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8 Tips for Online Grocery Shopping

I just placed my first online grocery shopping order of my life, and I found it really challenging. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I have so much familiarity with the physical experience of working the aisles of a grocery store, that shopping online felt so vast and without boundaries.

My shopping "trip" (click?) was a top-up more than anything: to replenish some of the meat that will begin dwindling from the freezer and to shore up my fresh stuff. This wasn't a "stockpile shop" per se, however I do want this food to last about two weeks if at all possible.

I wanted to share some observations and tips based on my experience that may help you, if you're new to this world too. It's like learning a new language!


Tip #1: You'll Want to Buy Everything

Sipping your morning tea or coffee and perusing the entirety of a grocery store online, you might find yourself getting more adventurous than you do when you are physically in the store. Case in point, before I gave my head a shake, I had a prime rib roast and a bunch of shallots and fresh rosemary in my shopping cart. It sounds lovely, but this is not something I'd normally cook and eat! This is something I'd purchase if I was hostig a dinner party which, obviously, I'm not.

Right off the bat, I'd suggest you plan to temper your excitement and stick to your food essentials, first.

Tip #2: Treat this Like You're Just "Popping Into the Store" for Some Basics

If you were just going to grab some groceries on the way home from work, what are the essentials you always buy?

For me it's beef, chicken, pork (whatever looks nice and is a good price), bacon, eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados, broccoli, asparagus, butter, and water. These are the staples, and yours will be different than mine. Put these in your shopping cart first.

Make a list just like you would if you were hitting the actual store and try hard not to stray too far from it. For some reason it's easier to go wild when you're just clicking a mouse than it is when you're pushing the cart.

Tip #3: Special meals and treats

Every now and again I like to make homemade-ish gluten-free pizza (on a frozen gluten-free pizza crust). And when I feel like having a crunchy treat, I'll buy a bag of Kettle brand avocado oil potato chips (three ingredients: potatoes, avocado oil, salt) or pork rinds (three ingredients: pork rind, lard, salt). These are once-in-a-while treats or indulgences; definitely not staples.

I'm a fan of having fun with food, and enjoying your fave treats. So these items will go in the shopping cart with a full understanding that once they show up in my house I'll be tempted to eat them first, and fast. That's just how they're engineered: once your brain senses that these hyper-palatable and hyper-caloric foods are in the house, it will beg you to eat them. So buy ONE bag of chips. Buy enough pizza fixings for ONE pizza night.

Add these treats to your list but only just enough to satisfy your treat needs. I'm seeing a lot of talk out there of people blowing their diets because they're setting their environments up with tons of unsupportive food: bags and bags (and bagggsssssss) of chips and cookies and candy in the pantry, far more than they'd buy normally. Just... buy normally, including a sufficient quantity of treats.

Tip #4: Use the Search Bar Instead of Navigating the Departments

My first stop on the website, just as it is when I physically enter the grocery store, was the Meat and Seafood section. I scrolled and clicked and scrolled and clicked my way through this department. In addition to my prime rib roast mentioned earlier, I selected some halibut steaks, mussels, scallops, beef heart (?!), every cut of beef and pork imaginable, and also a turkey. By the time I had finished selecting just my meats, my grocery bill was already $350.

I scrapped everything out of my cart and started with my list that I'd made in the previous steps and then I searched, rather than scrolled, until I had everything I actually needed. If you browse the entire store you just might buy it all.

Tip #5: You Only Have So Much Space

To springboard off of the above list item, if I had kept all of those items, many of which are things I never or rarely eat, I'd have had a pretty rude awakening when I got them home and had nowhere to store them. Not only would I have to prepare and eat all of these foods I don't normally prepare and eat... but I'd have had to do it immediately!

There is a definite "provisioning" mentality going on in society right now, but we don't have to worry about food scarcity. Just sensibly place things in your cart as you would under normal circumstances; enough to fill your fridge and freezer, but perhaps not a whole underground bunker's worth of food, you know?

P.S. If you have an underground bunker I demand you send me pictures of it.

Tip #6: Understand the Perishability Schedule of Different Fruits and Veg

To me, this is a trial and error situation. These are expensive lessons I've learned over the years by buying too much fresh produce all at once and throwing much of it away.

I know that I can leave grape tomatoes, avocados, and mushrooms for a decently long while before I have to use them up. Broccoli and asparagus have sort a mid-length shelf life. Cucumbers, greens, and berries tend to spoil faster.

