When you go into the grocery store, you can shop like a pro – or not. Getting better food when you shop is not rocket science. Use these 3 grocery shopping tips and I’ll bet you’ll soon notice changes in your food-buying habits. When you read these tips, don’t snicker and think to yourself “Duh, I knew that!!” Like several of the 10 Commandments, they are simple to read and repeat, but often ignored.
They work whether you are heading into a store for just a few items or a big shop. Just a few extra minutes focused on these tips can dramatically improve the quality of what you buy. Grocery shopping shouldn’t be like sleep walking. Being more conscious about what goes into your cart leads to better food on your table. End of sermonette.
[As a teenager, I called my mom’s short unsolicited pieces of advice “sermonettes.” Although I rolled my eyes when she began one, I have now realize she was generally on the mark. (The topics ranged from how you shouldn’t assume that you know what motivates people to why moderation in eating habits is better than complete abstinence or indulgence.) Now, semi-horrified to find that I’ve turned into my mother, I spread my own version of common sense, hopefully laced a bit of her acerbic wit.]
3 Grocery Shopping Tips
1. Read Labels. Whether it’s hunting down hidden sugar in cereal or finding thickeners and stabilizers in sour cream, labels are key. Comparing labels on different brands, or “regular” chicken broth and the “low sodium” version can yield tidbits you didn’t even know you didn’t know. The “unknown unknowns” as Donald Rumsfeld would say, are often more telling than the “known unknowns.” (And speaking of “knowns” – did you know that when manufacturers lower the sodium in packaged and canned food, they often add other ingredients – and not always ones you will be happy about?)
Once you figure out which brands meet your standards, shopping takes less time. Now I know what sour cream to buy and head straight for that brand. Occasionally I’ll check a new brand on the shelf or make sure the brand I always buy is still made only with cream. Still, that purchase is now quick.
2. Buy In-Season Produce. Even big box grocery chains now publicize which fruits and vegetables they buy locally. Being flexible, varying your shopping list by season and region yields fresher food that tastes better. Go ahead and test this tip. Remember the juicy deliciousness of an in-season peach. Then wait a few months and buy one out-of-season that is hauled in from another continent and then left sitting in a warehouse for weeks before it gets to your store. Same with tomatoes. Case closed.
3. Talk to Produce and Meat Department Staff. Whether I’m at a farmers market or a grocery store, I try to learn from the folks who work with the food I’m about to buy. This tip works best if you are an extrovert, or at least not painfully shy. But even if it takes an act of will for you to walk up to a person unloading a crate or ring the bell at the meet department and ask a question nicely, it’s worth the effort. Most often, you’ll be rewarded with information that will help you on that shopping trip and in the future.
The last time I rang the meat department bell at a local grocery, the butcher not only cut me a fresh piece of the cut I sought, but he trimmed it to the size I sought and gave me a smile that kept me going all afternoon. Yes, I know all about the eye-rolling that this talking-to-strangers can engender from pre-teens and teenagers if you’ve got one along on the shopping trip. But if you can wait a decade or 2, you may well get the satisfaction of finding the erstwhile eye-roller asking a few of her or his own questions when the time comes that they have to do the shopping.
Do you have other grocery shopping tips that improve the quality of what you buy?