Grocery Shopping: From No Fun to Easily Done

emily_parsons By: Emily Parsons, Pn1

I’m a firm believer that there are two types of people in this world: those who like grocery shopping, and those who don’t.

If you’re on the favorable side, you probably view it as a ritualistic experience, or a chance to explore new products and meal ideas. If you fall on the not-so-positive side, I’m guessing you see it as an, annoying, often overwhelming, task on the checklist- something that you are simply supposed to do.

Regardless of your stance, I bet we are all willing to agree that the vast amount of products and nutritional claims as you walk up and down the aisles is enough to make anyone’s head spin. ‘No Sugar-Added!’ ‘High Fiber!’ ‘All Natural!’ ‘Heart Healthy!’…”I just want to actually be healthy, so can someone please just tell me what to put in my cart once and for all?!”

Unfortunately, if you can make it past the health claims that experts marketers have crafted to try to lure you in on the front of packaging (most of which are unregulated), the backside can often be just as misleading. In fact, one study found that 80% of shoppers take the time to flip the products over and read the labels; however, only about 50% of those people could actually make sense of all the numbers, weird percentages and bizarre serving sizes. “1 serving is ½ cup of dry cous cous, but then when I cook it the serving is 6oz., but if I mix in the seasoning and chicken stock it’s something differently entirely…wait, what?”

And if you’re a busy parent without much time, think about this: if you buy 25 packaged items and spend 1-2 minutes trying to decipher the code of each label, then factor in the time spent wandering around trying to find that one flavor of chips little Johnny Jr. just had to have, and then the time you spend waiting in line at the check-out while the sweet, little old lady cashier carefully analyzes each product as she rings it up- you’ll find your quick run up to the store just turned into and afternoon ordeal.

There has to be a better way.

Enter in this series of tips and tricks to help you overcome your grocery shopping dooms, and learn what it takes to keep you and your family on a (budget-friendly!) healthy track. Don’t have time to read the whole series? No problem! Skip to the section you feel would be the most beneficial and read away- no judgment here.

Part I: Prepping and Planning

  1. Creating a Ritual
  2. Making a List
  3. Setting a Budget
  4. Choosing a Store

Part II: Navigating the Store

  1. Coming Prepared
  2. Knowing Your Priorities
  3. Conquering the Aisles
  4. Outsmarting the Packaging

Now, when it comes to trying to unload your groceries while your 3 young kids are simultaneously fighting and digging through each bag looking for a snack…well, you’re on your own there.


Creating a Ritual

Find the Routine That Works for You

  • Carve out enough time to take inventory of your current food, create a list and make your trip to the store. You can knock it out all at once, or take one task at a time. The more you set this as a priority and do it, the faster your routine will become.
  • If the thought of planning out an entire week of food is daunting, start with splitting it up: tackle Sunday thru Wednesday, then look at Thursday thru Saturday. It might mean taking two trips, but with a little planning they can be just as efficient as one.
  • Hate shopping on Sundays? Don’t do it. There is nothing wrong with a Tuesday evening or Thursday morning trip if you like to keep your weekends free. Just plan your shopping list accordingly.
  • Keep it simple. There’s no need to spend hours diving through magazines or websites to find new recipes that will simply go uncooked. Get the basics down first, and then look at making that fancy braised chicken dish.

Making a List

Set Yourself Up for Success

  • Check your calendar for the week and recognize how it will impact your meals. This could include work lunches, dinners out with friends, kids sports games, family activities or anything that will deviate you from your normal cooking routine. No need to buy 7 nights worth of dinners if you’re only going to be home for 4 of them.
  • Take stock of your kitchen staples: olive oil, flour, eggs, spices, baking soda, etc. Then, think about more specialized items for meals and snacks.
  • For a super efficient trip, split your list up according to the layout of the store
    • Meats and Fish
    • Produce
    • Dairy
    • Frozen
    • Aisles
  • Always make sure you have some quick and easy, healthy options for those days your ‘perfect schedule’ doesn’t exactly go according to plan.
  • Want a little more guidance on a list template? Check out these sweet apps or this easy-to-use printable template.

Setting a Budget

Know Your Cash Flow Before You Go

  • Being healthy doesn’t have to mean that everything in your cart is organic, non-gmo, gluten-free, sustainably produced and locally grown. Are those things great? Sure, I’m a fan myself, but I’m also of spreading my paycheck beyond the doors of the supermarket.
  • Know how to prioritize your spending:
    • First: Quality Protein
      • organic, grass-fed meats
      • wild caught seafood
      • organic, cage-free eggs
      • organic, grass-fed dairy
    • Next: Produce
    • Then: Pantry Staples, Bulk Items and Fun ‘Treats’
  • If you’re budget is tight and you have lots of mouths to feed, check out the apps ‘Flipp‘ or ‘Grocery Pal’ to stay up to date on the latest coupons and deals
  • Really have a hard time not getting lured in by the catchy new items or sweet deals? Bring your budget in cash so you simply can’t stray too far off track.

Choosing a Store

Work Your Way From Comfort to Specialty

  • Master the store you’re comfortable with first, and then look into branching out. You can find quality options at any store- it’s just a matter of knowing how and where to find them. Being healthy doesn’t have to mean shopping in a ‘health food store’
  • When you are ready to explore some new options, check out some of my favorites below:
    • Trader Joe’s– This store started in California, but it’s now a nationwide trendsetter. Super budget-friendly options on tons of quality products. This is my personal go-to. Plus, they are constantly changing their product line based on the season.
    • Aldi– If you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of the shopping experience, you can get some great deals here. Plenty of quality, organic products and, as an added bonus, everything in the store is GMO free! Just make sure you bring a quarter to use a shopping cart and have your own bags handy (like I said, great deals, not so great amenities).
    • Costco– Great for bulk items and pantry staples. I love the large flat of cage-free eggs, giant tub of organic hummus and all those essentials with a long shelf life (olive oil, black beans, quinoa, etc.).
    • Farmer’s Markets– Great way to incorporate a fun outing with family and friends into the weekend, all while supporting local farmers and getting great deals on quality produce (and other fun specialty items!) Plan a breakfast or lunch around your shopping to make it a fun time for all.
    • Local Specialty Stores– Almost every city has a few specialty stores bustling with great deals. For example, in Orlando we have Clemen’s Produce for fruits and veggies, Meat House for quality proteins and Freshfield Market for a wide range of fresh, local products. They may not be a one-stop-shop, but if you have the time, these can be a great way to get some quality finds on the cheap.
  • Unfortunately, the percentage of income spent on food each in recent years is dropping, but we’re spending more on pharmaceuticals and surgeries. Make the investment in your health by incorporating grocery shopping into your weekly routine. Stay tuned for more to come on Navigating the Store in Part II.

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