For the past few weeks we’ve been talking about all things meal planning:
✔ Tips to make meal planning easier
✔ Online recipe and meal planning resources
If you’ve been following along, you probably have a pretty good idea about how to plan and prepare your meals with limited hassle and indecision.
But before you can cook the wonderful meals you’ve got planned, you have to buy all the ingredients. And for some people, trying to buy an entire week’s worth of groceries all at once is overwhelming.
If you’ve had the experience of walking into the store — knowing you need ALL the things — and wanting to turn around and walk right back out, I see you. When you have a lot to buy, the grocery store can take forever. And let’s face it, most people would rather be spending their time doing something (maybe just about anything) else.
But I have good news for you! Grocery shopping doesn’t have to take up all your time, or your sanity. It’s totally possible to become quick and efficient at the store.
Grocery Shopping Tip #1: Bring a list
Walking into the store with a mental list, hoping you won’t forget anything important, doesn’t really work. Because spoiler alert: you’ll forget something important. And then you’ll either end up ditching that meal plan and wasting all the other recipe ingredients, or you’ll have to load back up into the car, drive to the store, and navigate the whole thing again.
Or maybe you show up at the store with various lists — you know, those little scraps of paper with an ingredient or two written on them. So you spend your time rummaging around in your bag hoping you found them all.
A list is crucial when it comes to efficient grocery shopping. If you only want to make one trip to the store during the week, a list will also save you lots of frustration.
Grocery Shopping Tip #2: Organize your list
Maybe you’ve been bringing a list to the store — on paper or on your phone. But if you’ve written it all down in random order (or the order that things came up in the recipes), then you’ll likely find yourself going back and forth from one end of the store to the other.
One of the main keys to efficient grocery shopping is categorizing your list. I recommend you write all the produce items in one column, then all the frozen foods in another, the meat in another, and so on.
Then when you’re in each section, you can go down that section of the list and grab all the things. Then you’ll spend much less time going back and forth to grab that thing you missed on the other side of the store.
Grocery Shopping Tip #3: Know your store
Most grocery stores are organized based on a similar pattern. By knowing this pattern, you’ll spend less time walking up and down the front of the store reading the signs above the aisles.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the different sections in a typical grocery store and where to find them:
You’ll probably see this first when you walk in. The produce section is usually close to the entrance on one side of the store.
If you walk around the edges — the perimeter — of the store, you’ll find these departments:
Then once you move into the center of the store, you’ll see what’s called the grocery department. Here’s where you’ll find all the boxed, bagged, and canned products, along with non-food items like cleaning supplies, personal care, and cosmetics. The frozen foods section is usually found in the center as well, though not always.
The center sections are broken down into themed aisles:
The Bread Aisle
The bread aisle includes loaves of bread, but also other bread products like bagels, English muffins, and tortillas. If you’re on a therapeutic diet like the low FODMAP or eating gluten-free, you probably won’t spend much time in this aisle.
The Cereal Aisle
This is where you find (you guessed it) cereal, along with pancake mixes and syrups. But this is also the aisle where you will commonly find coffee as well. And yes, the sugary cereals are placed at kid-level on purpose.
The Snack Aisle
Here’s where you’ll find things like cookies and crackers. Sometimes you’ll find chips here too. But more often than not, chips and salsa get an aisle all to themselves.
The Soft Drinks Aisle
This is where many of the empty calories live. I suggest you avoid this one.
The Water Aisle
Often water has an aisle all its own. Here you can also find carbonated water beverages like Perrier, La Croix, and Waterloo.
The Wine and Beer Aisle
This aisle is usually found near the other drink aisles.
The Canned Food Aisle
In this aisle you’ll find all the canned things including vegetables, fruits, soups, and sauces. You may find spaghetti sauce and refried beans here as well.
The Dry Goods Aisle
Here you’ll find things like rice and pasta. And in some stores, you’ll find the pasta sauce here too.
The Baking Aisle
This aisle holds dry ingredients like flour, sugar, sometimes oils, and extras like jello, pudding, and chocolate chips.
The Condiment Aisle
Here’s where you’ll go to find all the condiments — mustard, ketchup, mayo, salad dressing, peanut butter, and jelly. You’ll often find vinegar on this aisle as well.
The exact location of the frozen foods aisle varies, but it’s usually pretty easy to find. Here you’ll find all the frozen items from boxed meals, to veggies, to breakfast items like waffles, to frozen treats like ice cream.
Personal Care and First Aid
If your store has a pharmacy, you’ll find these aisles close by. Here’s where you can find cold remedies, bandaids, pain relievers, and more.
Usually close to the personal care, you’ll find makeup, hair care, and personal grooming items here.
Paper Products and Cleaning Supplies
Here you’ll find paper plates, napkins, foil, and zip top bags + cleaning products for laundry, dishes, and home.
Most stores have an aisle dedicated to whatever holiday or event is coming up. This aisle may be stocked with school supplies in the mid to late summer, Halloween candy in October, and Christmas items way too early.
These are the areas at the end of aisles that you’ll walk past as you go the length of the store. The products displayed on end caps are found in their normal aisles as well. Stores put things here to announce sales or tempt you to make an impulse buy.
Grocery Shopping Tip #4: Shop online
Or course you can avoid walking into the store altogether if you order your groceries online. Starting in 2020, online grocery shopping became wildly popular — for obvious reasons. And even though restrictions have been lifted, many people have stuck to the online option.
Most of the large grocery stores have an app you can use to order your groceries online from the comfort of your own home. Then you can either have them delivered or go pick them up — usually while staying in your car.
There are also online shopping options like Thrive Market where you can find a wide variety of organic and generally healthy foods. Thrive can be a great place to shop if you’re on a therapeutic diet like low FODMAP. The app gives you the option of searching only for low FODMAP foods.
The main downsides to Thrive Market are the wait time as items are shipped and the annual membership fee that runs about $60 per year.
Still need help figuring all this out?
I’ve got you. I know that navigating a restrictive diet, therapeutic diet, or food sensitivities can be a nearly overwhelming challenge. But that’s why I’m here.
When I work with my patients, I use testing + symptom analysis to figure out the root cause of their issues. Then we work together to formulate a personalized plan that improves your health and works with your life. If you’re ready to get to the root cause of your IBS or other stomach issues, let’s chat!