I just had a startling revelation: no one taught me how to grocery shop. Unlike riding a bike or baking cookies, no one showed me the way or gave me tips and pointers. The world assumed I would figure my way through the aisles to get what I needed. And I did, but I’ve discovered that the grocery store isn’t just the place where shop for food: it’s a business.
These stores are designed to make us lose self-control and spend as much money as possible. Those buy-one-get-one-free deals entice us and product placement on end caps seems to be a magical way to get unnecessary things into our shopping cart.
Without a plan and a great grocery list, it’s easy to leave the store with more than we need. Whether your goal is to practice healthy eating, take advantage of free grocery coupons, or simply shop smarter, we’re here to help. Here are our 12 grocery shopping tips to get you through the store without succumbing to temptation.
1. Make a Shopping List
Your list is your game plan, your way of staying away from those tempting deals that bombard you as you walk the aisles. Because guess what, you don’t need them!
Make a grocery list before you go and you’ll be less likely to throw a bunch of junk food into the shopping cart. If you’re having a hard time deciding what should go on your great list, start by making a food menu for the week and go from there.
2. Eat Before You Go
C'est le weekend!! Where are you going? How are you recharging? Perhaps you could pack a picnic like this and go to the nearest _______ (insert nature locale of choice!) This snapshot was from a weekend getaway with two babealicious besties when we went a little overboard at the grocery store and sort of maybe kind of purchased food for 12 instead of 3. But that is what happens when foodies unite. So yeah. ???
The best way to set your shopping trip up for success is to go on a full stomach. If you’re hungry, you’ll be easily tempted by impulse items with added sugars. Before you know it, that ice cream (that isn’t on your list) and that goat cheese (not on the list, either) might make its way into your cart! Don’t be tempted to deviate from your shopping list, so eat before you go shopping.
A quick snack of peanut butter on toast, a to-go pack of cottage cheese, or fresh fruits pack enough nutrition to ward off the hunger. Don’t be tempted by things that sound delicious because you’re hungry. Stick to your shopping list and eat before you go.
3. Only Buy Vegetables That You Plan to Eat
It’s great to have healthy, noble intentions, but you’re throwing your money away if you buy vegetables that you don’t have a plan for. This goes for exotic vegetables and common fruits alike. How many of us have purchased a container of strawberries only to have them mold in the fridge? Waste is not only wasteful, but it’s costly, too. So don’t be tempted to throw in extra items from the produce section and only buy vegetables that you actually plan to eat.
While the health benefits of jackfruit or Brussels sprouts might be calling your name, you’ll never use them if you don’t have a smart meal prep plan in place. Think reasonably when building your list, and don’t give yourself more work than you want to handle.
4. Buy your Sandwich Meats at the Deli
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The best thing about deli meats is they are as fresh as possible. And, free samples: what could possibly be better than free samples? When I sidle up to the deli counter, I’m not shy at all about asking for a taste (although I am conscious about how long that line is behind me and try not to dilly-dally).
The downside is these super fresh sandwich meats go bad more quickly than their vacuum sealed counterparts. Estimate how many sandwiches you are going to eat for the week and plan for 2-4 ounces of meat per sandwich.
5. Think About Buying Meats in Bulk
Twice a year, my husband and I drive three hours south to go to a Costco. The reason? Bulk meats. We can buy a whole New York striploin and cut it into individual steaks. Freeze it and now we have steak for a year at a fraction of the cost. If you have the freezer space, take advantage of these sale prices and plan for the future.
You don’t have to go to the bulk superstores to take advantage of this. The butcher counter at your local grocery store should have family-pack discounts on things like chicken breasts and ground beef. Look for holiday timed deals, too: ribs are cheap around the 4th of July, lamb is a good price around Easter, and chicken wings are abundant leading up to Superbowl Sunday.
Ultimately, the meat you have on hand will often dictate your dinner choices if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan, so purchase in bulk and plan around. That olive oil and hot sauce will pair with almost anything, so choose the superstar of your meal and buy a lot of it.
6. Spend Time on the Outside of the Store
Most grocery stores are organized the same way–perishable items like produce, meat, and dairy located on the outside perimeter, and longer lasting foods like boxed and processed foods and cereals located in the center.
If you spend more time on the perimeter, chances are you will make healthier choices with fewer impulse buys. While there still may be a dark chocolate display near the fruit section, you’ll feel less likely to indulge when you’re bombarded with one option as opposed to seven.
7. Don’t Avoid the Frozen Section
Frozen foods get a bad rap, but frozen food is often fresher than the fresh stuff! When it comes to fruits and vegetables, this stuff is picked and frozen at the peak of its freshness. True, some of the items in this aisle aren’t very healthy for you(like frozen meals), but you shouldn’t fear the whole section.
Don’t be afraid to buy frozen when it comes to bulk produce, frozen seafood, and meats. They’re often as good (if not better) than their fresh alternatives. For tips on how to effectively store frozen foods, Pinterest offers countless organizational advice.
8. Watch Your Bulk Bin Purchases
Stores like Whole Foods boast about their bulk bin selection. The selection is great, but be careful when you walk in there. It’s beneficial to buy grains, spices, and legumes from the bulk section because you can buy only what you need.
When it comes to purchasing snacks from these aisles, you are probably overestimating how much you need. If you’re counting calories, buy your snacks in packages that list their sizes and calorie counts.
9. Go Generic
As we found out when we looked closer into Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand, the generic brand is often made at the same manufacturing site as the national brand! They’re discounted because they don’t spend any money on brand awareness and national marketing campaigns.
Take a close look at the ingredients list and compare your product to the store brand. They almost always taste just as good at a fraction of the cost.
10. Look Closely at the Price Tag
The $5 item may seem like a good deal, but it might actually be more expensive than the $6 box sitting right next to it. Consider the weight of the product when looking at the price tag and make your decision based on all the factors.
Most grocery stores show the unit price in very tiny print on the label (price per ounce, for example), which will allow you to compare apples to apples.
11. Understand Best By, Sell By, and Use By Dates
Understanding these dates will help you get the most life out of your groceries.
- Best By dates are recommendations only and have nothing to do with safety: they indicate that the taste or texture of an item may change but they’re still safe to eat.
- Sell By dates indicate how long a store is willing to display an item on their shelves. It’s not a safety indicator, as the product is probably still good for a few days (or weeks) after you bring it home.
- Use By is the only safety designation and it indicates that the product is not safe to use after the date listed.
Eggs are a great example. Most eggs will keep for up to three weeks after the sell by date! Check out the Ultimate Shelf Life Guide to find out how long you have to cook it or freeze it once you bring it home.
12. Go for the Self-Checkout Option
The checkout aisle is one of the most profitable sections of the grocery store, and it’s filled with things you don’t really need (I’m thinking about all that celebrity gossip).
Impulse purchases drop significantly when you opt for self-checkout, so skip that candy temptation and check yourself out.