Cooking 101: Tips for Navigating the Grocery Store

So you’ve taken an interest in cooking, but have no idea where to start beyond the technological walls of Pinterest. Just the thought of grocery stores alone is enough to drive even the everyday cook a little bonkers, and can be even more intimidating to a rookie.

Things like different brands, organic versus regular, and diet versus full-fat are some of the many initial struggles of know-how for a first-timer in the kitchen. Instead of going into this whole new atmosphere with a blind eye, let’s break the initial trip to the store down into four main steps of organization.

Take Notes of Ingredients

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Sure, this seems like an obvious and easy step, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. When you first see a recipe on Pinterest or in your favorite cookbook, don’t just write down the ingredient by itself without any context.

The reason for this is that is because you’ll need to know how much of it to get and it could be a very specific type of tomato, oil, or flour, and if you don’t write down the exact one, you could be compromising the integrity of the entire dish.

While that is generally unlikely, for now it’s best to stay on the safe side, over-evaluate and examine the list, and make thorough notes before heading to the store.

Forget The Name

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Alright, now that you’re at the store, you’re probably going to run into the age-old problem of name brand versus generic. We’ve all been in the situation of battling between the two, whether it’s from the food or pharmacy section.

In terms of cooking, I see no problem and have no problem using generic products, as long as they don’t have any added ingredients that are less than admirable in my dishes.

Such ingredients as added sugar, vegetable oil, and anything you can’t pronounce are things to avoid at a general level, especially when you can get the same thing without the added nonsense from a different brand. In the end, go with the one that has more of the real stuff and less jumbled words of ingredients.

Examine Your Produce

Purchase list. Empty space
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Figuring out how to pick the best pepper and a leafy blend of greens any rabbit would dream of is the hardest part of cooking, even to the veteran. Knowing what to look for and how to find it in the produce section is . . . challenging, to say the least.

Study up beforehand if there’s anything in the list that you’re not sure how to pick out (pears are my greatest struggle) and search some tips on how to pick out perfectly ripe fruit and crisp vegetables. When you’re examining the produce for selection, don’t just settle for what’s on top and easiest. This is your food, after all, and it should be the best of the best!

If it’s soggy, steer clear. Also, for items such as bagged lettuce, spinach, kale and what have you; check the expiration dates! There’s nothing worse than grabbing a bag of spinach for that dinner party you’re having in two days, to open up the fridge day of and see your brand new greenery is soggy and killing the smell vibe of your fridge.

Look at the date in the store, and search for packages that have the longest time until going bad.

Stay Focused

Feed Me Like You Mean It
Feed Me Like You Mean It

Checking out is one of the hardest points to get to in your shopping journey, and one of the most difficult to endure once in line. The grocery store is where we feel more comfortable letting our lack of attention shine, allowing us to grab that pint of ice cream, brownie mix, eight DVDs that are on sale, and a gift card to Olive Garden in one trip. How convenient!

While there are moments you actually did come to the store for the above items, but your bank account will appreciate the lack of splurging on unnecessary treats. Once you get to the line, keep calm. This is a good time to practice your patience, or maybe learn about it for the first time.

There’s absolutely nothing you can do to avoid a line of some sort if you hit the store at a popping time. Grab a magazine if you need to occupy your mind, take a deep breath, and just wait patiently as the minutes roll by.

And there you have it, folks. The ins and outs of grocery shopping with mind to your bank account and overall sanity. Cooking is one of the greater pleasures in life, and something that can be done on the individual or group level.

Don’t let that fear of the unknown stop you from making that four cheese macaroni of your dreams. Go out there with your list in hand, endless knowledge in mind, and the attitude of a winner because at the end of the day, we all are.

Read More: Kitchen Secrets: How to Chop an Onion the Easy Way [VIDEO]