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Efficient Shopping Starts at Home

This is an excerpt from Healthy Eating Every Day-2nd Edition by Ruth Ann Carpenter & Carrie E. Finley.

Planning ahead is a key to successful habit change. And for healthy food shopping, planning is essential. Like any new skill, it takes a little time to get good at it. But planning your shopping will save you time overall. Here are key steps:


1. Plan a Menu

  • Review your weekly schedule and decide which meals you’ll be cooking at home.
  • Choose main courses and sides that match your schedule and preferences. Challenge yourself to try a couple new healthy recipes (see session 12 for healthy meal planning and cooking tips) each week. Pick a couple of options that will leave you with leftovers to free you from cooking another meal.


2. Check Ingredients

  • Gather the recipes and list all the ingredients you need. Some online recipes provide a printable shopping list.
  • Explore your refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards to see what ingredients you already have; remove these from your list.


3. Write a shopping list

  • Keep a running list posted on your refrigerator or cupboard so family members can add items that they used up or would like you to buy.
  • Add to the running list: (1) new ingredients needed for the coming week’s menu and (2) staples that have been depleted.
  • Organize your list by store layout. For example, make sections for frozen, dairy, meats and seafood, produce and flowers, bakery, deli, snacks, and so on.
  • Write each needed ingredient in the corresponding grocery store section. Milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs, would go under dairy. Categorizing saves you time in scanning your list over and over. It also keeps you from skipping over items.
  • Put a "C" beside the items on your grocery list for which you have a coupon.
  • Pack a pen or pencil so you can cross things off your list as you place them in your cart.


Paper and pencil is one way to create a shopping list. Our ever-present smartphone is another. You can use a notes app to keep a simple list. Or there are dozens of free or low-cost list-making and food-shopping apps for both the Android and iPhone platforms. Your local grocer may offer an app that features shopping lists as well as info on in-store specials and coupons. Some sync with recipes so that ingredients get dumped automatically into your shopping list. Others let you add items via the voice recognition feature. Many show weekly sale ads from local stores to add to your list, if desired. Look for ones that let you:

  • keep a master list of things you buy over and over
  • organize your list by the aisle layout of your local store
  • add item requests from family members directly to the list
  • sync across multiple devices so you can edit the list from a tablet, computer, or smartphone
  • maintain multiple lists - use this feature to keep separate lists for different stores


Try different apps until you find one that works for you. If this takes too much time, you always can go back to paper and pencil!


Healthy Shopping Without Breaking the Bank


In 2014, Americans spent over $1.4 trillion on food - $50 billion more than we spent the previous year.1 On average, we spend about 10% of our disposable income on food each year.2


You might think you have to spend a lot of money to eat healthy foods. This is simply not true. No matter how much you or your family spends at the grocery store, you want to get the best nutritional return for your money. The truth is, you don’t have to spend more money to get a healthier payback. Just as you may spend time and money investing in your financial future, you should spend time investing in your health, such as budgeting more of your grocery money to fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and nutrient-dense foods. Spend less money on empty-calorie foods such as sweets and soft drinks, which do not give you the quality nutrition you need. Look at these items as bad investments.


Here are tips to get more for your money at the supermarket:

  • Keep a shopping list to follow when you’re shopping. When you have a list, you’re less likely to impulse shop. Try to limit yourself to two or three impulse buys.
  • Use newspaper inserts, store mailers, and online sites to find the specials for the week. Meat and poultry can be purchased when they’re on sale and frozen to eat at a later date. Make a special note on your grocery list of the items that are on sale.
  • Sign up for your local stores’ loyalty programs. This will give you access to their digital coupons, special promotions, and other savings.
  • Compare supermarket brands to name-brand food items both for cost and nutrient value. Many store brand foods are less expensive but have the same nutrient value as name brands.
  • Beware of marketing ploys such as "Buy 2, get 1 free" on items that you don’t need in large supplies or that might spoil before you eat them. These so-called sales are often aimed at getting you to buy more than you need. The sale is only a deal if you really need three of the product or if it’s nonperishable. If the food ends up going to waste, it’s not much of a deal.

Learn more about Healthy Eating Every Day, Second Edition.