Friday, May 24, 2013

Ease Through the Grocery Store

Or Making It Easy to get to the Table (Part 4)

I stood looking at the freezer section that held orange juice concentrates. There were probably five different brands each of which had three, four, or five variations, and two or three different sizes. Did I want regular, extra pulp, no pulp, calcium added, or no sugar added? How much did I want: six, twelve, or sixteen ounces? And which brand would produce the most orange juice for the least price while not adding sugar?

While I just stood there feeling dazed and staring, an older woman (since I was in my late twenties this could mean someone in their sixties, but my mind remembers a woman in at least her seventies) came and stood by me for a moment. Finally she looked at me and commented, "There are just too many choices, aren't there."

While I nodded in agreement, I thought if you only knew. If you only knew...

I had just arrived in the states after six years in Lima, Peru, where the grocery store had four aisles and most of them had one item--one kind, one brand, fixed government prices. There could be a whole aisle of corn flakes (not recommended as they hadn't perfected that science yet), or a row of dried beans, or a row of grainy chocolate used to make hot chocolate. There might be some chickens (whole with heads and feet stuffed inside), some beef (which required a pressure cooker to get it tender enough to chew), and some eggs (attached feathers free). If you wanted orange juice you bought a kilo or two of juice oranges and strengthened your arms by hand juicing them--full pulp, no sugar, no added calcium.

You'll be happy to know things have improved there since the 80s. I have to admit, though, that I envied those who had such "easy" grocery shopping in the states.

Now I live in the states, and it seems like every time I go to the grocery store there is something new to consider: organic? roasted? fresh? in water or olive oil? with extra vitamin C? omega-3 enriched? low fat? low carb? splenda or stevia sweetened?

When I think I know exactly what I like, the company changes their packaging or the store rearranges their merchandise. It's all designed to keep me in the store longer and spend more money. If the grocery store takes too much time or is too frustrating, we're not going to buy the food we need to have at home to make a family meal and that together time goes out the window in favor of everyone grabbing their own, fast food in the car, or eating too many calories and spending too much money eating out, just to eat.

So I have six simple suggestions to make your grocery shopping easier. This isn't how to have the lowest bill possible, there are plenty of others who can tell you how to do that. This is making it easy so you can spend your time getting your family together around your table.

  1. Have at least twelve different meals your family enjoys and you find easy to make. This is your go to list when you are deciding what you need to buy. Choose five of these, one new, or different recipe, and plan for leftover/dinner out/potluck at church/snack supper for the other meal. Go through each recipe and check your cupboard to figure out what you need to buy.
  2. Make a grocery list. Never shop without a list. You just forget too many things. (Never mind that I am capable of forgetting things that are on my list in my hand!)
  3. Know your store. While stores will change their products around from time to time, the same types of food stuffs generally stay near each other. Organize your list in the order you go around the store. I shop mostly at Aldi's so it's easy to zip through there with my ordered list. Extra credit: print out a list of the things you often buy in the order you find them in your store. Then you only need to circle what you need.
  4. Know your likes. If you cannot stand the store brand of ketchup, then just know you are going to buy Brand X and don't worry about price comparison. If the store brand is usually the cheapest and you like it, don't stand there trying to calculate which one is one cent less per ounce than the other. Learn if you like your orange juice with extra pulp or not and grab what you like.
    This darling little shopper is the son of friends of ours.
  5. Don't shop when you are hungry or have to go to the bathroom. Take care of those needs or  your brain will stop functioning and you'll be backtracking all over the store and forget to buy the coffee, without which you will die.
  6. Talk to someone while standing in line. Yup, your line is always the slowest, so enjoy it. Make an upbeat comment to someone else in line, even if it's about the weather. The other day a lady told me that she used to eat those chocolate-covered gooey-inside cookies with her dad, now long passed, and it was all she could do to not buy a box and eat the whole thing. Today the man in front of me had placed a strong empty box inside his cloth grocery bag, when I said, "What a good idea!" He told me it holds the bag open for him making it easy to pack the groceries. Both times, I was through the line before I knew it and on my way home to put the food away, ready to make another family meal.

To see other posts in the "Making It Easy" series, click here.
The Well-Stocked Kitchen (Part 1)
Food for the Soul (Part 2)
Contrasts Make the Meal (Part 3)

*   *   *   *   *

How do you get your family to talk about things that help you get to know each other better and connect with one another? Get a Conversation Starter question each week night by *like* the Around the Table Facebook page! 

If you have an idea for a great conversation starting question, you can let me know there, too! I'd love to hear your questions and might even use them in the future!

Linking with these great blogs.


  1. Great shopping tips! I would add watch for sales on items you don't necessarily need but will eventually use. For example, I won't buy cold cereal unless it's on sale. I watch the prices every week and will walk by it never picking up a box (if we're all out at home the kids eat oatmeal or toast instead) until the week the prices drop to what I'm willing to pay and then I scoop up several boxes in that trip. I also take advantage of buy one get one free meat sales because I can freeze the meat. Or I'll buy a big family size ham, freezing the leftovers for use in omelets, on sandwiches, etc...later on. I do the same thing with turkeys. :)

  2. Great tips! Your post was also very interesting! I enjoyed reading! Our preacher's wife is from Cuba and she has told us of similar stories. We often take for granted all we have here in the US. Have a wonderful weekend! I am visiting from All Things Pretty Party!


  3. I especially like the list idea. I used to keep a sheet on the side of the washing machine with the items I bought most often in categories tied to the layout of my favorite grocery store. Now, my husband does the grocery shopping, so he just adds whatever we run out of to a note on his iPhone. We handle the multiple choices by sticking as close to the farm as possible, like you and oranges instead of juice.

  4. I love your list of shopping tips and agree completely with every single one of them -- especially don't go hungry and ALWAYS have a list! As for talking to people in line -- you just never know whose day you may brighten!

  5. Thank you for sharing these great tips! I can totally relate, my family and I came from the Philippines 7 years ago.

    I'm visiting from the Pin Junkie Link Party. Hope you're having a fantastic day!


  6. These are all great ideas. And I enjoyed hearing about your experiences with so many choices after living in Peru. Choices seem to be an ever-increasing part of American culture, and sometimes those choices do make life more complicated instead of easier.

  7. I spent almost four years in Papua New Guinea when my parents were missionaries. While we were overseas, Walmart was transitioning to the supercenter concept. When I returned to the states to attend college, I'll never forget the first time my mom and I visited a supercenter. It was completely overwhelming!!! :) I love these tips!

  8. I think that is the sweetest thing to strike up conversations like that. I know that this meant alot to the ones you spoke with. Thanks, too, for the shopping tips. How helpful!

  9. I really like what you're doing here!! We need t talk more later! Thanks for linking up with us at One Sharendipity Place this weekend!

  10. Great tips! Especially like #6! Americans do have a lot of choices and don't begin to realize that this is not even possible in so many places. Thanks so much for sharing on Busy Monday!

  11. I had to laugh that you are capable of forgetting something on your list that is right in your hand!! I thought I was the only one. This is a great list so I Pinned it :-) for later use. Thanks so much for sharing this over at WholeHearted Home.



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