Use a grocery list to save time and eat healthier

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By Melissa Hight, County Extension

Most of us know that it’s a good idea to shop with a grocery list. Yet even when you make a list, you still forget to buy foods you need or you bring home items you did not intend to buy. Do some types of lists work better than others?

Many organizational experts recommend making a list with similar items placed together. Grouping foods by category on your grocery list helps you remember food items and avoid a return trip to the store. By grouping foods together, you’re less likely to double back for a food that you missed when in a particular section of the store.

To save time, you could develop a form you can photocopy or print from your computer for weekly use. Keep your list in a central location in the kitchen where your family can add to it as needed. Some people keep it on their refrigerator with one of those strong magnetic clips. Other people store their list in a cupboard drawer. Be sure there’s a pencil nearby or even better, attached to the list with a string. Now let’s get started.

Develop a master list

Here are some tips for developing a master list for ongoing use. Suggested category headings are given in the section following these tips. Be sure to leave enough space between headings to write in the number of items you’re likely to include in that category. Modify as to what works best for you. There are many organizational books on the market that you can get additional ideas from.

Consider listing foods by categories based on the Food Guide Pyramid Food Groups. This helps assure that your meals include a mix of healthy foods. You might include Fats, Oils and Sweets as a category for candy, soft drinks, jelly, etc. This provides a visual check for using this group of foods in moderation.

Some people like to arrange the categories in their list around the order in which foods are found in the store. Their master list may include such headings as “canned goods,” “frozen foods,” “fresh produce” and so on. You can use the informational signs located in each aisle as a guideline or check to see if your store provides a map showing where products are located and develop your master list from this. Stores do change where they place foods and this type of listing works best if you shop mainly at one store.

Add some type of catch-all grouping for condiments, staples and other food items that don’t fit anywhere else.

Include categories for non-food items that you purchase at the grocery store, such as health and beauty aids and household supplies. Grouping these together has an added benefit of helping you see how much of your grocery bill is going for items other than food. In reality, it may be toilet paper or toothpaste rather than tomatoes or tuna that add the most to your food costs.

If there are foods and other items that you must have every week, give yourself a reminder by making them a permanent part of your master list. For example, if you always like to have some carrots in the house, write carrots under your vegetable category heading. Then, if you need carrots that week, circle that item.

Suggested category headings

Here are some sample category headings for a master list and an example of one possible must-have item you might include under each. Use these examples as a guideline in creating your own personalized list and must-have weekly foods for your family:

Bread, cereal, rice and pasta: bread.

Vegetables: carrots.

Fruits: orange juice.

Milk, yogurt and cheese: milk.

Meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts: eggs.

Fats, oils and sweets: olive oil.

Staples, condiments and miscellaneous foods (spices, baking powder, etc.): mustard.

Health and beauty products: toothpaste.

Household items (laundry soap, light bulbs, etc.): coffee filters.

Tips for using your list

List brand names, can sizes, etc. as needed, especially if others are shopping for you. Sometimes, you may wish to wait until you’re at the store before deciding what specific foods to buy within a category. For example, you may wish to view the types of fresh fruits or check out meat specials before deciding on your purchase. To assure that you get enough foods for your meals, simply write how many items you need from that group. For example, if you need meat for seven meals, write, “7 meats.”

Remember that time spent developing a list is usually less than time spent returning to the store for a forgotten item. Having a list may also contribute to your overall meal quality. For example, do you really like to strain your coffee through a paper towel when you’re out of filters?

Source: Food Reflections–Alice Henneman, MS, RD, UNL Extension in Lancaster County, Nebraska.