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The Daily Beet: Tips, Advice and Stories

Grocery Shopping Tips

Does grocery shopping overwhelm you? We’ve got a few ideas that might help ease the burden on your next shopping trip.

Let’s start with lists. There are a few ways you can make a list, not every way is the right way, so see what works best for you.

First things first:

First figure out what you want to eat for the next few days. So let’s say you’d like to do something like this:

  • possible breakfast ideas: Big Bowl or oatmeal with fruit.
  • possible lunch ideas: A hummus wrap with vegetables, black beans and rice extravaganza, chili, sandwiches, hummus with pita and vegetables, big salad.
  • possible dinner ideas: shepherds pie, lasagna,  lentil soup, meatloaf
  • possible dessert ideas: blueberry dumpster cobbler

We also have a template to come up with your own meal plan.

Or, you could use our meal plans:

Meal plan: Week 1
Meal plan: Week 2
Meal plan: Week 3
Meal plan: Week 4

The next step is to go through your kitchen. You would be surprised how many times we go out and get a bunch of groceries, come home, start putting things away and realize we had a lot of ingredients on hand. Or, in some cases, we realize we could have substituted  an ingredient or 2 in order to make a dish.

Now it is time to make a list! There are lots of ways to make a grocery list. Recently, an E2er who participated in the 28 day challenge in Tampa, FL sent us her clever way of making a list, we really liked it and thought we’d share it with you:

Circle what you need list:

This way you can have a visual of every thing that you could need and then circle all of the things that you need to buy.

Four-square list: Cathy from Straight Up Food gave us this idea:

Take a sheet of paper, fold it four ways (so there are four squares). Next come up with 4 categories, Cathy uses: fruit, vegetables, bulk and other. Fill in the sections with the groceries you need.

Aisle by aisle list:

If you shop at the same store and know it pretty well, write a shopping list based on the aisles of the store. If you really want to get fancy, next time you are at the store write down the aisles or take pictures with your phone. When you make a list you can go up and down the aisle in your head and pick out the things you need.

So for instance:

  • Produce aisle:
  • Aisle 1: Pasta/grains/tomato sauce:
  • Aisle 2: Beans, Canned Vegetables:
  • Aisle 3: Cookies/Candy: this should be blank, unless they have made some kale cookies we do not know about.
  • Aisle 4: Cereal
  • Aisle 5: Frozen
  • Aisle 6: Bread

Keep going down the aisles noting what you need.

I have no time for a list, list:

There are really only 4 things you need to know about what you put in your shopping cart:

1. Is it a vegetable? Look closely at the food in front of you, does it look like a vegetable? Did they throw in non vegetable things to it (like oil/salt)? If it is a vegetable, put it in your cart!

Just so we are clear, this is NOT a vegetable, no matter what the government says:

2. Is it a fruit? Look at the food in front of you, does it look like a fruit? Did they mash it up, dry it up, add sugar and make it a fruit roll up?  *note, this, is NOT a fruit:

3. Is it a bean? This one can get tricky. There are some decent canned beans and some that are loaded with sodium. You want to get the canned beans with out any added salt or that say “low sodium”. Better yet, get whole beans, and you won’t have to worry either way.

Again, so we are clear, even though these technically have a bean in them, they should not go in your grocery cart:

4. Is it a whole grain? The easiest way to figure this out is to stick to things like brown rice and quinoa, that way there is no question. However for products like pasta/bread you want to make sure that the word “whole” is in front of the grain. You also want to be sure that they did not add any junk like sugar/oil/salt.

Just for the visual, these are NOT whole grains:

5. Does it meet the label reading rules? We could probably do a whole series on label reading, but instead we are going to make it really simple. Here is how to read a label:

  • Check for animal ingredients. No? Procede.
  • Check the fat. The fat should be around 20% or less. How do you check the fat? Determine how many calories per serving. Let’s say it is 100, next see the calories from fat, if the calories from fat is less than 20% you are in good shape, in this example, the calories from fat should be less than 20.
  • Check the sodium. Sodium is 1mg to 1 calorie. So if something has 100 calories, it should have no more than 100mg of sodium.
  • Check for sugar. If it says high fructose anything – put it back. Any other kind of sweetener should be one of the last things listed (like the 3rd/4th item on the ingredients list).

