Become a grocery shopping genius

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

November 2012

The average supermarket carries about 40,000 items. It's a challenge to fill your shopping cart with nutritious food at a reasonable price. Junk food is cheap and modern marketing methods provide a minefield in every aisle so it helps to have a shopping strategy.

If you arrive with a list that is based on the meals that you plan to prepare in the next few days you're off to a good start. Having a list will not only help you to get the job done faster, it will make you less likely to make budget-busting impulse buys. Modern supermarket floor plan design encourages shoppers to pass through most of the store in order to find basic items. The more time you spend in the store the more likely you are to make those impulse buys.

Don't shop when you're hungry! Everything looks more appetizing and you'll want to buy bigger quantities. That might be a throwback to the Stone Age when the next day's food supply wasn't nearly as certain.

Leave the children at home. If you do have to bring them along, feed them first. At the very least it will keep them from pulling things off the shelf when your back is turned. With luck they might even fall asleep in the stroller if their tummies are full.

Learn to read labels, as described in our archived column of December 2007, Figuring out the nutrition label. It will help you to avoid excess sodium and trans fat and to find foods with beneficial fiber and polyunsaturated fats.

Although all packaged foods have nutrition labels be sure to read them accurately. The concept of serving size should make it simple to select as much as you need but it's easy to overlook. For instance, it's common for a single package to contain 2 ½ servings but nobody eats half a serving. Especially in the case of snack foods, the entire package might look like one serving when the nutrition label says it contains two or more.

You might want to avoid the lady with the free samples. You're likely to impulse-buy expensive items that are usually high in fat and sugar, which is why they taste so good, of course.

Finally, don't go grocery shopping with a friend. You are both likely to encourage each other to buy things that are not on your list.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at