7 Steps for Successful Food Shopping
How taking time to plan saves you time later and promotes a healthful relationship with food
Summer often brings transitions. Many clients are transitioning from living in their dorms to moving back home with family or living with friends/roommates. Other clients are high school students who will be off for the summer or adults planning a job change.
Transitions mean adjusting to new food schedules and realities about where, when and with whom we eat. If you’re already having a hard time figuring out how to get food on the table for yourself or your family, the transitions can sometimes stress that more. And, these adjustments can certainly be harder if struggling with disordered eating.
In this post, I hope to provide some resources and tools to use when food shopping, which is a hot topic among my clients right now. How to make it efficient; get enough food for the day, the next few days or week; make it somewhat enjoyable, not only a chore; and make it flexible to your needs.
7 Steps to Successful Food Shopping
A Bit of Context
Before going into the steps, I want to acknowledge something really important. There is a big difference in food shopping across the world. So, the steps below may not be suited to everyone because we do have economic, sociocultural, and traditional differences when it comes to food, how we procure food, cost of living, time constraints, and more.
From my experience, the biggest difference between the US and Germany, in particular, is that shopping for food is a daily experience here in Germany whereas in the US I went 1-2 times per week. In the US, this frequency was because I had no other time during the week to do get to the store. Here in Germany, the grocery store is right next to my daughter’s school. So, after I drop her off, I can run in to get a few things for the day or next two days. I can also go to the twice weekly farmers market to buy food, particularly produce, cheese, ground chicken (because I cannot find it anywhere else!!) and bread.
The 7 Steps below are going to be applicable to the clients I serve in the US as well as those in Germany, but again may not work for you. This is why individualized nutrition therapy can be helpful- to provide an individualized approach to food procurement.
Lastly, food procurement is just one step in the eating process. Meal planning, preparation, timing, pacing and more are also involved and I’m sure, at some point, I’ll write about them!
The 7 Steps to Successful Food Shopping
Step 1: What are the food items you cannot live without and have run out of?
Create a list of the food items that you cannot live without. For example, it may be oil, eggs, butter, sliced bread, cheese, coffee, tea, or bananas. Be specific and be sure to include foods that would comprise two emergency meals. They come in handy later!
For instance, a frozen pizza is a great option to have on this list. If you have some frozen or fresh veggies and maybe a sausage hanging around, you can add these to the pizza for a full meal.
Once you have the list, which you can write on page 2 of this handout, what do you need to replenish? Add those to your food list (on page 1) in the appropriate section.
Step 2: What do you want for dinner tonight, the next few days or this week?
In considering this question, make sure you look at your schedule. Be realistic. Some people prefer to say they will make 'X' on 'Y' day. While that works for some, it doe not for others and can feel somewhat restrictive and not flexible. So, some things to consider:
Do you have a busy schedule this week and don’t have much time?
Do you need to create some quicker meals?
How often can you and do you need to go to the grocery store, farmers market, etc?
Do you have one day you can take longer to cook and have leftovers for the next day?
Is there time on a day or two you can do some meal prep for a recipe or two?
Do you live in Germany and prefer larger lunches and more casual, easy-to-prepare dinners? If so, it may be bread, cheese, specific fruits and veggies on your list for dinner.
A client recently told me she is cooking for her three kids every night, spending 1.5 hours per day doing this. The kids are eating delicious, filling and nutritious meals but she is feeling quite run down and getting no time between work and cooking to do anything for herself. She is exhausted. It is not a sustainable plan for her. Together, figuring out ways to create meals with leftovers and quicker meals has been a game-changer. Now she can go for a walk after work some days before cooking needs to start and the kids need to get picked up.
Once you decide on the dinner options, write down the ingredients needed.
Step 3: What do you need for breakfast options?
Trying to have ingredients for 2-3 breakfast options can create food variety and food interest.
Are on-the-go breakfast options needed? Or, is there time to cook breakfast? Depending on your needs, you may decide on something like eggs, toast and fruit or may opt for an overnight oats you make the day before. Or, it could be as simple as a chicken sandwich with mustard and mayo. There are no ‘rules’ that you must eat ‘breakfast food’!
Write down your ingredients for breakfast on the food list.
Step 4: What do you need for lunch?
Sometimes, we may get lunch at school or work. If so, we may not need to buy anything. Or, we may have kids that will be home and need to buy for them. If you’re a college student, maybe you have a summer dining plan. Could you use that? Would it be easier than packing a lunch to bring with you to your summer job?
Especially if you’re in recovery from disordered eating, having meals made for you at work, school, in the dining hall, etc can be helpful to reduce stress around food and create opportunities for continued exposure like eating something you don’t know the exact calories of! It is also nice to have meals made, when possible, so that other meals in the day do not feel like a chore.
If you do need lunch options, aim for 2 options for the next week or few days. Maybe a sandwich option and some bean dish that is quick to make. Or, maybe a grain salad. In Germany, lunch is sometimes the most time-consuming meal of the day to make so you may find that your dinner ingredient list is more a lunch one and your lunch list is more a dinner one. That is fine! Again, there is really no ‘right’ way to eat meals.
Write down the ingredients you need for lunch on your list.
Step 5: Are there other foods that you’d like to have like fun dessert foods or food for snacks? Anything you want to bake this week?
These may be cookies, cakes from a Bäckerei, granola bars for your kiddo, beef jerky, yogurts, bagels, chips and guacamole, smoked fish, etc.
Make sure those make it on your food list.
Step 6: Review your list. Make sure you've added amounts where necessary.
I tend to see families and individuals with the means buying less than they need, especially the food at main meals. And, if you've been struggling with disordered eating, sometimes we do the same to protect ourselves from overeating.
I had a client with two kids tell me they were cooking one cauliflower for a meal to have with 1 block of tofu and rice, in a Chinese-inspired dish. She wondered why her 2 kids and partner were still hungry. The tofu and cauliflower amounts just don’t cut it for a family of four. When she doubled it the next time, the kids were happy and there were leftovers for her the next day.
Being hungry after a meal is never fun! Buy more than you think, you can always freeze food if you have the capacity to do so. And, certainly you can buy frozen veggies to cut down on costs. (Eating on a budget will be a blog post for another time.)
Step 7: You have the list! Now, it is getting time to get to the store or market.
Some questions to consider:
How much time do you need?
Where will you go?
What is your budget? Does the list fit with it?
Just like you carved out time for writing the list, carve out time for the shopping.
Planning is part of nourishing ourselves.
We cannot eat well without a bit of planning. But, it does not have to be rigid, time-consuming and restrictive. For instance, I encourage you to always be open to seeing something in the store and trying it, if you have the budget for it. Or, moving the date of a pre-planned meal for another option if you get invited to go out friends.
While food shopping is not always fun, if you're prepared, it can be a way of self-care that provides feelings of pride and ownership. If you have any thoughts on how the process of food shopping is for you, and whether or not you found these steps helpful, I'd love to hear from you!