Avoid these pitfalls!

  • Just because it says “vegan” does not mean it is healthy.
  • Just because it says “organic” does not mean it is healthy.
  • Don’t buy ‘treats’. There are plenty of wonderfully satisfying foods to eat when you are plant-strong! If you start bargaining with treats, it can be a dangerous road to travel down.

We thought this was really telling, this is a warning label for ‘organic’ cigarrettes, we think that the same should be said for a lot of food that is labeled organic:

*sorry the picture is so small, this is what the text says:

“Organic tabacco does NOT mean a safer cigarette.”
“No additives in our tabacco does NOT mean a safer cigarette.”

Most of all, have a plan! Whatever your strategy is for shopping, be sure to have a plan before you go into the store. Make a list, or just know the plant-strong guidelines and become a shopping rock-star!

We’d love to hear from you. What is your shopping strategy? What would you tell someone just starting out on their plant-strong journey.

About the author

Engine 2 Team
The Engine 2 Team is dedicated to helping you become plant-strong! Each of us are on the plant-strong journey right along side of you!
  • Dawn

    Excellent advice that I will share with everyone! I do the shopping list by where they are located in the store… and most of the time my veggies/fruits & grains sections are the fullest!! :)

  • Jayne Edgington

    Thank you so much, I found this to be very helpful!
    Really enjoy all the information I receive from your website and the Daily Beet.
    Keep it coming.
    Each day is getting easier.

  • Alta

    these are all terrific suggestions. I especially like the ‘visual aids’. It is surprising how often we get tricked into thinking that if it says ‘fruit’, it must be okay, right? Not so, grasshopper!

    I’ve been making a menu plan similar to the one you have and doing just as you suggest, and it really does help keep me from buying things I don’t need or won’t use before they go bad. One thing I have learned is that whole, fresh foods do NOT keep! You have to use them within a few days or they go bad! Making and keeping to a menu plan saves lots of time and money in the long run.

    Keep up the good work, Engine2. You are an inspiration to all of us out here.

  • Christine Santiago

    Great idea with circling the item….laminate it and use a non-permanent marker and it’s reusable! I’m on Day 9. The only hard part has been psychological. I love what I am eating! But I’m allergic to soy, which kinda stinks.

  • Tyler

    Before going plant strong grocery shopping used to take me an eternity; weaving in and out of all the isles. Now that I am plant strong I go to 3 sections of the store: produce, bean and pasta isle and venture over to dairy only to grab my dairy free “milk”. Now that I have my staple foods grocery shopping takes me about 10 minutes and I’m on my way! Happy shopping!

    • http://www.theveganmenu.com Bethany Midyette

      So true, one of the most freeing benefits of the plant strong lifestyle! I even order most of my grains on amazon now to save more time and money!

  • http://katesgreatkitchen.blogspot.com Kate

    This is funny and wonderful. Thanks for making this journey a little more fun.

  • Jennifer Edwards

    My strategy is to walk to the store. If one has to walk it home 7 blocks, one becomes very mindful about unnecessary impulse purchases!

  • http://lotsayum.com Cynthia

    I think this is both an important issue and really challenging for many folks. So many people don’t ever stop to think about what’s in their food, or know how to read a label. It’s not just meal planning, it’s getting a good grasp on how food is marketed to us, and giving yourself time to learn which foods are actually healthful. A busy parent, with hungry kids in tow, needs a plan for grocery shopping and stopping to read everything, every time is not going to happen. I think the approved foods lists from E2 are a great way to begin and then adding these strategies as a skill set will make you plant stronger :)

  • http://www.usefulgardens.com Sybil

    This is great – and written in a wonderfully practical, accessible way. Is there a printer-friendly version (minus the photos)?