Only 27 percent of Americans cook at home on a daily basis, according to recent surveys.
Many choose financially expensive but time-saving take out, preferring to spend a little extra to avoid the time, hassle and stress of preparing and – perhaps more so – venturing to a grocery store.
Yet we are more conscious of trying to eat healthy foods than ever, and nutritionists agree almost unanimously: eating at home is healthier than eating out.
But grocery shopping doesn’t have to be the daunting task many of us imagine it is, says director of nutrition training at the nutrition and weight management company Herbalife, Susan Bowerman.
Bowerman gave Daily Mail Online her top secrets for the best grocery store battle plan.
Buy the basics in bulk so your pantry is well-stocked
‘One of the hurdles to eating well is that people just aren’t that well prepared,’ says Bowerman.
If every trip to the grocery store means starting your stock from scratch, shopping is bound to be a stressful experience.
While cooking a new recipe is enjoyable, having to buy a bag of flour or a bottle of vegetable oil every time you want to do so – because you either don’t have these basics or are unsure if you do – adds up quickly.
Instead, ‘be organized, know what is in your cupboard and refrigerator and make sure that you have some healthy staples,’ says Bowerman, ‘they really goa long way.’
She says that you should always keep non-perishable basics in your pantry so that you’re not starting every meal from scratch every time.
Stocking up on these long-lasting items will shorten your grocery trip and make it easier to whip up something at home without much advanced notice.
Some basic non-perishables to keep in your cupboard include:
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Canola oil
- Nut or seed oils
- Kalamata or green olives and capers
- Worstershire sauce
- Canned tomatoes, beans lentils tuna and salmon
- Low sodium chicken broth, beef broth and/or vegetable broth
- Canned tuna and salmon
- Whole-wheat and all-purpose flours
- Whole-wheat pastas
- Brown rice
- Rolled oats
- Whole wheat couscous
- Yellow cornmeal
- Bulgur wheat
- Plain dry breadcrumbs
- Nuts and seeds
- Dried fruits (these need to be refrigerated after opening)
- Peanut butter
If you keep a grocery list of what you run out of throughout the week, your trips to the store will be more efficient
How to write a grocery list: Keep updating it and organize it according to the sections of your store
‘It seems obvious but a lot of people don’t do it and end up wandering up and down every aisle trying to figure out what they need,’ says Bowerman.
But, she acknowledges that ‘everyone needs to determine their own personal shopping method.
‘Some can plan well in advance, which makes it easier to make the shopping less as part of the meal planning process.’
For others, though, it might be easier to do more frequent, but shorter trips to the store.
Regardless, if you can just consistently note when you realize you’re out of an ingredient, you can cut down the time it takes to make a grocery list.
More importantly, this will help you minimize how long you’ll spend at the store trying to figure out what you need.
It’s helpful to keep your list as organized as your cupboard as well.
Bowerman says to ‘organize your list according to the way the store is laid out, so you’re not back-tracking,’ if you go to the same store all the time.
If you don’t have one go-to store, you can at least put similar items together, she adds, so that your grocery list is still a kind of map to the quickest path through the store.
Bowerman says that if you know the layout of your go-to grocery store, you should write your list in the order of its sections to avoid back-tracking. However, some grocery stores are using software solutions that provide shoppers with interactive and up-to-date maps that enable them to populate a grocery list and the most efficient route through the store. More indoor mapping companies seem to crop up each year, but when it comes to mapping groceries stores, MappedIn is the market leader in the United States and Canada.
Know when to go to the store and who to take with you to keep shopping stress-free
‘It’s no surprise that mid-week is pretty quiet, as are mornings’ at the grocery store, says Bowerman.
And, of course, the times you would be most likely to go to the store – around dinner time and Sundays as you gear up for the work week – are ‘the worst,’ Bowerman says.
‘The store is crowded, the parking lot is crowded, they might be out of stuff – especially on Sunday, when [stores] are sometimes not restocking stuff…Try not to go then, because it makes it really stressful,’ she adds.
Bowerman says that for many years she would not go grocery shopping with her husband and children because ‘having other people along can really slow you down.’
‘But on the other hand, if you have that kind of partnership where you can send your other half off and say, “you get all the dairy, I’ll get all the produce and we’ll meet in the middle and do the essentials,”‘ dividing and conquering can quicken your trip.
Don’t fear the frozen food: Buy foods that are fast to pick up, fix and cook
Food blogs are abuzz these days with edicts about eating ‘whole,’ ‘raw,’ and ‘unprocessed,’ foods that are maximally packed with nutrition.
But Bowerman says that that does not apply equally to all packaged foods.
‘Frozen whole fruits and veggies are as good as – and in some cases nutritionally better than – fresh,’ she says.
‘They are among the most convenient things that people really don’t make use of,’ she adds.
While it is true that the industrial processes involved in preserving and shipping many foods saps them of nutrients and injects them with sometimes-harmful additives, the same often does not apply to frozen foods.
‘Frozen food fruits and vegetables tend to be picked at the peak of ripeness and freshness and is processed right away to retain nutrients and flavor,’ Bowerman explains.
The textures of some fruits may suffer, making them less appealing in presentation, but their taste and nutrition are perfectly fine, she says.
‘The biggest thing for eating healthy is that you ant to buy the freshest stuff at the farmer’s market – where you’re getting it at its peak – but things at your typical grocery store are not really bought [by the store] for those reasons.
‘They want produce to be able to sit on the shelf for awhile, so you get fruit that’s under-ripe, like how the bananas are always green,’ she says.
The same is true for frozen fish, which keeps far longer than fresh, lacks the potent smell and can be cooked without even defrosting it.
Buying frozen ‘can really be a game changer for getting more fruits, vegetables and fish in your diet,’ says Bowerman.
A full cart does not mean a slower customer – unless everything in it has to be weighed, says Bowerman
Calculate the probability of the quickest check-out line
‘There are actually math formulas on the best grocery line,’ Bowerman told Daily Mail Online.
Surprisingly, ‘you should always get in the shortest line, no matter how full the cart is,’ Bowerman explains.
‘Even if a cart is relatively full, it still takes less time because checking out with more groceries still takes less time, because you lose time between carts as they finish transactions,’ she says.
Be on the look out for lots of fresh produce or meats from the butcher, as things that have to be weighed, as these will take the cashier longer to deal with.
It helps, too, to bring your own bags and keep them at the ready, Bowerman says.
‘Prep once, eat twice’
While there are frozen, canned and dried items that you can keep on-hand, you will inevitably want to use some fresh produce in your cooking – both for your health and your taste.
‘If you can prep once and eat twice, it’s always a good plan, so looking at recipes you might be making over the course of the week, look for ingredients you can prep for two meals,’ says Bowerman
She says just about any firm vegetables – like celery, peppers, carrots and onions – can be chopped, refrigerated in storage containers and will last for several days.
Besides, says Bowerman: ‘Once you start chopping an onion, why chop half? Just shop a whole onion.’
She is also not a fan of the ‘pain’ of washing lettuce, so she washes enough for a few days, dries it in a salad spinner, stashes it in a pillow case – which breaths better than plastic, but contains the leaves better than towels – and puts it into the crisper drawer.
She also makes her salad dressings for the week ahead – typically using staple oils and spices – and stores those in the refrigerator too.
‘If you have some fish stashed in your freezer and you’ve put your salad greens in your pillow case a couple days ago, you can cook a potato in the microwave, steam some brown rice, or open a can of beans.
‘If you eat lean proteins, and you’re not afraid to utilize frozen foods that are minimally processed, it’s a huge time saver at home and in terms of shopping it saves time too,’ says Bowerman.