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Surviving the Grocery Store

grocery store, grocery shopping tipsWe have a grocery store near us that we absolutely love, yet we generally refer to it as The Gates of Hell. Why? This place is chronically crowded, and deservedly so. They have excellent prices. The produce is good and not the same old you find at other stores. Oh, and the service deli. I don’t even want to think about how many inches on my hips that deli is directly responsible for. Or, more accurately, waiting in the service deli for my number to be called because I always find something else to add to my order while waiting.

And, often, while waiting around for my number to be called (and it is always a wait), I am often reminded how most advice about grocery shopping is pretty lousy. They tell you things like don’t shop with your kids but don’t tell you who’s going to watch the squids while you’re at the store. Go when it’s not crowded, and yet, the whole reason stores get crowded is that most of us are at work when they’re not. And I love the idea of mapping your store so that you have your list items grouped by aisle. You may be that organized, and if you are, I salute you. I most certainly am not. Besides, I usually go to at least two different stores because not all of my stores have the same items at the right prices. That’s a lot of mapping and I do have better things to do.

But there are some things you can do to make life easier at the grocery store. Such as keeping a running list with you at all times. I use a grocery list app on my phone, which believe me, helps a lot. That way, when I see that I’m running low on granulated sugar, I just pull out my phone and quickly type it in, instead of trying to remember later that I need to add sugar to my list. I’ve also had a notepad with a magnet on the back stuck to my fridge so that I can list things as I see them running out, like crackers or Worcestershire sauce. With the app, I can also add toothpaste and shampoo because I have my phone in the bathroom, or in the bedroom, and don’t have to cross the house in a state of undress so that I can get those items on the list before I forget.

You may prefer adding your items to what mystery author Donna Andrews refers to as The Notebook That Tells Me When to Breathe, and I’m reasonably sure you have one. Most of us do. Whether we use it or not, well, that’s another issue. But the nice thing about putting your list in your Notebook That Tells Me When to Breathe is that notebook tends to be something we keep with us all the time. It’s always there. You can put your menu in it, too. I have my menu on my phone as a Google calendar. Again, it’s always with me because my phone is and when I’m shopping and think I’ve forgotten something or can’t remember why I put tater tots on my list, I can check my menu to find out.

The advice folks recommend a list to help you control spending – and that does help. However, a list saves me boodles of time. Why? I’m not running back to the store after forgetting some key item nearly as often as when I don’t keep my list up to date. I’ll still forget things sometimes. That’s why keeping the menu with me helps me remember that I do need pork chops after all.

My other cardinal rule is to eat before I get to the grocery store. This is one of those bits of advice that is not always practical. But if you’re trying to control your spending or your waistline, an empty tummy and lots of ready-made junk right in front of you, placed there on purpose so you’ll buy it, is not a good combination. Grab that protein bar out of your purse or the glove compartment and eat it before shopping.

I also make a habit of tracking my spending as I put items in my cart. I used to have to do this just to make sure I could afford everything. I still do it because I don’t want a lot of food going to waste, and if I did forget to eat, it helps keep me in check. If I’m conscious of how much I spending, it’s easier to stop and ask myself if I really need that stick of goat cheese.

Because sometimes, the answer is yes. Which is my final tip. Don’t forget to get a small treat for yourself, whether it’s indulging in a cranberry goat cheese log (thank you, Trader Joe’s) or a bar of chocolate to be broken up and parsed out over the next week or two. You remember stuff for your kids or for your spouse. Don’t forget yourself, even if it’s indulging in a trashy romance on your phone while you’re waiting in line. Or for your number to be called at the service deli.

Anne Louise Bannon

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