October 08, 2007

Guest Post: Jeffrey on Grocery Store Strategies

Our next Guest Blogger, Jeffrey Rice, is a personal trainer and the owner of Rice Home Fitness in Kansas City. He has a great blog with lots of useful training advice--advice which, in Crabby's case, might have prevented her from a painful shoulder injury. (She discovered she was doing one of her gym exercises wrong!) So be sure to check it out. In this post, however, you don't even need to get sweaty, as Jefferey is taking us on a visit to the grocery store--another place where mistakes can be costly!

Grocery Store Strategy

What you have in your house will determine a large portion of what you eat. Makes sense, right? So you need to shop smart. I eat a ton of food, so I need to shop smart for my health and my bank account. Don't grab just anything shiny like a chimp run amok with a shopping cart. We have grocery chimps for that. So let's discuss strategy:

1. Eat first
You know this is important. If you go into the grocery store hungry, you will get more than you need. Come on.

2. Make a menu
For whatever your shopping period is, make a menu. If you shop a week at a time, make a menu for a week. Choose a day that you can get to the store consistently and always make a menu of meals up to that day. Write down all the basic ingredients. Example

Spaghetti & Eggplant
Spaghetti noodles
Ground Turkey
Spaghetti Sauce

Make sure you have some like the above example: really easy. Don't get overambitious. That's just another pizza delivery waiting to happen when you get home too tired to stir a roux for half an hour.

3. Make a shopping list from your menu
Now go down your menu, and in the order that items appear in the store (I know that sounds obsessive, but it keeps you from running back and forth, and keeps your head in your list instead of figuring things out), add them to a shopping list and check them off your menu.

4. Add non-menu items to your list
Remember, the goal is to not browse the shelves looking for what you “need.” You will invariably come home with deals so good you couldn't pass them up, except you could have if you hadn't known about them. So add everything else to the list at this point, including things like paper towels and tin foil.

Put some back-up meals on there. You might have a dinner guest you didn't plan for, and now you don't have enough leftovers for lunch tomorrow. I keep a stock of cans of low-fat chunky soup. This eliminates another reason to go get fast food. It's healthier (I know, sodium) and much cheaper.

Everything falls apart if you skip this last step. Go through the grocery store with blinders on, looking only at your exhaustive list, trusting it, walking to each item with the precision and single-minded focus of a laser-guided laser. If you do this, you know you'll have what you need for every meal of the week and little more.

Advantages of this system
-You'll have fewer excuses to eat out and you'll be healthier for it.
-You'll save money by cooking at home.
-You'll save money and waste less by not letting food go bad.
-You'll save time wandering around the store, or going back because you didn't know what you were going to cook while you were shopping, and now that you do, you realize you need some eggs.


  1. Great post, Jeffrey.
    Living in the country as I do, I usually shop just this way, only on a slightly larger scale. I try not to go to town more than once a week, and can sometimes stretch that to a week and a half if I shop smart. But I also try to keep enough canned food in my pantry in case we get snowed in, or something equally drastic. We also butcher our own meat, so I have a very full freezer (saves immensely on the grocery bill!)

  2. Thanks for this post Jeffrey.
    We got REALLY poor in grad school a couple of years ago and were forced to only spend cash and get the absolute essentials at the grocery store. But the habits we formed (making menus and lists) totally stuck with us. And I'm with Bag Lady, we try to keep some extra stuff on hand just in case.

  3. I've been doing once-a-week shopping for so long that I've got my needs down to a science and only need a list for the stuff I don't usually need. For example, last week it was a nutcracker.

    My biggest shopping rule is simply not to buy junk. If there's no junk food in the house, it's hard to eat it. :-)

  4. This is a good post - very good advice.

    One of my pleasures, though, is food shopping. I go to the local market (a somewhat foody place) almost every day, if only to get fresh bread... I was in heaven when living in Italy - I could walk to the market every day and talk recipes with the vendors, and pick up fresh bread, and nose around in the cheese shop and the pasta shops...

  5. great post, but I have an even better method. My DH shops for us. :-)

    When I was pregnant with my first child, 21 years ago, I was quite sick most of the time in the beginning so my DH took over the shopping. He never offered to give it back and I never volunteered. I'm not stupid!!

  6. "That's just another pizza delivery waiting to happen when you get home too tired to stir a roux for half an hour."

    This just cracked me up! This is so me!!!!

    One thing is that I look through the ad from my grocery store as I plan my meals (when I do it) to try to plan around what is on sale.

    Thanks for the post!!

  7. I always write down lists as well. Usually, I also always buy the same things, but the airhead that I am will find a way of forgetting one or two items and having to go back later on if I don't make a list, so...

    It's quite convenient, in any case, and it also allows me to save quite an amount of money.

  8. Jeffery, great post.
    I too write my list in the order the items appear in the store. Until, that is, the store rearranges! Then it takes a few trips to get the order straight in my brain again. Like Holly though, I find out what is on sale first.

  9. You are all so much more sensible than I am! I can't seem to plan ahead too many meals. And when I do make a list, I usually leave it behind on the kitchen counter or something. I wander the aisles and often come home with a ton of stuff I hadn't planned to buy and then forget essentials.

    I'm also a bit like Quito--I like that European style small-market shopping better than big trips to the supermarket. So I end up getting something from the produce place nearly every day.

    I waste lots of time that way but like to be a bit more spontaneous about what I make for dinner.

    Thanks so much for the post, Jeffery, and thanks to all for your comments!

  10. Thanks for all the good comments. I like what bunnygirl said about not buying junk food so as to not have temptation. I eat junk food one day a week, either Sunday or Monday, and try to only buy as much as I will eat that day, because other wise my cheat day can extend into a cheat long-weekend.

    Planning around what is on sale is always a thrifty idea, as long as what is on sale is cheaper than what you would have normally gotten (or just provides some needed variety).

  11. Good common sense post. Like Crabby, I'm so disorganized about menus and lists but it sure would come in handy. If I go to the grocery store hungry, I do indeed buy too much junk, but if I shop once I'm well-fed, I don't find anything appealing and I tend to reject a lot of purchase options. The menu and list would help there.

    After this huge turkey dinner, I won't feel like shopping for a week.

  12. I have never seen a grocery chimp. What chains do they frequent?

    Only get what's on your list is IMPOSSIBLE for me. So is making a week's menu in advance. I try to have at least two or three meal ideas in mind and then I get some extra stuff. I don't know why I hate planning meals so much. I also hate schduling my time. I'm too much of a free spirit maybe.

    But I do try to not eat out, esp. fast food. The paper/plastic/styroform waste from a fast food meal is horrid.

  13. Oh, lots of chains use chimps. A grocery chimp is a tool for researching impulse buying. Being the size of a small child and of a similar temperament, stores can use them to optimize product placement while skirting child labor laws (chimp labor laws are sadly lax).
    Stack two on top of each other and put a coat on the top chimp and you can test product placement for adults.

  14. I do the exact same thing! My friends always laugh at the "menu" I have up on the fridge--it's very elementary school lunch-esque--but it really streamlines the grocery shopping. And eliminates the staring at my cupboard wondering what to eat...

    Good call :)

  15. This is all very good advice, but what if you like wandering around the store going "Ooh, that looks good"?

    *looks at self* You...end up overweight and eating take-out a lot, apparently. Never mind, carry on.

  16. Too true.
    Husband and I have started to make a list of our favorite meals...Then the grocery list won't get sidetracked by how hungry we are. That happened this month...pricey! :)


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