stage
The actual shopping stage
Planning properly helps you go through your shop relatively hiccup-free. It also reduces purchases that end up wasting money and food. Some even say it makes it easier to make healthy choices, since they aren’t tempted to pick up processed foods they already know they don’t need.
There are also some habits you can get into while at the store that save time, energy, and money. 👩🌾
Remember, it’s all about creating a relatively rinse and repeat process, without being too rigid.
The planning stage: outline meals, make your list, and choose regular shopping days
There are three action steps in the planning phase.
First, you’ll want to plan your meals ahead of time so you can make a specific and complete grocery list. Going grocery shopping without a list often = frustration, forgetting important ingredients, and wasting precious money. In general, most people do best planning about 80% of their weekly meals and leaving the remaining 20% for spontaneity. Think about planning either once per week for the entire week or twice per week for a few days at a time. For more details about how to meal plan, check out the article Meal Planning 101.
Next, the list! I recommend using a digital list like a phone note or app (Wunderlist, for example) so you can easily check off ingredients. I use an iPhone note because I find it the quickest and most accessible. When you add the ingredients to your list, group them by section – meaning list all the produce, then all the meat and poultry, then all the dry goods, and onwards. That way, you don’t end up zig zagging across the store as you check off your list. You can even list the sections according to the arrangement of your store so you can do a quick loop and head out. If you use an app like Wunderlist that allows you to drag and drop, you can list ingredients by recipe then rearrange them by store section.
Now, the third action item in the grocery shopping planning phase: pick out which day(s) you’ll go shopping every week. This will make shopping a routine rather than an obligation you dread squeezing into your schedule. It usually makes sense to shop on the day(s) you meal plan or the day afterwards. For example, you could meal plan and grocery shop on Sundays and Wednesdays. As a bonus, go when it’s less likely to be busy. Depending on the store and location, Google often shares when the rush hour(s) tends to be. You could also call and ask when it’s busiest, then plan to go during other pockets of time.
The actual shopping part: my top tips
You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s so important: when you walk inside the grocery store, shop the perimeter. The perimeter mostly means the produce, fish, meat, and poultry sections while the center aisles of the store contain the processed foods. Usually, you can get the majority of what you need more quickly by going around the perimeter.
If you find yourself struggling to find the motivation to get to the store, especially if you don’t want to spend precious free time shopping, try listening to a great new playlist or podcast along the way. It can make the time feel more rewarding.
Lastly, don’t forget to keep it as green as possible! Bring old or reusable bags along and bag your produce with either mesh bags or reused plastic ones.
What about grocery delivery services like AmazonFresh?
If using delivery services works well for you, that’s great. But they’re actually not where I’d recommend most people start. (There are two notable exceptions: if you travel a high percentage of the time or live in a food desert where a delivery would make healthier options more accessible to you.)
Here’s why: there’s something special that happens when you go and pick out food for yourself instead of clicking a few buttons and having it land at your doorstep. Choosing our food and then preparing it is a basic, primal habit that fills us up differently. It’s one step closer to connecting us to nature in a world where we’re often disconnected from our food’s origins.
Also, when you shop yourself, you get to pick out the freshest items. That process can even be meditative. When you order online, you might end up with an avocado that feels like a stone or raspberries that are only slightly red. That’s fine at times, but picking out what looks good and ripe with your own two hands is often more satisfying.
That said, you might occasionally use delivery services when returning home from travel with little time before going back to work or to make life easier in a particularly busy season.
I would love to hear any grocery shopping tips you’ve discovered! Leave them in the comments below :)
For further reading, check out “Meal Planning 101.”