How often have you walked into the grocery store inspired to buy pounds of healthy vegetables, meat, and whole grains, and you bought only half of these things? Still, you bought some cookies, processed food, and pre-prepared meals with mysterious ingredients. Or did you have a strict budget and pay more than planned?
No judgment. We all have been there at some point, but here are some tips on avoiding that to make healthier choices in the grocery store.
Time of the day matters – do your groceries in the morning.
Ask yourself when you go to the grocery store. Is it first thing in the morning or after work? Or over the weekend after your kids’ sports practice. There is something called decision fatigue. Even if you have the best grocery list in the world, you still need to choose this or that brand. Organic or none organic? What happens when they don’t have the type of bread you are used to buying? You need to make a substitute (that’s another decision). If you shop at the end of the workday, you have already made millions of decisions. You have already made a hundred just before leaving the house.
You might consider that just a part of life, something that happens every day, but for your brain, those are decisions. Now think of how many choices you make at work, not work-related, but what to eat. Should you go out next week with your friends for a happy hour, what would you do over the weekend? The grocery store doesn’t help in that regard because it is sensory and decision overload. If you go there after making hundreds of decisions, your mind doesn’t want to deal with more of that. You start picking whatever is the easiest (at eye level) or closest to the checkout (you are tired and want to be out of there as soon as possible).
How to avoid that?
Go to the grocery store when your mind is ‘fresh.’ Mornings, when your brain is not burdened with everything else. Even if you shop online, it’s a great idea to do that in the morning and not at night while watching TV and trying to unwind.
Come prepared with a healthy shopping list.
I buy relatively the same or similar ingredients every week. However, I still bring a shopping list (I have one even when I shop online). Why? You will always forget something. No matter how on-point your shopping game is and how clear you are that you need only these three items, you will forget. Not having a plan (shopping list) also makes you buy extra things you don’t need. I probably still have random sauces or spices in my pantry from all these times my husband and I looked at a product and thought, “This sounds interesting,” only to never use it.
Don’t do it hungry.
This one is obvious, but no matter how early you shop or how detailed your shopping list is, you will buy things in excess if you are hungry. These things most likely will be filled with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and other processed ingredients. You will also be less patient, and if the store lacks the ingredients you need, you will most likely make a poorer choice in your substitute. This is true also true if you do your shopping online. While online shopping can help us avoid poor decisions, you can still be tempted if you are hungry. Point and case – yesterday, I got a 16oz of store-bought tiramisu that I didn’t need because I was hungry and somehow decided that the meat, grains, and vegetables I purchased for a week’s worth of cooking won’t be enough.
Try online grocery shopping.
I’m leaving this for last with a disclaimer that online grocery shopping is expensive in the US (or at least where I live). I used to do 90% of my groceries in the UK online, and the fees were significantly lower (about 3-4 GBP). Please keep in mind this information is more than six years old. Things might have changed in the UK as well. Still, for comparison, many deliveries in the US vary around $9, which is before tip and sometimes personal shopper fee. If you buy through a delivery service (DoorDash, Instacart, etc.), there is a markup, so a pound of chicken could be $5 in the store but $10 from the delivery service when you add the markup, delivery, and tip.
Use that if money is not an issue, or you can access an affordable delivery service from your grocery store. You will avoid the usual distractions of items you don’t need as the online store has a search bar where you can look for exactly what you need – chicken, broccoli, etc. You can also take your time and amend your order (within a specific timeframe). Forgot to add eggs? Don’t worry. You still have time to edit. I usually start my order about two days before I need it so I don’t feel pressured to add everything at the last second (and forget something). I have time to review and reconsider if I got something I don’t need.
You can also check my article about how Healthy Eating is Not expensive and some tips on what to choose in the store.