Grocery Shopping 101

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Like we said before, shopping for food in a supermarket is a daunting task. It should be easy – plenty of options to choose from, right? Not so much. Grocery shopping often feels like a chore because of all of those options – having too much to choose from often leaves us feeling overwhelmed and confused. Many people avoid grocery shopping at all costs, really only going to the market to avoid starvation. Don’t wait for the cupboards to go bare before making your next trip to market. Here are some tips to help you stay ahead of the game:

Embrace the Purge

If reading this is any indication, you probably want to start eating a little healthier. Kudos! In order to do that, you have to start fresh. Sometimes that means getting rid of the not-so-great food that’s taking up valuable cabinet space. Go through your pantry and start reading labels – keep the good stuff and toss the bad stuff. Worried about being wasteful? Most food banks will take food as long as it’s still sealed and not expired. 

Have a Plan

Having a plan is key to staying focused at the super market. Make a list based on what meals you want to make that week. Add staples that are specific to your household (i.e. bread, butter, eggs, milk, OJ, cereal, etc). Make sure you check your pantry before you head out so that you’re not picking up duplicates; you don’t want to waste money on items you already have, and you definitely want to be sure that you actually have the staples you may have left off your list. And last but not least, make sure you eat BEFORE you go to the store; shopping while hungry often leads to impulse buys, and unhealthy ones at that.

Navigate the Store

In general, you want to work from the outside to the inside of the store. The perimeter of the store usually has produce, meats, bread and dairy, which should be the bulk of what you need. If you fill up your cart with the stuff you need, you’ll be less tempted to wander into the snack and cookie aisle.

Ask for Help

You know those people who work behind the deli counter, in the bakery section or in the fish or meats section? They’re there to help customers like you, so don’t be afraid to ask. Ask them for samples or for their advice on which cuts of meats to get fresh versus frozen. You’re also more likely to get the freshest stuff if you talk to the folks behind the counter. So, speak up!

Don't Knock Frozen Foods

Frozen fruits & veggies are often looked at as less than their fresh counterparts, but often time that just isn’t true. The freezer aisle is a great place to get certain types of produce during the off-season – hello strawberries in winter! Buying certain items frozen can also help save a ton of money – think bulk meats. Once you get that bulk meat home, you can divvy it up in portioned bags, mark with the date you got it, and stick it back in the freezer for easy meal prep.

Avoid the Sale Items, Unless You Actually Use Them

Just because an item is on sale doesn’t mean you have to buy it. When you see items for sale in the circular, ask yourself these questions before you rush to get the bargain:

  • Would I normally eat this or use this product?
  • Will I get sick of eating this or using this?
  • Will I use it all before the expiration date?
  • Have I been waiting for this item to go on sale?
  • Is this item a healthy choice?


Your answers to these questions will help you determine whether those 10 for $10 yogurts are really worth the savings for your household.

Read the Labels

You’ll be surprised by what you find, both good and bad. And make sure you compare what you usually buy to the store brand; buying store brands are a great way to save money and most of the time, you’re getting the same product, you’re just not paying extra for the fancy packaging. We like fancy packaging as much as the next guy, but it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Bulking Up

Everyone knows shopping in bulk saves you money. Unfortunately, a lot of people think they have to buy an obscene amount of stuff to get the savings, and then they end up throwing half of it out because it expires before they get a chance to use it all. But buying in bulk doesn’t always mean getting a ton of stuff at once. For example, if you buy items like coffee, nuts, and whole grains in bulk, it means that you decide how much to get based on what you actually need, not based on what the manufacturer could afford to package.  

Shopping Outside of the "Big Box"

Do you still want to avoid the supermarket altogether? For some, the supermarket doesn't offer great healthy choices, depending on what part of the country you're in, if you're in an urban versus a rural area, etc. Luckily, we live in an age where there are a variety of ways to shop for the food you need without having to go to a market where you'll only be inundated with unhealthy choices. The Internet is a wonderful thing! Now, you can shop for healthy foods online using an organic delivery service (there are tons to choose from). Some supermarkets also have shop-from-home services where you can either go pick it up yourself after ordering online, or you can have it delivered; this is a great option for people who like their local supermarket, but want to steer clear of temptation. You can shop at a local farmers' market, or join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and pick up fresh, locally grown produce that's handpicked at the peak of ripeness, along with super fresh meats and dairy. Getting your groceries in a non-traditional setting is a surefire way to avoid those candy bars at the register (because they won't be there!).