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I absolutely love grocery stores and food shopping, and will insist on checking them out in whatever country or city we visit. The different foods, smells, designs, and decorations fascinate me, and I could spend hours wandering the aisles. Frankly though, on a weekly basis I don't have that kind of time.
It can be really easy to fall into the trap of making grocery shopping a dreaded chore, and I have a few tips for ways to make it fun as well as efficient, while still maintaining a commitment to healthy food shopping.
When you enter the store, work your way from the outer edges inward. Start in the produce section and fill up your cart with fresh food. If you load your cart up with fresh goodies, you're much less likely to add in processed boxes, cans, and bags of prepared food.
I know, I know, you've heard this before. And we all know it, but we all do it sometimes, don't we?
Whenever I shop hungry, I always end up picking up things I could eat on the spot right that minute, and they aren't always healthy snacks. I also throw in things that are fast foods "for meals later in the week" because I'm in the mindset that I need something now, and so I feel like I'm going to need quick stuff all week. Fast meals all week are just not a reality in my household. Most of the food we have has to be prepared. It's rare to peek in the cabinet and find quick snacks, and I'm fine with that.
If you are shopping hungry, keep your brain in control of your stomach. In fact, the best scenario is to get some fruit, pay for it, sit down and eat it, and then start shopping again. I always feel 100% better when I try this trick and then I can simmer down and do my normal healthy food shopping.
For healthy food shopping, decide what you want to buy before you hit the store. When I was a new vegan, I would sift through a ton of vegan cookbooks picking out recipes with similar ingredients and designing a quick meal plan for our week. I would often pick up our vegetables from our CSA or the farmers' market and then look for recipes that revolved around those foods. It was a fun way to learn new vegetables and recipes, and also to fill our cabinets with condiments and spices that worked well with vegetables.
Even if you're a veteran, you'll save time and money by knowing what you want to purchase before you hit the store. You're also less likely to toss in vegan junk food when you know you're covered for every meal that week.
Try your best not to buy things you didn't intend to buy. Of course something at the grocery store is going to call your name and look appetizing, and I'm not saying you shouldn't ever do this, but try to keep your eye on the prize and stick to what you wanted to get in the first place. However, when you're at the farmers' market, I would say to do the exact opposite and pick up what looks good and fresh that day.
I put together a few different ebooks with vegan meal plans if you need inspiration, as well as a master vegan grocery list to give you a quick way to keep track of everything you need each time you shop.
When I buy condiments, bread, pasta, or anything in a package, I always read the label. You may assume that because something was vegan last week that it still is, but I have learn my lesson on this one. Your favorite cereal company has no obligation to tell you that just last week they started adding honey instead of maple syrup, so to avoid a nasty shock, always do a quick scan.
If you're looking at something you haven't bought before, take some quick time looking for animal ingredients. You may be lucky enough to find the vegan tag on it, but not always. And, you'll have to decide if you're okay with products that might share the same equipment as non-vegan products, because that situation is ubiquitous.
A tip for healthy food shopping, vegan or not, is to make sure you can pronounce everything on the ingredient list, and that there aren't too many ingredients. If I'm looking at bread, I want the very first word on the ingredient list to be "whole." If it says enriched, I am putting that bread back on the shelf immediately. I stay away from enriched, unbleached WHITE flour, as well as anything with unpronounceable chemicals. A whole food energy bar has normal ingredients like walnuts, dates, and cherries, not 45 different chemicals.
A huge healthy food shopping tip is to buy as much as you can in bulk, and plus, it's way easier on your budget. I buy all our whole grains, dried beans, and flours in bulk. You can, of course, buy beans in cans, but I prefer to be in charge of how much sodium is added into my beans, and it's cheaper to just buy them dried and learn to soak and cook beans. I make tons of extra beans and freeze them until I'm ready to eat them, and at that point it's just as quick as popping open a can.