Structure Sunday: The Structure of Grocery Shopping

I am interested in grocery shopping since it has a great deal to do with what we eat. What we eat has a lot to do with our health. Since this is all so very important I am going to break it down into ridiculous but useful detail. The following is a primer on how to go grocery shopping. 

First reflect: 

First and foremost, think about your nutrition goals for the week. Remember that Dr. Gina wants you to consume primarily meat, fish, chicken, vegetables and fruits in three meals and three snacks every day. Review our Nutrition section if you have questions. Think about some of the awesome healthy dishes you would like to make. Include those ingredients on your list. 

Inspect, tidy and make lists: 

Be brave and look into the depths of the fridge. Find any science projects (spoiling food in containers) and get rid of them. If you consolidate things like ketchup bottles and wipe out the refrigerator shelves a little bit it will make you feel so much better. You will see that feeling better is actually important, since it will help you avoid buying things you don’t need. Look in the freezer, and all the cabinets too. Make room for the new groceries. Go to your laundry room and your bathrooms, and check and tidy there as well. After you are done inspecting and tidying, make your lists of all the things you need to buy. You can group them any way you want, either by store like I do, or by store section. Make your list on paper or on your phone. I tend to lose paper lists. 

The idea here is that with a list you will buy only what you need, and nothing that you don’t need. Sure enough, you may run into excellent and discounted produce you didn’t know was in season, and that I believe is a legitimate reason to go off list, but just any old bargain is not. 

Prepare yourself to shop: 

Research clearly shows that we often suffer from “needs confusion”. When we are tired, hungry, bored or angry, we soothe ourselves with retail therapy. Buying, like many pleasant things, produces a surge of potent neurotransmitter, not dissimilar to those felt with accomplishment or good fortune. In unpleasant states, we are more vulnerable to marketing ploys and subliminal suggestion, and we are anxious to resolve our uncomfortable state. So, I suggest that you work out, shower, dress and eat at least a healthy snack before going out to shop, hereby calling up happy neurotransmitters in more legitimate ways.  

Pack for the trip: 

Make sure and collect all your reusable and attractive shopping bags. Get rid of the ugly downer bags, my goodness. Life is too short for ugly shopping bags.

Bring healthy snacks so you will not fall prey to the samples. Bring all the equipment and healthy snacks you need to keep kids happy. This will help both kids and parents resist child-initiated impulse buying. 

When to go: 

I am a firm believer in twice per week shopping. Any more is onerous and any less results in a lack of fresh food, which is so important. I have chosen Sundays and Wednesdays since that is easiest for me. 

Where to go: 

Assuming you have already gone to your own garden, your own freezer, and your own farmer’s market first, you must then consult your list. To get exactly what I want (and I am very picky) I have to go to at least two stores. Usually one is Costco, which has more organic food all the time. The other is my local organic/natural/whole food store. 


Once you get there:

Understand that everything in the store environment is designed to get you to buy. This goes from the print, the colors, the displays and the music. Use your own mind. You have already decided what you need.

  • Be skeptical, stick to your list, and be a label reader.
  • Be wary of health claims on product packaging.
  • Stick to real fresh food, which is mostly located on the periphery of the store. Stay out of the middle of the store without good reason.
  • Be cautious about budget brands. They may be cheaper for market reasons, or because they use cheap fillers which are not healthful. 
  • Be cautious about coupons and sales. Do not let these cause you to buy something you don’t need or more than you can use. 






Enjoy yourself: 

Your nervous system is right. You have every reason to feel a thrill right down to your neurotransmitters when you pick up you a big crate of ripe strawberries. Eating is one of the great joys of life. To be able to acquire beautiful varied foods as we do is unprecedented in human history. Think about what it takes to bring us this food: all of the people and places and knowledge that come into play. It is nothing short of amazing. 





For more reading : 


How to Buy Food, at Bon Appetite

The Psychology of Shopping: How Grocery Stores Make Rational Shopping Nearly Impossible

Supermarket Psychology, by Weight Watchers 

Surviving the Psychology of Sneaky Supermarkets, at National Geographic 

A Few More Ways that Supermarkets Mess with Your Mind, at Business Insider 

11 Psychological Tricks of the Supermarket Trade, at Food Network

Ten Ways your Local Grocery Store Hijacks Your Brain, by Psychology Today