There’s a place right in your neighborhood that puts terror into the hearts of men and women… it’s the supermarket. Some believe they will empty their wallets as soon as they enter the automatic doors. Others are so overwhelmed by the abundance of fresh, organic and local veggies, fancy cheeses, exotic spices and sauces and delectable desserts that they don’t know where to begin. And there are those who don’t know a bok choy from a beet and are too intimidated,so they just stay home and order pizza.
Fear not because there’s hope and help. As a health coach, I have designed these seven steps to guide you through the grocery shopping experience quickly, simply and without spending a lot of dough (pun intended.)
For Fast and Efficient…
#1 – Go during off hours
One of the reasons that grocery shopping (in NYC especially) is so daunting are the crowds: aisles filled with double strollers, confused newbies, chatting yoga buddies etc. An easy way to avoid them is to go late or early in the day. I like to do my week’s shopping around 9:30 or 10 pm. Dinner has been served and leftovers put away which means I usually have a very accurate assessment of what I need and what’s already in my fridge and pantry (see step #2 below.) At that time there’s usually just a handful of us in the entire store, the vibe is mellow and I can find what I need and be out the door in under 30 minutes. For those early birds, 8am is also a very quiet time. By all means skip 3:15 (moms running errands after picking up kids from school) and or 6 ish (for the after -work crowd.)
#2 Make a list
For me there’s nothing worse than realizing I need serrano chiles when I’m already in the bean aisle. If you’re planning on making Chicken Enchiladas Verde then write all the ingredients on your shopping list. If it’s a new recipe and you are unfamiliar with the ingredient, google a photo of it and save it to your phone (or print it out.) Before heading out survey your fridge and pantry, check with family members and run the list of staple items in your head (toilet paper, yogurt, eggs, bananas…) If you know the layout of your store (and you should) write the list in order of the sections you hit first (produce, dairy, canned and packaged, frozen…) As you pass other aisles, look up at the markers and ask yourself what you may have forgotten (rice and pasta? Cereal and oatmeal?) Follow this advice and you should be home unpacking your goods in no time.
#3 Stick to the list
Unless it’s something you actually need and forgot to put on the list, then try to resist. When I review my receipt, I often find that the most expensive items are the ones that I don’t need: fancy teas, desserts, specialty oils, baked kale chips, prepared dinners etc.
#4 Buy store brand or bulk when possible
Why pay for packing and advertising when the products are identical? Enough said.
#5 Sign up for emails
Each week my supermarket notifies me of what’s on sale. This way I can stock up on stuff I use often, or make a last-minute swap: if mangos are .39/lb, then I’ll use them in my smoothies instead of strawberries that week.
#6 Shop the Perimeter
All supermarkets are designed the same: produce, dairy, fresh meats are on the outer edges of the store and the center aisles are stocked with canned foods and packaged items. Buying the majority of your food on the perimeter means you are cooking with whole foods and avoiding a lot of fat, sugar and salt. The exception is whole grains, spices, oils and other necessary ingredients to tasty cooking.
#7 Avoid the Dirty Dozen
Each year, the Environmental Working Group ranks supermarket produce by its pesticide load. The top offenders become the Dirty Dozen, the fruits and vegetables you should consider buying in their organic form. The clean fifteen are fruits and veggies you can safely buy non organic. An updated list can be found here: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/list.php
Rest assured, each trip should get a little easier. And local health coaches are usually available to give supermarket tours if you need more assistance.