Food & Fitness

The Living Healthy in the Real World Guide to Grocery Shopping, Part Three: Grocery Shopping for the Time-Restricted

Please check out the first two parts to this Guide to Grocery Shopping mini-series:

Part One: Preparation for Grocery Shopping

Part Two: Building the Basics

When You’re Short on Time

Grocery shopping can be a hassle if you don’t have much time. You’re late for an appointment, you want to just get home and crawl into bed, or you have a million and one things to do this evening. You have no time to try to decipher nutrition labels, and it’s easier to grab a frozen meal to microwave, right?

Wrong! When we get to our Living Healthy in the Real World Guide to Cooking mini-series, I’ll share with you a ton of cooking secrets that will make life just as easy to cook something as it is to pop it in the microwave. For now, we’re going to look at how to navigate the grocery store when time is of the essence.

First, do your research! Grocery shopping doesn’t have to be done at the big stores like Safeway or Sobeys. Depending on where you live, there might be smaller stores just around the corner from you that you never even noticed before. There could also be some health food stores lurking quietly in the background. Find out where the nearest grocery stores are to you and make the best use of them that you can. Check if there is a grocery store near your workplace that you can stop at briefly on your way home. Keep a copy of the store’s opening and closing hours, too- there have been many times when I’ve walked a fair jaunt to one of my favourite stores, only to find out that it isn’t open on Sundays. Figure out a few places that are close to you to make life easier for yourself.

Second, keep to your list. If you don’t have much time, then this isn’t the best day for you to meander down the junk food section to stare in disbelief at an entire aisle full of different kinds of potato chips. You can do that another day. Stick to your list when you’re short on time. The only aisles you need are the dried/canned goods aisles (for beans and such- there’s only about two aisles of these items), plus the produce section. The grains, dairy, meats, and eggs sections are also likely to be where you’ll want to frequent.

Third, read the ingredient lists. So maybe you’re flummoxed by the front labels on a package, or a nutrition label looks like a foreign language, but the ingredient list is something that you can read and understand! It is usually found beneath the nutrition label in very fine print. The reason why you need to read these lists is because food manufacturers are sneaky. I have actually seen a bottle of ground cinnamon that included partially hydrogenated oil (aka trans fats). In a jar of cinnamon!

Even if it’s a bag of dried chickpeas, I don’t trust it until I’ve read the ingredient list. Who knows what could be in there. So: when you’re giving the ingredient list a quick scan in your haste to get in and out of the grocery store, make sure that the only ingredients in the package are specifically what you’re buying. Frozen fruits and vegetables should not have any sugar or salt added to them; they should be only the fruits and vegetables themselves. Canned goods are trickier: they have already been cooked, so they often contain salt and sometimes weird preservatives. Therefore, you’re better off choosing dried or fresh foods rather than canned (but, admittedly, I often have cans of tomatoes and beans kicking around my pantry). I’ll share some secrets in our Cooking mini-series for how you can remove a ton of the added preservatives from any canned food! Also check out eBrandAid for a list of the best brands out there on the shelves.

Fourth, keep your eyes open for deals. I always check the fliers in the mail and the advertisements in the newspaper that tell me which grocery stores in my vicinity are having sales. When I see that Spartan apples are on sale, I stock up, because those are my favourite kinds and I know that I’ll eat them all if I buy a pile of them. This helps you know ahead of time what you should be buying so that you don’t have to go down every aisle to see if this or that is on sale.

Fifth, work with the time you have. If you know that your weekdays are always runrunrun between home and work and goodness knows what else, then don’t go grocery shopping at this time! Schedule time to go grocery shopping. If you make time to take a shower, if you make time to go to work, if you make time to watch a TV show, then you can make time to go to the store. For myself, I find that it’s most useful to go on the weekends when I have a bit more flexibility. If you have your list, and you have your grocery store, then it will be a breeze as long as you schedule yourself some time to actually do the shopping. It’s really not that difficult: we just need to re-organize our priorities.

So, what should you buy if you don’t have much time to shop and/or cook? If money isn’t a concern, then by all means get the pre-cut veggies and salads of mixed baby greens. You’ll be far more likely to eat the food if it’s already cut up for you. If you’d rather buy the whole vegetables and fruit, then chop them up as soon as you get home and put them in separate containers. This will save you time later on in the week when you’re in a rush.

