The Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of Grocery Shopping


Who does the grocery shopping in your household?  What do you buy?  When, where, and why do you grocery shop?  How do you grocery shop?   

These are all important and interconnected questions to get you thinking about your grocery shopping habits.  Grocery shopping is a mundane process, one that you have done for many, many years.  It is a practice that is engrained in us and you’ve likely developed some type of system, consciously or unconsciously, that you follow to get this mundane task accomplished on a weekly or biweekly basis. 

The Grocery Shopper in your household is the gatekeeper of good nutrition and helps your family choose between apples and Cheetos.

The Grocery Shopper in your household is the gatekeeper of good nutrition and helps your family choose between apples and Cheetos.

Out of all of the nutrition topics I could be writing about, the reason I think dedicating a webpage to grocery shopping is important, is because GROCERY SHOPPING IS PARAMOUNT TO HEALTHY LIVING!  If you polled people and asked, “Is grocery shopping important to your health?” the overwhelming answer would be an emphatic YES.  Yet, I am willing to wager that the vast majority of us have not taken the time to analyze our grocery shopping habits or question how or why we grocery shop the way we do.  

From the many conversations I have had with people over the years, it seems that most of us have fallen into our current grocery shopping routine out of convenience rather than carefully controlling the grocery shopping process by planning it out.  Here are some of the reasons why I believe you should stop and think about the who, what, when, where, why, and how of your grocery shopping.

Who does the grocery shopping in your household?  The person in charge of grocery shopping is the gatekeeper of your nutrition.  They control the majority of the food that is available in your household.  They determine whether you have fresh fruit and vegetables or Cheetos and corndogs.  Sure, you can short-circuit this process by stopping by a drug store or gas station randomly and bringing food home, but for the most part the person in charge of grocery shopping is the gatekeeper of good nutrition in your household. 

What do you buy?  The grocery shopper in your household must have the discipline to buy the right mix of “good” and “bad” foods (apples versus Cheetos) to satisfy both your palate and your health needs.  If you purchase too many empty calories, the gatekeeper has opened up the floodgates and let the enemy in.  If you purchase 100% healthy foods, your taste buds are going to hate you and you will likely find yourself overcompensating in the “unhealthy” direction.

When do you grocery shop?  Do you grocery shop on a weekly basis or a biweekly basis...or at all?  What day of the week do you grocery shop?  Do you go on your way home from work and shop in a haphazard, emergency fashion because you know you have nothing at home to make for dinner or do you carefully plan what to buy ahead of time?  When you grocery shop is the most important factor in determining your shopping success.  When you shop ties all of the other grocery shopping elements together.  If you know exactly when you will grocery shop it helps you to plan out what you are going to buy ahead of time, decide where the best location is for you to obtain the items on your list, and how you are going to buy your groceries (haphazardly or from a defined list; maybe within a certain budget).

Where do you grocery shop?  To me, this is the least important decision you have to make.  Is Whole Foods great?  Yes.  Is Sprouts awesome?  Yes.  But do you need to shop at these stores to eat healthy?  Absolutely not!  King Soopers and Safeway are large enough stores to offer a great selection of all the foods you require to eat healthy.

Why do you shop?  Is it because you have absolutely no food left in the refrigerator outside of condiments and eggs?  Have you exhausted your appetite for leftovers?  Or is it because you have cobbled together and eaten out too many meals and finally HAVE to make it to the grocery store because you can no longer stomach eating tortilla peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!  I think the ‘Why’ is a key factor in making smart grocery shopping decisions.  The answer to this question should be something like “so I am prepared for meals and snacks to eat for the upcoming week.”  This will help you plan accordingly, make a list you can stick to, and hopefully keep your grocery bills within your budget.

How you shop?  Do you shop from a grocery list?  Did you go to the store with the intentions of shopping for three or more meals that you planned out ahead of time or did you run out of food and decide you needed to get to the store but have no idea what you are going to buy?  If you shop without a list and/or shop hungry how healthy and economically savvy do you think your purchasing decisions are going to be?  I would probably say not so great.  Sticking to a premade list and not shopping when you are hungry are two keys to leaving the grocery store with a cart full of the food that will help you meet your health and nutrition goals for the week ahead.

