Better Meals with Better Planning: Plan to Shop

Families, Food and Fitness October 27, 2009 Print Friendly and PDF

Planned menus and a well-prepared grocery list make your grocery shopping experience much more organized, economical, and easier! How many times have you gone to the grocery store and still didn’t know what to have for supper when you got home? Planning eliminates that problem.

These grocery shopping tips will also work to strengthen your commitment to planning healthy meals. Don’t stop short with planned menus and a good list – be a smart shopper, too.

  • Plan meals. Know what you need to purchase.
  • Make a list, take it with you, and stick to it!
  • Check foods on hand. Don’t overbuy.
  • Check grocery ads and specials. Take advantage of sale items only if needed.
  • Don’t shop when you are hungry! Eat a healthy snack before you go, if necessary. Shopping when hungry leads to impulse buying. Everything looks and smells good when you’re hungry.
  • Shop alone. Arrange for childcare, if possible.
  • Use coupons only if you need the item and if the coupons really provide a savings.
  • Avoid too many convenience foods. (We’ll discuss this in the next section.)
  • Shop no more than once a week to keep from over buying and impulse buying. Stick to your plan!

Understanding the layout of the grocery store can also make you a better shopper. Close your eyes and picture your favorite grocery store. Usually, you enter through the aisle of persuasion, where stacks of items tempt you to forget your list and fill your basket with many things you don’t really need,many of which are not on sale, either! After passing through this section, notice that the perimeter of the store is lined with the healthiest foods: fresh produce, dairy products, fresh and frozen meats, and other frozen foods, and sometimes, fresh breads. These are foods we call "nutrient dense"; that means they are full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. This is where you want to do most of your shopping. The inner aisles contain more processed and packaged foods and non-food items, which are more expensive. It’s best to limit purchase of these foods for the sakes of both your pocketbook and your health! Deli foods are often high in fat and sodium. Be careful here. Cooked and ready-to-eat foods are also more expensive.

Unit prices tell you how much a food costs per ounce or per pound (or some other unit of measure). By understanding unit pricing, you can compare prices of different brands and sizes. Some stores post unit prices on the shelf near the product. If unit prices are not posted, you can calculate the unit price itself. Divide the price by the weight or the number of servings.

Now, with a basket full of well-planned and carefully selected food items, you want to get them home safely. An unsafe food is not healthy. Plan to keep your foods safe by keeping cold foods cold and hot foods hot. When you shop, select cold foods last so they won’t stay in the temperature danger zone (between 40° and 140°) any longer than necessary. Bacteria grow rapidly in this temperature range. Next, carefully load your grocery cart, and sack the groceries to prevent cross contamination. Never put packages of raw meat next to fresh fruits and vegetables. You don’t want meat juices to drip on foods that will not be cooked. After you finish shopping, take your foods straight home! Don’t leave them in the car while you run other errands; this puts cold foods at risk for possible contamination. And, once home, put up cold and frozen groceries as soon as possible. Don’t waste all of your smart planning and shopping just to have to throw away foods that have become unsafe because you failed to handle them properly! Plan to keep your food safe!