Big grocery stores will often sell whole roast chickens; all you have to do is pop them in the oven when you get home and they’ll be cooked in no time. You can also buy pita bread or tortillas to make pizzas, or buy pre-made dough (as always, read the ingredient list- I recommend you buy pre-made dough for a specialty food store where you know that the ingredients are all top quality). Buy dried beans and rice and throw them in the crockpot overnight with water, spices, and vegetables to create a nice stew. You can also pick up some chicken breasts or fish (try to get your meat locally-raised, free-range, grass-fed, organic etc etc to contribute to the environment/economy and to protect yourself from consuming antibiotics; this healthier meat will taste a million times better, too), grill them for less than 10 minutes on the George Foreman (I like sprinkling mine with some Herbs de Provence, but any herbs and spices will do), and bake a sweet potato to have on the side. These are all quick enough meals that you can just grab them at the store and then have them cooking with next to no effort on your part once you get home.

Resisting Impulse Buys

One of the biggest problems people have when they go shopping is the impulse-buy. We are more susceptible to impulse-buys if we see something on sale or if we are really hungry. Have a snack before you go shopping so that your growling tummy doesn’t convince you to buy a pile of things, and make sure you never go grocery shopping without your handy-dandy list!

You should also make allowances for yourself. If you see that, for example, bananas are on sale, and you are always eating bananas, then it’s probably a good idea to stock up. Similarly, if you suddenly remember that you’re running low on eggs, by all means buy a carton. If you see something and you think to yourself that you want to make a particular recipe with it, stop for a moment and ask yourself if you’re really going to make that recipe. If the answer is yes, then impulse-buy! If the answer is no- which it often is for me (“ooh I should get eggplant and cauliflower and make a delicious vegetable casserole. Wait. I never make casserole. Never mind then, on to the next item on my list!”)- then put that item down and keep shopping. Be realistic with yourself, or you’re going to wind up with a ton of food that you’ll never eat.

Lastly, if you really can’t trust yourself to go down the junk food aisle without buying something on a whim, then just don’t go down that aisle. It’s as simple as that!

Next up is Part Four: Where to Shop.


  1. Holly

    Sometimes I am tempted to buy things just because they’re on sale. If it’s a GREAT deal, I’ll stock up – but only if I know it’s something I’m going to use! Sales are wonderful, but I can get sucked in and load up on unneccessary things if I’m not careful. 🙂

  2. Cammy@TippyToeDiet

    I’m fortunate in that one of my nearby chain groceries has a fairly extensive “health foods” section (in quotes because much of it is still processed food, though somewhat healthier than similar products), and it’s located right next to fresh produce. I can skip many aisles entirely. When I do have to go down one of the inner aisles (pickles, olives, mustard, etc.), I leave my cart in an out-of-the-way place in the perimeter and carry everything in hand. I’m less likely to toss something unnecessary into the cart if the cart’s not there. 🙂

  3. The Candid RD

    Great post! I think Nick needs to read that last one; “avoid impulse buys”. One of the reasons I can’t bring him to the grocery store with me is because he will see something he likes and grab it right away! I keep saying, “stick to the list, or go home!!” haha, it doesn’t always work that well when he has money (unlike when I have children, I will be able to say NO then!).

    You may want to point out that it’s not only partially hydrogenated oils, but also just hydrogenated oils that are trans fat. Some companies don’t say “partially” but the hydrogenated oils are the same thing (I’m almost 90% sure of that…)

    Have a nice weekend!

  4. Lance

    The list is a big one for me, too. Without it – first, I miss things I had planned to get. And then I also get things I really don’t need.

    Today…I need peanut butter (the natural kind)….or is it want???

  5. Sagan Morrow

    Tracey- Keeping TRACK of these things is always tricky 😉

    Cammy- Ooh I like the idea to keep the cart off to the side. Prevents you from picking up a ton of unnecessary stuff!

    Gina- Way ahead of you 😉 I mentioned the hydrogenated AND partially hydrogenated thing in my Trans Fats post. But I’ll be sure to mention it again! It’s something that can’t be iterated enough.

    Lance- Oh natural nut butter is always a necessity, never just desire. Hehehe. Heart the all-natural PB.

    Ashley- It’s amazing how often I forget, too. In the dead of winter I’m too grouchy to want to cross the bridge to go to my Safeway for groceries… but the little store just down the street is even closer and it’s got all the basics, so it makes WAY more sense to go there in an “emergency”.

  6. asithi

    Pre-cutted salad bags are a big help in my house. Without it, we will never make any salad. Though it is cheaper buy the produce to make a salad, every time we tried, it ends up in sitting in the frig until we toss it out. With the pre-cutted salad bags, we toss in some toppings like strawberries and cheese, add a little dressing, and we end up eating salads more often.

  7. Sagan Morrow

    Yum Yucky- I was completely horrified when I read that on the cinnamon bottle! Am glad you’re enjoying the series 🙂

    Asithi- Oh definitely. I don’t often get the pre-cut bags just because it’s so much more expensive, but I do LOVE the big boxes of organic mixed spring greens. Mega-pricey but it’s nice to splurge on those and have a wide variety of greens already pre-cut and mixed together!

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