7 Habits of Highly Effecient Shoppers: Your Quick Guide to Food Acquisition and Preparation

You know you'd like to eat healthier, you really, really want to . . . but you just can't figure out how to manage the time to plan, shop and cook. I know. It's hard. A lot of what I do as a coach is help people figure out how to do this! Here are 7 habits you can start working on TODAY to increase your success in shopping for and preparing healthier meals:

1. Stock Your Kitchen with Staples

A “staple” is whatever you need to make the kind of food you like to cook. For many people, pasta, pasta sauce, nut butters, and canned beans and tuna are staples. For others, soy sauce or anchovy paste might be must-have foods. With a well-stocked pantry, you can make many of your favorite dishes any day of the week without stopping again at the market. What do I always have on hand? Jarred minced garlic and ginger, rice, salsa, lots of spices, various nut flours and gluten-free flour blends, canned chipotle chilis in adobo, tahini paste . . . .

2. Space Allowing, Buy Dups of Key Staples

If you have the space, buy and store one more of each staple if you have space, keeping you from dashing to the market at the last minute for just a single essential ingredient. Try to stock up when the items are on sale. If you look in my pantry, you'll see doubles of most everything - sometimes more for items that are very popular (for example, my daughter can eat an entire jar of unsweetened organic applesauce in a sitting - I often have 4 jars of that on hand!

3. Keep a Running Grocery List

Tuck a long skinny pad into the front of your silverware drawer, clip a sheet of paper to the fridge with a magnet, keep a list in your mobile device, or add a file to your laptop that you keep in the kitchen and add things to your grocery list as you run low. I found this great site with grocery list templates when a client asked me for one. I keep a file open on my laptop in the kitchen - it's organized by section of the grocery store (i.e., Produce, Fish, Meat - in the order that I run through the store, in fact). I add items to the list as I think of them during the day - at the end of the week, I add items I need for additional planned meals, print it out (or send it to myself and view it on the iPhone if the list is not too long) and off I go! 

4. Plan a Week’s Worth of Meals

This is the toughest habit to start and stick with: Planning the week’s meals. Write the days of the week on a piece of paper or use your digital calendar, and jot down your dinner plan for each day (keep in mind late practices, etc. - you might want a Crock-Pot meal for one of those nights, for example). Many people plan their menus around what’s on sale at their favorite grocery stores. This'll take longer at the beginning, but you'll get better as you practice.

Remember: There’s NOTHING wrong with making one plan, then using that same plan every week. Or make two plans and just alternate them, week by week. I have a few clients who rotate weekly meal plans for a while, then come to me to make them new weekly meal plans to inject a little freshness into the routine.

Most of the stress of cooking comes from arriving home late with no idea what to cook for dinner. Create a dinner plan for the week and POOF! You've eliminated a stressor. You know what you’re planning to cook, and you know you’ll have all the ingredients on hand. But back to the list. Once you know what you’ll be eating for dinner each day, add any additional ingredients to your existing grocery list. Think about lunch, and breakfast, and add any routine ingredients for those meals. 

5. Shop Intentionally

At the start of each aisle or section of the store (i.e., produce), glance down at your list and note which items you’ll find in that aisle. (Again - this is made super simple by adding items to your list in their designated aisles/sections.) Seek to stick to your list! Limit impulse buys to a minimum - this'll keep you healthier (because really? Zucchini as an impulse buy doesn't happen too often). Resisting impulse items is easier if you don’t shop on an empty stomach - do everyone a favor and have a meal or a snack before you hit the store.

6. Store Food Thoughtfully

Before you put away your food, clean out anything in the fridge that’s spoiled or about to spoil. Rearrange what’s left, then put away your new purchases - stick with the FIFO system - first in, first out. Rotate your stock! 

7. Prep Food Ahead of Time

Prepping fruits and veggies, especially greens, helps to extend their shelf life, and makes it easy to grab healthy foods quickly.

•    Cut up a large melon or a pineapple, and refrigerate in a covered container.

•    Tear the leaves off your head of lettuce, rinse them in cold water, and spin them in a salad spinner. Layer the lettuce leaves in paper towels, and store in a large plastic container or plastic bag. Do the same with chard, kale, collards or any other dark leafy greens or herbs. Instead of rotting in three or four days, they’ll keep one to two weeks stored this way, and you can make a quick crispy salad in minutes.

•    Slice up peppers, carrots, and celery and put them in a small container, so it’s easy to grab a handful.

If you have the money, buying pre-cut produce will take care of this for you, but in addition to costing you more, you'll sacrifice some freshness and flavor in many cases. That said, I almost always buy pre-washed baby spinach, pre-cut organic broccoli and cauliflower florets, snipped organic green beans and other "convenience veg" to have on hand. Microwaving a couple of vegetables and serving them alongside a pan-seared chicken breast (or even a few scrambled eggs) takes mere minutes - just as fast or faster than take-out and so much better for you!

Your turn - what are your top shopping tips?