Beyond Money and Meal Plans, The Unexpected Benefit of Grocery Shopping

There's been quite a lot said on the topic of grocery shopping. We hear that grocery shopping is good for our budget; that it leads to more cooking at home, which is healthy for us. On top of this, we read countless articles about shopping the perimeter of the store and scanning food labels for this that and the other thing. But just in case you're rolling your eyes at the mention of grocery shopping and food labels, please know that I don't intend to talk about any of those things here...

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Instead, let's just appreciate grocery shopping for it's result: a stocked fridge and pantry. Yes, the unexpected benefit of grocery shopping is that it leads to a house full of food; to a mindset of provision and security. Confused? Let me explain with a story.

I'm the youngest of three kids. When we were growing up, my mom mostly stayed at home. Even though we were on a young family's budget, we always had food in the house to snack on. Flash forward a few years. My brother and sister moved out and our lives became mostly about swimming. My mom became seriously invested in her job as a swim coach, which meant she worked evenings and most weekends. I was gone at practice, school or a swim meet most days from 5 am until 6-8 at night. Our lives got super busy, and we started eating out a lot more. We had food at home, sure, but by the end of the week with the craziness of our schedules it was usually just dinner ingredients and some random left overs in the fridge. I don't say this to call out my parents. They always did there best. They were amazing (and still are), this was just the reality of our lifestyle. We didn't really put a big emphasis on grocery shopping.

Around this time I can remember going to my friend's house. This particular friend had a house FULL of food, there were granola bars galore, cheese sticks, fruit, chocolate milk, fresh baked cookies, all of the things a teenage grade girl eats and needs ;). And boy did I take advantage of this. I can remember my friends actually joking about my ability to put down copious amounts of Christmas cookies, while they enjoyed just one or two. 

Food Insecurity & Overeating

Food insecurity is the state of being without reliable access to affordable, nutritious food. This often happens in times of poverty or in places without access to a good food supply, but it can also occur with a food scarcity mindset. This mindset is one that believes certain foods are restricted or off-limits. Food scarcity mindset can result from self-imposed diet restrictions, or in this case, from a lack of reliable access to certain foods in the house. In either case, when foods are restricted, people tend to overeat them whenever they get the chance.

Looking back, my behavior as a teen makes total sense. Even though I was not food insecure for financial reasons, the fact that our house wasn't always stocked with foods I liked did lead me to have a restriction mindset. This feeling of restriction or deprivation resulted in me overeating and sometimes feeling out of control around certain foods, once I had access to them.

Now I know food insecurity is a serious issue and that there are people who don't have the money to keep their house stocked with food. I am deeply aware of this fact and conscious that we must do all that we can to hack away at the very roots of socio-economical food insecurity.  But for the rest of us who can afford to buy groceries (whether it means shopping at Aldis or Whole Foods) there is a solution. 

You can root out a food deprivation mindset in your own home, by making foods available and permissable. To do this, first recognize that obsessing over what's in the food you buy shouldn't stop you from the more nurturing act of providing nourishment and security for yourself and your family.

When you regularly grocery shop and keep your house stocked with yummy food choices it sends the message that food is available and abundant; it's freeing and results in a feeling of safety.  Likewise, if you're shopping for family members, purchasing foods that they enjoy allows them to feel secure as opposed to restricted. 

On top of this when you know that you have food at home waiting for you, it gives you the freedom to actually say no if someone offers you food when you aren't particularly hungry. Yes, it is okay to say no to free food (WHAT?!) especially when you have something better waiting for you at home.

The Art of Keeping a House Full of Food

Does all of this mean you need to go spend beau-coo bucks on every snack food in the grocery store in order to feel food secure? No, like everything, there is a balance, a sort of art to stocking your pantry. Below are some things to consider & tips for keeping a well stocked house.

  • Start with meals. Make sure you buy the essentials for dinners throughout the week (if you typically eat 5 meals at home, get ingredients for those 5 meals).
  • Next, purchase a variety of breakfast ingredients that can be used in multiple ways. Make sure to ask your family what breakfast foods they like and include some or all on the list. For example, I always like to keep oats, bread, eggs, fruit, milk, cereal and PB on hand. The hubs loves bacon and smoothies, so we also stock stuff for that. Oh and coffee, always coffee.
  • When it comes to lunch, it's a good idea to have quick fix ingredients available for sandwiches, tacos, salads, etc. Even if you prefer to have dinner leftovers for lunch, a back up plan is a must.
  • Don't forget snacks, common ingredients, and favorite foods that don't necessarily "fit" into a planned meal or snack. Here's another opportunity to consult your family members and see what foods they want to have available. Maybe your family loves ice cream and cookies -- as heretical as it sounds, try to keep these things on hand so no one feels the need to eat them in an unhealthy manner outside of the home. 
  • I know kids can get out of control with food demands. Just do the best you can to honor some of their food likes and dislikes without giving them reign over the whole grocery list. You don't have to take them with you to the store, but asking their opinion will go a long way in making them feel secure.
  • I find it works best to start with a basic grocery list that doesn't change much from week-to-week. You can add foods to it, based on ingredients you need for dinners that week or a bulk items you've run out of (like flour or olive oil). Standardizing your grocery list makes it much easier to shop. Plus, if you don't have time to go to the store, you can use grocery pickup or delivery services like the one Walmart offers. With these services, it's simple to save a list of "favorites" and quickly add extra items you need from there. Check with your local grocery store to see if they deliver, if not, here is a list of online delivery services to try.
  • Finally, if you have food left at the end of the week and you're afraid of wasting it, try designating one or two dinners as "hodgepodge" meals, where you put together a meal from the ingredients you have on hand (so much fun, and probably the best way to learn to cook). OR you could invite some friends over for dinner and bless them with a yummy meal :)

I know we live busy, busy lives and grocery shopping doesn't always happen like we want it to, and that's okay. I just hope that these tips make grocery shopping easier. More importantly, I hope that grocery shopping makes eating and your relationship with food simpler, freer and more enjoyable!!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. How do you make your grocery list and stay on top of shopping??