The motivation to eat healthier and make fresh homemade meals comes easy.
Taking the time to actually put together a meal plan and shop for groceries? Not so much, right?
Unless you love spending hours walking down the aisles of seemingly endless supermarkets, grocery shopping is something you want to get done ASAP.
You want to be swift, find the things you need, and get out of the store.
But every time you go into the supermarket, something different happens: By the time you check out, you realize you spent hours in there and accidentally bought enough food to feed an army.
How did a small trip to the store that was supposed to take 30 mins took 3 hours?
You only needed ingredients to make dinner, why are there cookies and bags of chips in your cart?
We’ve all been there.
The good news is, you can easily stop the long and expensive shopping sprees (really).
In fact, you can make grocery shopping quicker and healthier at the same time.
Escape the black hole
Grocery shopping doesn’t have to be a mini black hole that sucks hours of your day and leaves you tired and in a daze.
If your trips to the store feel eternal and you’re afraid to look at the shopping receipt, here are 9 things you can do to speed up your shopping and make healthier choices in the process:
1. Create a grocery shopping list based on specific meals
Half the work of grocery shopping should be done before you even set foot in the store.
Making a specific and purposeful list is the first step.
You’ve probably made hundreds of shopping lists by now, right?
A typical shopping list is a mix of things you want, things you ran out of, and things you think you need (but have no plan for).
If this sounds familiar, then here’s a simple way to make your list more effective: create your list around specific meals.
A random list of ingredients isn’t going to help you shop quickly or effectively.
Instead, you should only shop for the ingredients of meals you’re going to make (and any essentials you ran out of, of course).
This way you buy only what you’re going to use, which saves you money and prevents food waste.
Here’s how to make a purposeful shopping list:
1. Create a meal plan for the week: Write down what you want to have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a week. Choose easy recipes that you actually look forward to making.
Remember to keep it simple, don’t complicate yourself by trying to make a new recipe each day – pick a few good staple recipes and rotate them. For example, you can choose to have a green smoothie for breakfast on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Download this handy meal planner template to create your weekly meal plan.
2. Make a list of the ingredients you need to make the recipes for the week.
3. That’s it! At this point, your list should only have the ingredients you need to make your meals.
2. Include the canned and frozen foods for the month
Now, if you have staple foods that make regular appearances in your plate – like peas, tuna, frozen berries, or beans – feel free to buy those in bulk for the month.
The goal is to reduce the amount of extra food we buy and don’t use, but if you know you eat a lot of certain staples, buying them in bulk will make your life easier and save you money.
For example, I eat beans almost every day, so I buy those in bulk even if I don’t have a specific recipe for them because I know I’ll add them regularly to my meals.
3. Divide the list by category
This step requires you to be familiar with your grocery store, so if you’re traveling or need to go to a different store the process might be a little slower.
Organize your list in a two-step process:
1. Sort by category: By now you should have a general knowledge of where each thing is located in your local store, so divide your list by category – that way you’ll know exactly where to go for each item.
For example, divide your list by canned foods, frozen foods, grains, milk, meats, spices, and produce.
2. Sort your categories in the order you shop: Arrange each category in the order you shop so you only need to go through each section once.
For example, if the first thing you shop for is canned goods and the last thing frozen foods, then canned should be at the top of your list and frozen at the bottom of your list.
An ordered list will help you breeze through each aisle quickly.
4. Set a timer
Defining the exact amount of time you want to dedicate to shopping will help you stay focused.
I’ve found that setting a timer on my phone keeps me accountable.
Pick a realistic time that works for you – from 30 mins to 2 hours – and commit to it by setting a timer when you go into the store.
My usual goal is to finish within 30 minutes, and I almost always make it because I’m consciously trying to finish before the timer goes off.
5. Use the EWG Healthy Living App
The Environmental Working Group has a great app called Healthy Living. You can use it to compare and find the healthiest products when you’re shopping.
It works like this: You pick a food or personal care product, scan it in the app, and it will give you the safety rating for that product. The rating goes from 1-10, with 1 being the safest and 10 being the least safe.
With that information at your fingertips, you can easily compare products, pick the healthiest brands, and leave unhealthy products on the shelves.
6. Avoid the middle aisles
Want to avoid getting side-tracked? Shop only the perimeter of the supermarket and avoid the center aisles.
The middle aisles are the sections with the most processed products. That’s where all the flashy boxes of cereals, cookies, and snacks are (the ones your kids love to sneak into the cart).
The healthiest products (like produce) are generally in the outer aisles of the store.
You probably won’t find healthy ingredients in the section of chocolates, marshmallows, and cookies, so avoid going through there altogether.
7. Be ready to pay
This might seem a little obvious, but if you’ve ever had to wait in line for someone digging through their purse in front of the cashier, then you know being ready to pay can save you several minutes of unnecessary waiting for you and others.
8. Use fabric bags
Plastic bags end up in landfills and oceans, not to mention you need dozens of them to carry all your groceries.
Reduce waste, help the planet, and make it easier for you by using fabric bags.
If you need a little convincing, here’s why you need to make the switch to fabric bags:
- They fit more groceries than plastic bags (and won’t rip).
- They can be reused over and over again.
- They don’t create trash in your home.
- They are more stylish than plastic 🙂
9. Help to pack your groceries
In certain occasions -but not all the time-, packing your own groceries can help you check out of the store faster.
Here’s when helping to pack your groceries is useful:
- When the cashier is both scanning and packing your groceries. If no one is dedicated to packing your groceries, doing it yourself can be quicker than waiting for the cashier to do it all himself.
- When you know exactly how to distribute your groceries for easier unpacking when you get home. If you prefer to pack your own groceries in a specific order and you’re quick at it, then go ahead.
When NOT to pack your groceries:
- When it’s someone’s job. If an employee is packing your groceries, let them do it.
- When you aren’t quick about it. If you take long packing your groceries, you make everyone in line wait unnecessarily. Let the cashier or someone else do it instead.
Personally, I always pack my own groceries because it makes it easier to unpack everything at home. Just remember that if you can’t be quicker than the store employees, let them handle it.
Your trips to the grocery store can be easy and simple – just like you intend them to be. All it takes is a little focus and smart habits.
Making a specific list of ingredients you’ll use, making a monthly purchase of your most consumed foods, arranging the grocery list by category and in the order you shop, setting a timer, using an app to find the healthiest products, being ready to pay, using fabric bags, and helping to pack your groceries are all simple and efficient ways to check out faster and with healthier groceries.