How To Stop Hating Grocery Shopping

You just finished the last of three-day-old pasta drizzled with dried-out marinara sauce. With limited options for a palette cleanser, you proceed to shovel stale Cheez-Its in your mouth. You then settle for that forgotten bag of trail mix, scooping out the dredges of cashews that you’ve avoided eating thus far.

It’s time to go grocery shopping.

For anyone in their early twenties, food shopping can feel like a stressful experience that seems to suck up free time.

“My money is so important to me and I have no idea what to spend it on at the grocery store,” Drew Kellogg, 23, Ithaca, NY, laughed. “Going there is a reminder of how little I understand about how to take care of myself.”

Walking through the doors of a grocery store — especially on any given night around 5 p.m. — can be scary. Food shopping is not easy, but there are ways to make the experience less stressful and less tragic for your wallet.

Mary Kielar, a reporter for Lakeland Public Television from Bemidji, Minnesota, takes what little free time she has to blog about healthy living and eating habits. Her blog, Eat and be Mary, shares nutritious, budget-friendly recipes that help motivate you throughout your week when you need that little extra push.

Kielar’s first piece of advice when going food shopping may seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget the simple things. Always bring a list.

“I find it really fun to food shop, as long as I have a list to guide me,” Kielar said. “If I don’t, I have a hard time saying no to things that I probably don’t need. As long as I make the time to prepare a list, I’m good to go.”

Sure, make a list. But what do you put on it? How can you ensure that you don’t forget anything, saving yourself that extra trip to the store in the same week, or even the same day? Kielar’s answer is meal preparation. (You can find her blog post about meal prep here.)

My Body, My Kitchen, a healthy lifestyle blog that provides recipes and shopping lists, defines meal prep as “the weekly preparation of meals for a period of time usually longer than two days.”

“Think about it: walking through the door after a long day of work and all you have to do is heat up the meal you already cooked,” Kielar said. “Trust me, that never gets old.”

Considering Kielar’s demanding job and schedule, weekly meal prep saves her time and money. She looks to sites like Buzzfeed or Pinterest to narrow down what she’d want as a side for her meals, like roasted or stir-fried veggies, then adds it all to her grocery list.

“It’s a bit difficult because I’m also doing this on a budget, but there are so many great resources on both of the sites that have budget-conscious recipes, and the best part is that they definitely don’t disappoint in taste,” Kielar said. “I try to mix it up each week too, so if I have chicken one week, I’ll do beef the next and turkey sausage after that as my base for whatever dish I choose.”

One drawback to meal prep is that there is a time commitment required. However, Kielar believes it’s well worth the extra effort.

“If you take an hour or two on a Sunday to get your act together [food-wise], you will have an easy breezy week,” she said. “Also, while you’re waiting for your delicious creation to come out of the microwave, you can pour yourself a well-deserved glass of wine. Ahh.”

Knowing what to shop for is the first step. Next is figuring out which stores will have the most mercy on your budget.

Aldi, a German grocery chain, has been proven by the New York Times to be about 20 percent cheaper than Wal-Mart. The store is also considered to be one of the cheapest places to buy organic foods, according to Kiplinger. Aldi's chain of stores is on the smaller side — about 16 percent the size of an average Wal-Mart — saving you the anxiety of navigating an enormous superstore. Find the Aldi that’s nearest you with their store locator.

If you’re looking for a place with reasonably priced healthy foods and a fun tiki bar/farmer’s market aesthetic, Trader Joe’s has you covered. Most of their products are made with organic ingredients, and Trader Joe’s offers tons of healthy snacks to get you through your workday. If you haven’t heard about their “two-buck Chuck” deal, I suggest you take advantage of it as soon as you can. Only $2.99 for a bottle of Charles Shaw wine! Run, don't walk. 

Some Mary Kielar motivation never hurts, and when it comes to balancing a hectic lifestyle while trying to keep healthy, it’s important to remember that you are human.

“I have my off-days — even my off-weeks! But the trick is to keep it moving,” Kielar said. “Start small and try to track your progress. Don't forget, you are entitled to have a hot fudge sundae once in a while. Taking life too seriously never works out in the end. You can do anything you put your mind to. Cheesy? Yes. Accurate? Totally.”

the basics of grocery shopping

make a list

And stick to it! Avoid shopping on an empty stomach, and a lot less "how did this get here" items will end up in your cart.

meal prep

It's easy to spend all Sunday lazing on the couch, but Kielar says that an hour or two really does pay off. Spend that time chopping veggies for a quick stir fry or simmer a soup to get you through the next few days.

pinterest that ish

Throwing random items into your cart in hopes of piecing a meal together is a recipe for disaster....make like Kielar and pick a few recipes from Pinterest, your favorite cooking blog, or How to Boil Water that get you excited about cooking. If you're looking forward to eating, shopping for the ingredients is much more fun.

shop smart

Sure, Whole Foods is fantastic. But it's also the Anthropologie of the food world, and comes with a hefty price tag. Do your research and get the majority of your groceries at stores like Aldi or Trader Joe's to help stomach the sticker shock.

FEATURE PHOTO BY LUKAS BUDIMAIER VIA UNSPLASH