A Graduate Course In Grocery Shopping

We have all been through Grocery Shopping 101: shop the perimeter, make a list, don’t shop hungry, etc, yet somehow we still end up with ice cream and crackers in the grocery cart. The challenge with a lot of grocery shopping advice is that it can be impractical. How do I buy my whole grain cereal if I shop the perimeter? Or condiments? Sometimes I have a list and still buy things that aren’t on it. And what if my only time this week to stop at the grocery store is after work, when I’m kinda hungry?

The truth is our ability to eat healthy at home lies squarely on what happens at the grocery store. It is time for a graduate course in grocery shopping.

1. Delegate. Navigating the grocery store is no different than navigating a buffet—you are surrounded by unlimited temptations. Recent research has shown that avoiding situations that tempt us is more effective than going to battle with the temptation. When you go to battle, the reality is sometimes you will lose. You can’t lose a battle you don’t show up to though. One way to avoid the grocery store battleground is to recruit someone else (someone who can stick to the list!) to take on some of the grocery shopping responsibility for the home.

2. Delegate Fail. No takers on number 1?  Another way to avoid the grocery store battleground is to use an online grocery service like Peapod. By ordering your groceries online you avoid being exposed to all the temptations at the store. If you worry about online grocery shopping because you prefer to hand select your own produce, then go to a produce market for your produce and buy the rest of your groceries online. The perk is they deliver it right to your door!

3. Put It On The Shit List. We know making a shopping list can help us stay focused when grocery shopping (even though we sometimes veer off it), but have you ever made a “Do Not Buy” list?  List the foods that you commit to not buying right next to the list of foods you want to buy. By reminding you of your commitment to avoid these foods, the list may cause you to think twice before putting them in the cart.

4. How To Make A Shit List. Make a list of the foods you are most likely to overeat at home—some might even be healthy foods; it’s just important that the foods are ones that account for unnecessary calories (i.e., eating when not hungry). Now add any foods that you eat when stressed at home. Next, think of the foods that you eat when bored, add those. These are your trigger foods and as long as they are in the house, they will keep triggering you. New shit list items may crop up over time, so be sure to update the list frequently.

5. Shopping Rewards. Just making the grocery list may not work because there is no consequence to sticking to the list. Come up with a way to reward yourself for every trip in which you stuck to a healthy list. For example, once you hit 4 healthy shopping trips (no shit list items purchased!), schedule a massage or pedi.

6. Junk Food Pact.  It never fails that someone in the house will insist on adding junk food to the list. Hubs wants his cheese doodles and little Timmy loves chocolate Teddy Grahams. Unfortunately you end up being tempted by their snacks and partaking more than you would like. If forbidding family members their treats fails, one negotiation tactic you can use is to have them select treats that you don’t find tempting at all.

7. Hungry While Shopping. So you flunked Grocery Shopping 101 and went to the store hungry. We’ve all done it at one time or another, so now what? I suggest acting like a kid. To get my 6 year old through the shopping trip I find her a healthy snack to keep her occupied. Do I plan this ahead? Heck no. I go to the produce section and buy a package of precut watermelon (that is not sold by weight since we are paying after consumption) and let her go nuts on it. Sometimes she polishes the whole thing off and I have the attendant scan an empty carton, but apparently they see enough snacking while shopping that it doesn’t faze them. Do the same: Pick up a healthy snack as soon as you get to the store and munch on it while shopping.

8. Fooducate Yourself. The mobile app Fooducate helps shoppers identify healthier choices. All you do is scan the item and it will give the item a grade from A through D based on its nutritional quality. Foods high in processed ingredients score poorly, while nutritious, minimally processed foods score well. For foods with bad scores, the app makes suggestions for healthier similar foods.  Plan one shopping trip where you have some extra time to find some healthier alternatives to your usual choices.

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