The Art of a Thoughtful Grocery List

A couple weeks ago, my partner and I were doing our usual weekly grocery shopping at Natural Grocers.  When we went to check out and unload our cart, the cashier said, “You guys stocking up for the month?”  “No”, we replied a little sheepishly, “These are our groceries for the week.”  The total rang up to about $135 and was a plethora of different veggies and fruits (probably around 20 lbs.), a whole organic chicken, a pound of grass-fed beef, two cans of coconut milk, a variety of tea, nuts, peanut butter, milk, bread, and some other stuff I can’t remember.  This was not the first time we’ve experienced amazement from fellow consumers at the amount of groceries we buy.  Almost every week during check out, shoppers (holding their small handful of goodies) look incredulously at our weekly bounty.    

In addition to what we spend at Natural Grocers we also buy $30-$40 worth of goods from Re:Vision’s Buying Club as part of our weekly grocery shopping.  We order from the Buying Club each Sunday some of the goods that we would otherwise buy at Natural Grocers like local organic meat, olive oil or beans.  The prices are even lower than what we pay at Natural Grocers and I know that the money I spend at the Buying Club is helping to create access to healthy food for residents in Denver’s food deserts.  It’s a win-win.  I get the same amazing food from the Buying Club that I would at Natural Grocers and I’m helping to create a local sustainable food system where everyone (not just people like me) can access healthy food.

It’s just the two of us, so why do we need all that food?  Don’t you waste a ton?  Nope! Before we head out to the grocery store, we put in a little time to plan the week’s meals and figure out what ingredients we need to buy to make those meals.   We have very little food waste, filling less than one 20-gallon trash bag per week and composting the veggie scraps or giving them to our chickens.   $175 for a pair may seem outrageous at first glance, but let’s break it out. That’s $87.50 per person per week,  $12.50 per day for each person, or a about $4.16 per meal.  More importantly to us, these $4 meals are made with 100% organic, healthy goods! 

One of the big motivators for me to write this blog is to address the shift in American food culture over the last 30 years.  Namely, Americans are spending less and less of their income on groceries and more on eating out.  As a nation, we spend less on food than any other county in the world.  Incredibly, this March the Commerce Department released data showing that for the first time in US history, sales at restaurants and bars surpassed spending at grocery stores! Jarrod and I budget $100 per month to spend on food and beverages outside the home.  This averages to about 1-2 meals at restaurants, 1-2 happy hours and the occasional coffee.  We work to be cognizant of our consumer habits.  We don’t feel deprived; we allow ourselves the occasional treat if we want to meet up with friends or need coffee to get us through a Monday.  The key phrase here is “occasional treat”.  We choose to make restaurant outings more of a fun experience rather than a regular habit.    

You can make significant cost savings if you shift more of your food budget from restaurants to groceries. On average, Americans eat between 4-5 meals out per week.  The average cost of a lunch out is $10 compared to a home-cooked lunch that only costs $4.   This means that if you eat out just one time less a week, you’ll save about $315 annually! And that’s just the savings from lunch.  This doesn’t take into account the typically more expensive dinner and happy hour spending. Cut one of those outings and you’re looking at much more significant savings.  Not to mention the fact that home cooked meals are usually healthier because you have control over the quality of ingredients and how much salt, sugar, and fat you add.   

“Wow, you guys must feel amazing!” the Natural Grocers cashier said as he took stock of our cart amassed with vegetables.  One of the toughest things about convincing friends and family to eat out less is that it’s nearly impossible to convey the benefits to your physical and mental wellbeing that cooking healthy food affords.   I’m afraid that the majority of people are accustomed to feeling like crap because of what they put in their body, and because they have no point of reference to know differently they don’t see the value in spending more on groceries.  They haven’t experienced how healthy eating can transform the way you feel—more energized, stronger, more alert, positive and focused.  

A phrase I often hear from friends and colleagues when I tell them about my eating and cooking habits is, “I don’t have the time or skill to cook at home.”  It will take some small behavioral changes and a little more time, but you can do it incrementally and eventually it will become second nature to you.  For example, try to set a goal of swapping one of the nights you typically eat out and plan to cook a meal at home.   Cooking is not hard.  Sure, it is harder than driving through Burger King, but there are a billion simple, quick and healthy recipes online that everyone is capable of doing.  You just have to give it a try and get creative about how you make time to cook.  I truly believe the time is out there for most of us, we just need to reexamine our priorities.  Instead of spending hours shopping at the mall or watching movies all night, distribute some of that time to planning and cooking some healthy meals that will ultimately raise the quality of your life.  My spouse and I spend about 20 minutes meal planning on Sundays to create the week’s menu. Most nights, we spend around 30 minutes making dinner and cook enough for our lunch the next day.  It’s likely that this is less time many people spend driving to different restaurants for lunch and dinner, parking, and waiting for their meal.  I also allot a couple weekend hours to make a meal or two to freeze for those weeks we’ll have late meetings and know we won’t feel like cooking when we get home.   

Cooking together is fun and relaxing.  I look forward to coming home and preparing and eating a meal with my partner; we use this time to debrief about our day and unwind.    This is a great time for families to spend together and revive the sacred time of preparing and sharing food that is integral to everyone’s wellbeing and cultivates a healthy relationship with food and family.  The way we eat is a lifestyle and is guided by our ideals and priorities.  We care deeply about the health of our bodies, earth and the ethical treatment of animals and people locally and globally.  If you care about these things too, I recommend cooking more meals at home and eating out less.  Thanks for reading!



P.S. Please check out this excellent article that includes an overview of why buying quality food matters:

P.P.S.  I challenge you to try meal and grocery planning this week.  Sit down for 20 minutes before you go out to get groceries and plan some meals for the week and create a shopping list of ingredients you need to buy to make those meals. If you need some inspiration, check out this week's Buying Club list and put in your order today!