Shopping Tips

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Here are some tips that can take some of the groan out of grocery shopping while keeping your meal planning on track:

  • Make a shopping list. Following a list not only helps cut down on impulse buying, but it also ensures that you buy all the ingredients you need for new recipes or simply the staples you need for your meals. Avoid having to make a second trip to the store because you forgot something.
  • Start portion control at the store. If your meal plan calls for 4-ounce apples, buy only 4-ounce apples. That way, when you’re ready to eat one, you can grab it and go with no extra weighing and measuring. If you’ve decided to work some potato chips into your lunches, buy a bag that you can easily divide into a week’s worth of portions without leaving half a bag of “unassigned” leftovers.
  • Browse the outside aisles. Typically, supermarkets stock fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, and dairy products along the perimeter of the store. If you aren’t in a rush, take some time to browse in these areas. Are there any healthful, low-fat items you haven’t tried before? Trying new foods is a surefire way to make your meals more interesting.
  • When shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables, look for varieties that are in season. They will most likely taste better and be less expensive. Don’t buy produce that looks limp, old, or damaged.
  • Read labels selectively. Reading labels is a great way to find new foods for your meal plan, but do not try to read every label in the store during one shopping trip. It’s simply too much. Tackle one section or food category at a time and review labels for about 5–10 minutes, at most. For example, on one trip you might pick the cereal section to review portion sizes, carbohydrate amounts, and sugar content. On another trip, you might compare fat content of cheeses. Find out what foods can work for you, and add them to your shopping list.
  • Stock up on staples. If you have room in your cart (and money in your wallet), buy a few extra items that you eat regularly and that keep well. Dried pasta, canned or frozen low-fat soups, and canned or frozen vegetables and beans are great to have on hand in your pantry for quick meals.
  • If possible, shop when you’re not hungry or tired. If it’s unavoidable, however, stick to your list and leave the browsing and label reading for another trip.

Originally Published July 21, 2006

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