I knew my lifestyle changed, and I mean really changed, when my Friday nights of bar-hopping were replaced with aisle-hopping at my favorite local natural grocer… and I, like, enjoyed it. While I truly get beyond excited to hit my haul(s) and scavenge the shelves each week, I know that grocery shopping is not the most popular past-time. So, I’m here to help make it simple, stress-free, and maybe even a little fun with some tips and tricks I’ve scooped up along the way.
Have a Plan
Before you even think about stepping foot in those big, bright aisles of freshly picked produce and pretty packaging, you better have a plan. Outlining a plan for your weekly meals is key to meeting your nutritional goals, not to mention sticking to a budget and minimizing waste. Don’t know where to start? I got you covered. Read my full blog on Meal Planning here!
Make a List, Check it Twice
Dish by Dish
After the plan is set, reference each recipe you’ll be preparing and list out ingredients dish by dish. This process helps to identify potential overlapping ingredients and just about guarantees you won’t forget a thing. Don’t forget to check the serving size to make sure you don’t over – or under – buy.
Scan through your fridge, freezer, and pantry for staples that might be running low (or piling up!). While your fridge real estate may rotate from week to week, a consistently well stocked freezer and pantry are key to last-minute menu additions/adaptations, quick-fix dishes, and accessible nutrition. Who needs Chinese takeout when you’re never without eggs in the fridge, cauliflower rice in the freezer, and cashews (for crunch!) in the pantry? Instant “fried rice“! Less than half the cost value, and easily double the nutrition value.
- nonfat, plain greek yogurt (Pro tip: I buy large tubs and portion as I go to save some dough!)
- cheese (mozzarella, cheddar, parmesan, goat, you name it!)
- bone broth/veggie broth
- bonus: dark chocolate 😉
- pre-cooked protein – perfect for those times when defrosting seems impossible! (chicken sausage, shrimp)
- primary protein (my go-to is chicken breast, salmon, white fish)
- fruits & veggies galore – frozen produce is just as nutritious as fresh with a longer shelf life to boot! (stir fry mixes, greens, cauliflower rice, berries)
- sprouted grain bread or bread alternative
- almond meal/flour
- all the nut butter (almond and cashew are my favorite!)
- all the nuts (dry-roasted and unsalted!)
- whole grains (quinoa, faro, lentils, oats, brown rice or chickpea pasta)
- canned protein (salmon, tuna)
- cooking fat (EVOO, coconut oil, ghee, avocado oil)
- staple seasonings (salt-free spice blend, salt, pepper, garlic powder)
- protein powder
- qrab n’ go snacks (my faves are protein bars, crackers, and jerky!)
For a list to function, it’s gotta make sense. My lists have lists, y’all. Chances are, you’re a frequent shopper at the same store each week, am I right? (Where my Trader Joe’s fam at?!) If you’re anything like me, you’re even at the same store at the exact. same. time. each week, and occasionally arrive before employees… I digress 😉 Pro tip: organize your list in order of how the items are laid out in the store – it’s life changing.
Schedule Your Shop
I personally get HYPE to shop each week, but I have a hunch I may be in the minority here. I get it, grocery hauls aren’t the most glamorous of errands. Pick a time to get ‘er done and commit. Like, put a ring on it commit. Honor your weekly grocery haul the same way you’d honor a date with your new motorcycle-driving, leather-jacket wearing, smoke show boyfriend (or girlfriend) or a make-or-break meeting with your boss.
Pro-tip: Shop off peak!!!! (It needs that many exclamations because it is that worth it). From my experience, the best time to hit the aisles is right when the doors open Saturday morning (my preferred time) or after the post-work rush on Friday night, just before close.
Destiny’s Child was onto something when they wrote Jumpin’ Jumpin’. Ladies, leave your man at home. If your schedule and lifestyle allows, I highly recommend shopping sans partners, spouses, roommates, or kiddos. And here’s the catch, don’t think of it as just another chore that you’re left to complete on behalf of your fam. No, no, sister! Empower yourself! You are in complete control over what fills your cart. You create the plan, you build the list, you make the selection from shelf to cart, you carry the bags in the door (in one trip because #functionalfitness), and ultimately, you choose to prepare your purchases into delicious and nutritious plates. The sole responsibility of your nutritional intake is in your hands. That’s pretty badass, if you ask me.
Shop the Perimeter
Often times, the most nutrient-dense foods – such as fruits and vegetables, meats, fish, and dairy – are stocked around the perimeter of the grocery store. Steer your cart clear of ultra-processed products and that hardly resemble food and fill it to the brim instead with fresh produce and protein. As the saying (sort of) goes, out of sight, out of stomach.
- Produce: Eat the rainbow! Your plan should account for a robust variety of fruits and veggies. Shop in-season for the optimal prices, flavor, and nutrients.
- Protein: Prioritize lean cuts of meat and poultry and heart-healthy fish. For optimal nutritional value, shop pasture raised and grass fed if possible!
