I first began grocery shopping for myself when I was 19 years old. I was a sophomore in college with my very own fridge in my very own apartment that I shared with a certain someone who is now my very own husband :). I suddenly found myself catapulted into adulthood – and nothing illustrated that fact more than me struggling through the isles of the grocery store.
Let me backtrack a bit. I come from a home where there were always items in the fridge or pantry that my mother crafted into a delicious dinner and we rarely ate out. We had well-rounded, made-from-scratch meals nightly, topped with a homemade dessert. When not cooking for her family, my mom cooked for others and once made what a 90-year-old Southern Belle deemed “the best pimento cheese I’ve ever tasted.” Now, if anyone in this world knows pimento cheese, it was that woman. My mom came home that day to share the news, adding at the end that it had been her first time EVER making pimento cheese and she didn’t even know the ingredients beyond pimento and cheese! As she likes to say, she can “pull a rabbit out of her hat,” and cook just about anything. This is the standard of eating and living from which I hail, and it’s the standard on which I set my sights.
Yet, as with all things in transitioning to adulthood, I totally failed. Grocery shopping served as a huge crux of the roughness. Each week, I set out to buy items so that I could do what I knew: cook an amazing dinner every night like my mom. And each week I failed miserably. The people in the store called me “ma’am”, as in these college kids working college jobs called my “ma’am” even though we were the same age. It already felt weird shopping for myself, and that “ma’am” just rubbed it in the wrong way for me, personally. At 19, I was not old enough to be called “ma’am.” There were other struggles too, from meat spoiling because the deli person didn’t close the seal and I didn’t notice, to getting yelled at by a grouchy old man for checking out in the “wrong” line. In all, I f*ing hated going to the grocery store.
My mother assured me that getting the hang of the grocery store and cooking would take time and that one day it would be easy. Though it took a while, she was right: nearly a decade later I am confident enough to say that I have figured out how to navigate the grocery store. And, surprise! I actually like going.
The main reason grocery shopping is a joy now is because I love the store itself. Picking a store that you actually like is the most important step, because you are going to spend a good hour and a good hundred dollars there every week. There is a plethora of options, so why not pick a good one? A lot of people complain about the prices at the higher-end grocery stores, but you get what you pay for. I pay a little more for quality and friendliness in my grocery workers. Since I go to the same place weekly, I see the same kind folks who are now my friends. Seriously! I’m on a first-name basis with a few employees and I’m always greeted warmly. There are too many places in this world that are cold and distant; it’s nice to take a break from that. Each week, I build real relationships with real people, and I appreciate that these workers smile at us and are patient with me and my toddler. What’s more, because I go to the same place I know where everything is so that is helpful.
On a more practical level, I am successful at weekly shopping because I make two lists: one for dinners and one for ingredients. Each week I get an email about what’s on sale at my store and loosely comprise my list around the sale items. After making a list of five-six dinners for the week and a plan for lunches, all of the ingredients are organized on a list according to the store’s layout. For example: all the dairy items are grouped together, all the vegetables are listed next to one another, etc.
A note on meal planning: just do it!! When you plan your meals, you know what’s happening without having to come up with something to eat on the fly. Your meal choices will be much healthier and you won’t have to make multiple trips to the store.
A note on pragmatism: just buy it the dang thing! I buy everything I need for the week at the one store. Chasing deals all over town is not appealing to me; I’d rather spend the extra $1.29 and keep my time and sanity intact.
At this point, I’m really happy about how far I’ve come in the food department. I no longer leave the store in tears, and I know what I can (and cannot) cook well so I no longer leave the table in tears. My meals are well-rounded and healthy. While I doubt my child will ever tell the tale of an epic pimento cheese, I can rest easy knowing that we are all getting the nourishment we need.
I’d love to know: what are your thoughts, comments, questions on this topic? We all have to grocery shop and yet the consensus seems to be that it is a chore, and not usually a joyful one. Tell me about your experience!