What’s the take home message?  One of the many things that people have in common is the need to eat.  We must eat to stay alive.  In general, but not always, grocery shopping can provide us with better nutrition than eating out or shopping at a drug or convenience store. 

Grocery shopping is something we have to do on a weekly basis if we want fresh food in our households.  Grocery shopping is also a mundane task that is required for healthy living.  We all live busy lives and do not like to take the time to carefully plan out what we are going to eat for the week.  However, if we take the time to answer the questions I have posed in this article, we will make our weekly grocery shopping experience (and our lives) much more pleasant. 

For me, the ultimate goal here is to create a system in which planning our meals and grocery shopping become routine tasks requiring limited mental energy; tasks that we can perform on autopilot because we have designed a system for meal planning and grocery shopping that takes the stress, energy, and time out of grocery shopping and therefore allows us to focus on things we truly enjoy such as friends and family.


My advice for making meal planning and grocery shopping a more enjoyable activity is this:

1) Pick out a day of the week (and a specific time) that you know you can reliably get to the grocery store and schedule a weekly appointment for your grocery shopping by putting it in your calendar.  If something comes up, of course you can cancel, but do your very best to make it part of your routine.  Instead of having to find time to go, you’ve made time to go!  Shopping on a weekly, scheduled, and consistent basis prevents you from running out of food and having to scrape together meals, eat highly processed meals, or running through a drive through.  You also do not have to think or worry about when the next time you’re going to make it to the store.  Scheduling a time also forces you to prepare for your next grocery shopping trip as it would for any other appointment or meeting.  To make your shopping as pleasurable and efficient as possible you must come prepared.

2) People tend to eat the same 20-30 meals over and over again.  Take these meals and create a family recipe book out of the most common meals you consumeMy suggestion is to use a recipe manager to organize these recipes into one place.  I recommend using the recipe manager, Paprika, which you can download from the App Store or Google Play for your home computer, iPad, or iPhone.  Now that you have all of your recipes in one place, when it comes time to planning what you are going to eat for the week you can use your recipe manager to pick out a few meals.  If you haven’t had tacos or meatloaf in a while, there you go, you’ve got two of your meals planned. 

I personally hate having to remember what types of meals I am capable of making and what I haven’t had in a while.  If I am able to reference a list (i.e., my recipe manager) then I am able to easily pick out several meals that I would like to eat for the week.  In this regard, meal planning is like taking a multiple choice test versus a fill in the blank test.  In the fill in the blank test, if you cannot think of the answer you are going to get the question wrong.  Sometimes the answer (or type of food) just will not come to us.  If, on the other hand, you are provided with a list of possible answers, you can say, of course the answer is lasagna.

3) Once you have your most common recipes in place, pick out a minimum of three recipes you are going to make for the week.  Three recipes means three fresh meals and 3-4 days of leftovers to get you through the week.  If you stick to your scheduled grocery shopping appointment, you won’t be left scraping by for meals or eating out unnecessarily.  Eating out is awesome, but I would rather plan to eat out rather than have to eat out.

4) Once you have picked out your three meals for the week, create a grocery list in your recipe manager.  If you don’t like shopping from your phone you can also print off your list.  Creating a grocery list keeps you on track and prevents you from purchasing unnecessary food items.  You can also easily add staple items to your grocery list such as eggs, bread, cereal, and yogurt that will be there week after week, no matter what you plan for your meals

5) Add new recipes to your repertoire.  If you’re not satisfied with the meals you currently know how to make, recipe managers, such as Paprika, are interfaced with numerous culinary websites, in which you can search for recipes, download the recipes into your recipe manager, and add them to your grocery list!  It really helps to streamline the process.

By taking a few hours to answer the who, what, when, where, why, and how of grocery shopping you will eat healthier, feel better, have more time for other activities, stress less about meal planning, and SAVE MONEY!  Meal planning = more time and money = no brainer.  Do it today!