- Dairy: If your tummy tolerates it, dairy is an amazing source of protein (and sometimes healthy fat). Cheeses and yogurt are staples in my fridge! Be mindful of serving size on cheese, and opt to add your own flavor to plain yogurts.
- Freezer aisles: Stock up on those frozen fruits and veggies! Consider buying frozen fish in bulk – did you know that often times “fresh” seafood has been previously frozen?
- Center aisles: Grab whole grains, canned veggies and protein, nut butters, and spices. Check your labels!
Pro-tip: When shopping prepared snacks and meals (no shame in that game!) know what you’re looking for. Spoiler Alert: it’s not the marketing gimmicks on the front of the packaging. Repeat after me, quality of ingredients takes precedence over quantity of calories. Before you go snagging the latest 100 calorie pack from the shelf, check out the ingredients – do they resemble the foods you see on the perimeter of the store, or do they look more like a chemical concoction? Check out the macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat) – do they appear to be balanced or are carbs skyrocketing, leaving their counterparts in single digits? Peep the serving size – is it sensible? Seek companies who value integrity and transparency. Use all of this to determine if the product has a beneficial place in your cart and diet, or if it’s better off on the shelf.
One Stop Shop?
FAQ: Al, do you really shop at 2 stores every week? It’s true, I do! That said (written?), keeping your haul to one location makes prioritizing nutrition a helluva lot easier, more accessible, and convenient. If you’re new to the whole haul thing (or don’t rank hitting the aisles as one of your top 3 hobbies), I highly recommend a one-stop-shop. But what happens when your go-to grocer doesn’t stock all the goods or isn’t the most cost effective option to meet your needs! Don’t worry, there’s options:
- Adjust your plan: If you just can’t find kelp noodles, collard greens, or rutabaga for the life of you, don’t stretch searching for them. Try subbing something similar – like zucchini, butter lettuce, or sweet potato, respectively.
- Ask your grocer to order your preferred product: Many stores are more than happy to accommodate your needs.
- Seek out a supplemental store: A local market or specialty grocer may have some of those hard-to-find items if they’re integral to your plan.
- Turn to non-traditional grocers: Online suppliers like Amazon, ThriveMarket, and ButcherBox carry amazing brands at pocket-happy prices – plus, you don’t even have to leave the house!
Friday night, I hit my local natural market for my fave brands like Simple Mills, Nancy’s, Bobs Redmill, Mikey’s, Alter Eco and, of course, premium produce like collard greens. Saturday morning at 8 a.m. on the dot, I’m strutting into Trader Joe’s for the bulk of my haul. It’s here where I load up on my weekly protein, produce, and dairy and restock frozen goods. Anything I can’t get my hands on in one of these stores is just a click away in the AmazonPrime cart!
Haulin’ on a Budget
When put into practice, all of these tips combined help you stick to a weekly spend limit. Shopping solo with an organized list in hand and following a strategic footpath means unnecessary items are less likely to end up in your cart. Your wallet (and your nutrition goals!) will thank you.
- Buy Local: often times, in-season, local produce is less expensive than mass-market counterparts. Bonus: it’s likely even organic despite not labeled as such. Many local farms cultivate organic produce but can’t afford to get it certified.
- Prioritize Ripeness: in order to maximize your spend (and nutrients) and minimize waste, store produce properly. The general principle I follow is “store it where you find it.” In most cases, the storage method in the grocer is the best storage method at home! *Life Changing Pro Tip: store avocados on the counter until they reach optimal ripeness, then throw them in the fridge – they’ll last for literal weeks (shout out to my swole-sister Amanda for letting me in on this one). Chop fresh herbs and freeze them in ice cube trays with water. For chopped fruit and veg, use tightly sealed glass containers with a squeeze of lemon. Transition your nuts from faulty bags to mason jars.
- C.I.Y (Chop It Yourself): while the convenience of pre-chopped veggies and assembled salad kits may be worth the higher price tag for the ultra-busy bee, you can literally cut (lol) costs by slicing and dicing your own produce.
- Ingredient Swaps: when recipes call for small servings of ingredients you don’t already have on hand and won’t get much use out of, consider swapping with something from your stock. If a recipe requires walnuts but you already have almonds, give it a go! When your cookbook calls for 1/4 cup mozzarella but you have parmesan in the fridge, swap it! If you’re not into kelp noodles with a $8.99 price tag, toss a $0.99 zucchini in your cart and get to spiralizing!
- Frozen veggies are veggies, too: Don’t discriminate! I love stocking up on frozen produce like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and green beans. Not only are frozen choices just as easy (if not easier!) to prepare, but their long shelf-life maximizes your spending and prevents waste.
- Buy in Bulk: When shopped wisely (key word: wisely), big-box stores like Costco and BJ’sprotect your pretty pennies with wholesale prices. Limit your purchases to items you use regularly, like protein and pantry essentials, to avoid surplus-spending.
- Nontraditional Grocers: Online grocery services like my personal favorite, Amazon, carry those hard-to-find ingredients without the sky-high markup of boutique providers.