Grocery Shopping Tips That Will Help You Get In, Get Out, and Get On With Your Life

Part Three in the “Stop asking ‘what’s for dinner?’” series

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In the first two parts of this series, we explored the benefits of meal planning and meal prep: saving time, money, and mental energy, eating healthier meals with more variety, and reducing food waste. We created a list of meal options that we can draw from every week for meal ideas, and we added them to a weekly meal plan.

This week, we’re going shopping! I’ll show you how to organize your shopping list to save time and money at the grocery store, share some of my favorite grocery shopping list tools, and introduce ways to roll shopping into meal prep time, or at least get a head start on it.

One step at a time… it’s OK!

If the idea of a big grocery shopping trip combined with ingredient prep seems like too much, that’s ok. Any of these tips can be implemented one at a time. Need help organizing your shopping list? Start there. Try a free shopping list app and see if you like it — no risk. It’s about finding the routines that work for you and your family. And if you try to change too many things about the workflow in your household, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Forming new habits takes time. Congratulate yourself for small changes, and build on your own successes!

Grocery shopping: like it or loathe it?

Confession time: I do enjoy grocery shopping. I know I’m not alone, but I’m probably in the minority. Knowing that, I work hard to understand and empathize with people who are less enthusiastic than me about a trip to the store. One thing is certain: we all have to eat, so we all have to acquire food. I hope this article will ease the burden of doing that.

Tip 1: Start with a Pantry List.

How many times have you picked up a few cans of something, thinking you were out, only to discover you already have 3 cans of the same thing at home? That’s all of us, right? Me too. Example: our house is stocked with anchovies. The last time I counted, we had four tins. If society suddenly collapses and the store shelves are bare, stop by for some caesar salad!

Perhaps even more bothersome is having food that expires in the dark recesses of your pantry. Food waste is a huge problem in America, and has global impacts. It’s important to use what you have after you buy it, but how do you keep track of what you already have?

Creating a Pantry List addresses both of these problems. It’s straightforward:

  1. Make a list of all the items in your pantry.
  2. Post the list inside your pantry door, or in a Google Spreadsheet that you can access from anywhere.

Our “pantry” is just a low corner cabinet, so I have to get all the way down on the floor to see (or more often, feel) what’s at the back of the cabinet. A pantry list, along with some bins to help organize it, prevents me from having to dig for those anchovies. I keep our Pantry List in a shared Google Spreadsheet, so I can access it from the store. If you’d like to do the same, make a copy of my Pantry List Template, and share it with the other grocery shoppers in your house.

Tip 2: Keep a Freezer List.

The other large, cavernous space in our house that eats foodstuffs (besides my teenager’s stomach) is our basement chest freezer. We have a smaller-than-usual counter-depth refrigerator-freezer in our kitchen, which means we don’t have a lot of upstairs freezer space. It’s mostly occupied by smoothie fruit, herbs, and vodka. So our chest freezer is where we keep meats, veggies, homemade stock, and other goodies.

Our Freezer List is posted right on top of the freezer. It’s a list of items and their quantities, with a pencil nearby to record any usage or purchases. Super simple! If you’d like to create a digital version that goes with you, use another copy of my Pantry List Template. (Go to File > Make a copy in Google Sheets to copy it.)

Tip 3: Minimize stops.

Whenever you can, try to visit the fewest possible locations on your shopping trip. For example, I used to shop for groceries at one store, and paper products and cleaning supplies at another. Now I’ve put most of our non-food groceries on Subscribe and Save from Amazon, and they’re delivered automatically!

We still have a child in diapers at the time of this writing, and between Subscribe-and-Save and Amazon Mom discounts, we save big on diapers and wipes every month. If you have bought diapers, you know how expensive they can be. In fact, one in three families can’t afford diapers in America today. I started using some of our savings on diapers to order an extra box of diapers and donate them to a local diaper bank.

Tip 4: Get your shopping list in order.

Put your grocery list in order according to how you will encounter items in the store. Group like items together (dairy, vegetables, meats, etc.) You’ll backtrack less when you’re shopping, save time, and it’s easier to cross items off your list without forgetting anything. When you order your list, consider sticking to the perimeter of the store as much as possible. The most wholesome, unprocessed foods are usually located here.

If you use a written shopping list, download my printable Shopping List template, or use any other template or written list.

Tip 5: Save time and share lists with an app.

I love our grocery list app. And I tried quite a few of them before I found it. It’s called Buy Me a Pie. With a 4.8/5 star rating on the Apple Store as of this writing, a lot of other people must love it, too! Here’s why:

  • Categorize and color-code items on your list as they’re entered
  • Remembers items you’ve entered before and saves typing time
  • Groups like items together automatically
  • Multiple lists — organize by places you shop
  • Support for iOS, Android, and Apple Watch
  • Web browser version: see/edit your list on any computer, anywhere
  • PRO: share lists with family members, synced automatically

On top of all this, Buy Me a Pie has one of the cleanest, prettiest, and most intuitive interfaces I’ve used for a shopping list. I enjoy using it!

