Have you ever gone to the grocery store and left with bags full of items you never intended to buy? Or on the way home remembered the one item you really need? Unfortunately, when we shop without a plan, we are more likely to purchase foods we do not need, forget to purchase the items we do need, and fill our carts with high-calorie, low-nutrient snacks. So how can we avoid this? Here are five tips for a better grocery shopping experience.
1. Plan ahead
Before you head to the store, take an inventory of the items you have on hand and the items you need. Think about how you can supplement something that you have with only one or two items to complete the meal. This way, you aren’t letting food sit around until it expires. Knowing what you already have at home can help you shop more efficiently, save money, and reduce waste.
Even if you do not like to make meals ahead of time, it can be helpful to think about what you will eat each day and how many people you will be feeding. Once you have a general idea of your meals and snacks for the week, you can consider the foods you already have and then make a list of things you need.
2. Check for deals
Do you get grocery coupons in the mail? Clipping coupons may seem annoying, but it’s actually a great way to save money. As you make your grocery list, sort through those coupons. Don’t be afraid to try new brands or products. You might find something you really like, and you can save money, too. Remember to compare prices at the store. Sometimes name brands—even with a coupon—are more expensive than store brands.
3. Shop the border
An old trick is to shop the perimeter of the store. What do you find there? When I think of my favorite grocery store’s border, I see fresh produce, then breads, then meat, cheese, dairy, and eggs. Frozen fruits and vegetables are also on the outside.
The reason we suggest shopping the border is because often, the center aisles have more processed foods that are higher in saturated fat and calories and lower in nutrients. If you stay away from the “junk food” aisles, you will be less likely to fill your cart with unhealthy foods.
However, do be sure to stop in a few of those middle aisles to get your whole grains and some canned fruits, vegetables, and protein! Living in the Midwest, getting the recommended two servings of fish per week can be a challenge. Try canned tuna or salmon for a quick lunch or dinner, or on those days when you are out of time or energy to cook.
4. Ignore the myths
Have you ever heard that eating healthy is more expensive? I am here to tell you that eating healthy does not have to be more complicated or more expensive! When fresh produce is out of season, the prices tend to increase – especially when we import a lot of our fruits and veggies. Instead of breaking the bank on out-of-season produce, consider buying frozen or canned fruits and vegetables. They are just as nutritious as the fresh variety. In fact, frozen fruits and vegetables often are more nutritious because they are picked when they are ripe, and nutrients are better preserved. (Fresh produce is often picked before it is ripe, so that it’s ready to eat by the time it gets to your local grocery store).
When you buy canned and frozen produce, be sure to check the label. Choose low-sodium canned goods, or rinse the canned product before serving. Rinsing canned foods can reduce the sodium content by up to 40%. Also choose fruits packed in water or “its own” juice. Similarly, frozen products should contain only the fruits or vegetables. Avoid products that have added sodium or sugar.
Canned and frozen produce is often cheaper than the fresh options. Another benefit is that you can stock up on them for an easy meal or snack. While it’s still a good idea to have fresh produce in your diet, don’t be afraid to use canned or frozen, too.
5. Try online
Online options are great for busy parents or caregivers that don’t have extra time to spend at the store. Online options can include delivery or pick up, and they allow you to keep track of your list throughout the week and add things as you notice that you are running low. The best part is you can reclaim time spent in waiting rooms, carpool lines or between other activities to plan your meals for the next week. While more expensive than doing the shopping yourself, the small fee is well worth it when compared to the cost of eating out. You’ll also feel more energized when you feed your body well.
With so many aisles and so many options, grocery shopping can feel overwhelming at times. But if you remember these five tips for grocery shopping, the better your experience will be.