save time, save money, and learn to LOVE grocery shopping - even if you hate it

Following my post about minimalist meal planning, I received a bunch of questions about how I navigate the grocery store. Having been someone who used to consider going to the grocery store a dreaded and time-consuming chore, I've learned that through being organized, driving the planning process, going grocery shopping has turned into a pleasure, something I actually look forward to every week. Keeping a thorough list, and planning shopping by store, by sale or by coupons that need using up help save time and money.

The pre-game

CSA. Meal planning and grocery shopping start with what's fresh and local. This could be my weekly produce box delivery. Meals for the week, and what I buy from the store, centers around what fresh, local and organic produce is delivered. To find a CSA near you in the US -

Keep a running list. As you run out of cereal or squeeze the last drop of ketchup from the bottle (even if you giggle at the farting noises it makes) add it to your grocery list.

Snap a picture of your list. Always forgetting your list? Keep a whiteboard or blackboard in the kitchen and jot down items as you think of them. Before you head out to go shopping, take a picture of your list with your smartphone - I probably don't need to remind you to take your phone with you.

Become a list-making maven. Organize your shopping list by store, then by section, so you only make one productive trip around the market. Organize sections according to how the store is laid out. If the first section you hit when walking into the store is the produce section, start there.

The big event

  1. Grab a cart, put on a smile and start with produce. Start here since this is where most of your food will come from.
  2. Produce. Generally, buy in-season produce. It will only have traveled a few miles and will taste better than something that crossed the border. Some studies say it's much healthier too. Skip the asparagus in November, and buy frozen berries in January.
  3. Shop organic. Most stores have an entire section devoted to organic goodness or clearly identify organic produce. Also, look for the number '9' at the beginning of the code on the label, this means it's organic.
  4. Visit only the aisles you need to in order to shop for items on your list. This saves time because if you're not buying any frozen foods, you'll save yourself from going down those aisles.
  5. If you find items you buy regularly on sale, stock up.
  6. If you have extra time, see the next section.
  7. When at the checkout, group items on the conveyor belt by where they'll be put away at home. Place frozen foods together, canned foods together, leafy greens, and produce that stays at room temperature. Also follow this process for bagging. If someone else is bagging your groceries, how you load the conveyor belt helps big-time.
I don't use many coupons but I'll look through available coupons at the stores I shop at, and usually, the coupons are for processed junk food. I have yet to find a coupon for kale or bananas. You can find coupons though for pasta, cereal, and canned goods. Saving a few bucks always feels good!

How to LOVE the experience

You can learn to find pleasure in something that feels so mundane and part of an ennui routine. Set the stage by walking into the store like you're in a foreign farmers market and you are about to embark on a culinary adventure.

  1. Give thanks. Not just to the person at the checkout or the person bagging your goods. This may sound woo-woo, but as you shop, be thankful you have such an abundance of fresh, healthy food a few minutes from home. Be thankful you have the means to buy this good food.
  2. If you have extra time (which you will if you plan and make your list accordingly) browse some gourmet foods, the wine section, the fancy tea section, check out the chocolate section and treat yourself to something new. Nosh on samples, talk to store employees and really enjoy your trip and the connection with people. A smile and a hello go a long way.
  3. Flowers. Even if you buy a single flower, it'll brighten your mood and put a spring in your step. Look at the people with flowers in their grocery carts, are they smiling?
  4. Get excited for long lines. Yes, you read that right. Try to shop during a time when you don't feel rushed. Maximize your checkout experience with a few minutes of mindful deep breathing, pull out a book, or check out a magazine. If the line is long enough, you'll have time to flip through most of those glossy pages and save $5.

And finally, my favorite piece of advice about grocery shopping...

Don't worry about how much an item costs. If it will take a meal to new levels of awesomeness - buy it. That splurge is still cheaper than going out to eat.