Tip 6: Don’t shop hungry… or thirsty.

You probably already know that you shouldn’t shop for groceries when you’re hungry. Everything is going to look soooo much more tempting, and you’ll end up either buying too much, or buying things you would otherwise avoid. I have found the same to be true when I’m thirsty. Any activity feels better when you’re properly hydrated. Slinging groceries around and pushing a heavy cart (not to mention wrangling children) is no exception. Grab a reusable water bottle before you set out, and sip as you shop.

Tip 7: Unpack, then prep.

You’ve successfully navigated the grocery store, and that’s not a small task! You’re probably tired when you get home, and that’s ok. Put things away and take a break if you can. If you have some energy to spare and want to get a head-start on meal prep, you can begin that process while unpacking. Here are a few suggestions:

Fill a clean sink with cold water when you get home, and add any fresh vegetables or fruits that can be washed before storage: grapes, bell peppers, carrots, celery, apples, zucchini and other hardy veggies work well. Don’t pre-wash delicate fruits like berries — they tend to go bad faster after washing. Keep onions and garlic dry too, or they’ll get moldy in your pantry.

Shop and chop: if you’re planning to make recipes this week that require vegetable prep, do some chopping now. Chop onions for meatloaf or chili in advance. Shred, slice, or spiralize vegetables. Shred cheese and keep it in a bag. Store in restaurant prep containers, and measure what you need later.

Prep it together: if you’re making something like a stir fry this week with lots of different veggies in it, combine any veggies that go into the pan at the same time into a single container. Toss it all in at once — no measuring, no fuss.

Marinate meats: grilling chicken this week? Grab a container and start a marinade. I’ve forgotten to marinate meat in advance so many times. It’s easier to start it when the chicken’s still out from the store. Just be careful to keep your veggie and meat preps separated to avoid cross contamination.

Pre-cut some snacks: if your kids are like ours, they’re always hungry. While you’re at the butcher block, slice a few extra apples, carrots, and bell peppers and stash them in the fridge for snacking this week. I like to invite my two year old to the kitchen island where I’m prepping and have him “sample” what I’m chopping. He loves to help crank the spiralizer and snack on a few springy carrot curls.

Tip 8: Useful products for ingredient prep

You don’t need anything fancy for ingredient prep — just a knife, a cutting board, and a way to store pre-prepped food and keep it fresh.

But you do need a good chef’s knife.

When it comes to meal prep, or cooking in general, my all-time, number one product recommendation for your kitchen is this: buy yourself a good chef’s knife. It is the single most important knife in your kitchen — perhaps your most important piece of kitchen equipment. A chef’s knife (or French knife) is usually 8–10 inches in length with a 20–22 degree angle, and curved with a pointed tip. It is similar, but not the same as, a santoku knife — and the two are not interchangeable. A chef’s knife is perfectly shaped to use with the rocking, slicing motion used for a lot of ingredient prep.

Always choose the chef’s knife that feels comfortable in your hand, that you can use safely, and that you know how to sharpen. Our hands-down favorite is the Global G2 8-inch Chef’s Knife. It is lightweight, well-balanced, maintains a super-sharp edge, and is easy to clean. We take this knife with us when we travel. It would be tempting to grab it whilst escaping a house on fire. I have not tattooed it on my body, but this professional chef did.

Storage Containers

Other than a great knife, you’ll need storage containers. My favorites are reusable:

  • Mason jars — can’t beat the price or durability
  • Stainless steel Mason jar lids with silicone seals — no rusty bands, no leaks
  • Washable deli containers (freezer and dishwasher safe; also microwave safe, but I rarely microwave in plastic)
  • Glass containers with no-leak locking lids (also my #1 lunch container)
  • Silicone storage bags

Ready to shop?

I hope you’ve learned some valuable grocery shopping tips from this article. You might not ever learn to love shopping, but at the least, I hope you’ll save some time and energy for activities you like better.

Do you have any more time-saving tips for grocery shopping? Share them in the comments below.

Next week: the finale — weekly meal prep!

Now we’re rolling: we have a meal plan, we’ve shopped for groceries like a boss, and we’ve prepped ahead for dinners this week. Next week, we’ll wrap up the series with weekly meal prep. I’ll show you a few different ways to pack healthy lunches for yourself and your family to eat throughout the week. We’ll talk about how to include enough variety to avoid lunchtime boredom, which foods are most suitable for weekly meal prep, and different strategies for prepping meals for one week, or even longer.

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See you next week!