Some days, the very last thing I want to do is go to the grocery store. I know it’s the same for you too; crowded aisles, long lines, everyone's in a rush. When I feel this way I pause and try to remember what a gift it is to be able to go to one store to buy everything I need from all corners of the world. It’s easy to get caught up in the annoyances of shopping, but it truly is something to be grateful for. I often find myself getting pushy with other shoppers or bothered by prices—but in the big picture, grocery stores are such a convenience in our cooking lives. Here are a few ways you can change your shopping experience at the grocery store for the better.
Pick your key ingredient before you go
The best way to go shopping is with a list. You know exactly what you need and where to go. But I know that realistically, you don’t always have the time or the bandwidth to pre-plan your shopping. If you don’t have a plan, pick one key ingredient that you feel like eating for the meal. The other night I really didn’t feel like cooking, but I knew that going to a restaurant or getting takeout would not be the solution either. I needed some inspiration. I went on Pinterest and scrolled through healthy dinner meals. I stumbled upon a recipe for a steak and arugula salad that looked amazing. On another day, I might write down the entire recipe and follow it, but not that day. Instead, I went to the store with the question: what will go really well on my steak salad? I found the arugula and the steak so the rest of the shopping trip was about finding the supporting players for the meal: radishes, olives, goat feta, cherry tomatoes. The shopping experience became more of a palette creation rather than a chore I had to get done. It's much more fun to explore than it is to check items off a list. And the meal turned out great!
Buy your vegetables last
Grocery stores are cleverly designed to get people spending more money than necessary. There is a deliberate flow in the store that keeps the pleasant sensory items near the front (such as flowers, produce, and baked goods) and the most needed-items at the back (like milk and dairy) so you have to wander through the entire store and hopefully grab something else you see on the way. It makes sense to start at the produce: the colours are incredible and I know that the bulk of my shopping should be vegetables and fruit anyways. From a psychological standpoint, this is great for stores too. Shoppers have a pleasant experience right off the bat and are more like to be in a better mood for the rest of the shopping trip. And spend more. People that pick their produce first will also be more likely to buy junk food because they feel so good about all the healthy food they have in their cart. Try getting your other aisle items first, such as coffee, pasta, canned goods, meat, and frozen items. I find that I’m less likely to browse through these aisles (and pick up some treat) when I know that the bulk of my shopping is still to come.
Deal with crowds using the mantra of “choice”
Right around 5 o’clock the rush really begins as commuters come in to pick up something for dinner. Nobody likes shopping at that time, but it must be done. The store is crowded, everyone is in your way, and it takes twice as long to get anywhere. I’m a girl with very little patience which makes these shopping trips especially difficult. So I employ the mantra of choice. This is a trick I tried at the mall during the height of the Christmas season. Every time I get caught behind someone going slower than me I would tell myself that it’s my choice to go this slow. I want to take this aisle nice and easy. I choose to stop and look at this display of kidney beans. I find that this ownership of pace evaporates my impatience immediately. Why not walk a little slower? When getting stuck behind someone feels like it has purpose it's much easier to relax. Try it, I think it will really surprise you.
Avoid your “red light” foods
This is a tool I picked up as a Weight Watchers member. Personally, every single trip to the store is a personal struggle. There are so many bad foods that I just want to buy like chips or ice cream. Every time I go, my junk food brain tells me that I should pick myself up a "little treat.” But I go to the store every two days, which would mean far too many treats would end up in my belly. So every trip is a struggle to avoid those foods around which I can’t control myself. In my grocery store, the bulk nuts and seeds are directly across from my #1 red light food: plantain chips. The best tool for me is to avoid eye contact. When I’m at the back of store and ready to buy, I head up an aisle without glances at any of the shelves. Too often, scanning for something you think you missed means you’ll buy something you don’t need. When you’re done shopping, head straight for the till and try to stay away from the aisles that have the most tempting foods.
When the last thing you want to do is grocery shop, how do you motivate yourself to go? And when do you order takeout? Click here and tell me in the comments below. I'd love to hear from you!