So when I buy— and when I eat — I keep this "schedule of perishability" in the back of my mind. What combination of fresh food do I need to buy, and in what order to do I need to eat them, in order to stretch my grocery shopping interval to about two weeks, while also not running the risk of things spoiling and needing to be thrown out? I eat the very perishable things first and save the more resilient fruits and veggies for later.

Speaking of this... Truly the great unknown in this whole excursion is: will the grocery-picker make sure to pick nice produce for me? Will they throw a few unripe avocados in the bag along with the ripe ones so that they last? Will they check the raspberries for mould? Time will tell. I'd love to hear your experience!

Tip #7: Don't forget non-food items!

In my excitement to fill my fridge, nearly forgot to buy laundry detergent, dish soap, cat litter, and toilet paper. Whoops!

Tip #8: The Pickup Service at the Grocery Store is Booking Up Fast

The soonest pickup time I could get for my order is about ten days from now. I don't think we should expect that to mellow out anytime soon, so be strategic when planning your online grocery shops. Thankfully I have enough food in the fridge and freezer to last me until I can go pick this stuff up. We'll see if the items I've selected are even available, and at the same price, a week and a half from today.

Basically once I pick this order up, I'll need to turn around and place another order right away again; to be picked up two weeks later. I'd suggest to begin to expect at least a two-week book-out period for grocery order pick-ups. Plan accordingly.


Here's My Shopping Cart

My first online grocery order was, I think, a success. I bought all of the things I normally buy and none of the things I don't need at all. It's often just me at home by myself, and/or with my husband when he's not working away. Your shopping cart will differ if your family is a different size, or your budget is.

Sometimes people want to know how long a shop like this will last me. It's hard to say. Remember: this was just a top-up shop for me. I still have quite a lot of frozen chicken, pork, beef, and fish left in the freezer. So the fruits and veggies are hopefully going to last two weeks, but the meat may last longer. I find it very difficult to break my food down into a per day budget because I don't engage with food in a data-centric way. I just eat nourishing food when I'm hungry. Sometimes I'm not very hungry (in fact, I've felt very non-hungry since this whole self isolation/social distancing thing began) and food lasts me a very long time. If you're feeding a large family, I'd suggest that choosing foods that make them feel less hungry is a good money-saving strategy (more on that below).

This is a video of my shopping cart and the items are in no particular order; it also includes things like laundry detergent and dish soap...

Foodwise, here is what I picked up:

  • 1 tub of field greens @ $4.98

  • 1 bag baby spinach @ $7.98

  • 2x broccoli crowns @ $2.50 ea

  • 1 asparagus bundle @ $2.58

  • 1 big tub grape tomatoes @ $5.00

  • 1 bundle of beets @ $3.98

  • 2 English cucumbers @ $2.48

  • 1 pkg sliced cremini mushrooms @ $3.98

  • 1 red onion @ $1.62

  • 1 big package of raspberries @ $5.98

  • 1lb of strawberries @ $3.28

  • 1 pint blackberries @ $4.98

  • 2 1/2 lbs packs of lean ground beef @ $7.00 ea

  • 3-pack of NY strip steaks @ $30.12

  • 1 garlic sausage coil @ $6.98

  • 1 pkg prosciutto @ $5.48

  • 1 pkg dry pepperoni sticks @ $13.48

  • 2 cartons organic eggs @ $6.48 ea

  • 1 tub of feta @ $8.98

  • Extra old cheddar @ $5.28

  • Raw sunflower seeds @ $4.00

  • 1 pkg pecans @ $14.48 (ouch!)

  • 3-pack of seaweed snacks @ $6.98

  • 1 jar spicy pickled beans @ $4.98

  • 2x GT Trilogy kombucha @ $3.68 ea

  • 3x San Pellegrino @ $1.47 ea

...for a grand total of about $200 worth of food to top up what is already in the freezer. I can reasonably expect to buy about this much every two weeks.


Food is Worth the Investment

For me, food is the thing I spend the most money on each month. I think there is almost nothing more important than supporting yourself and taking care of you and your family by having ready access to food that satiates, satisfies, and supports optimal health.

I am not a wealthy person, but when it comes to food, I behave as if I am. I will pull back on my spending in other areas if it means I can always have supportive food around me.

It is an expenditure that has an incredible return on investment.

My grocery budget may seem out of line with yours. More expensive things like dry pepperoni sticks, pecan halves, and kombucha may not make it on your list and that's fine: none of those things is essential to a supportive diet (for me, they are just treats or enhancements). I didn't splurge on expensive meat, opting to choose the conventional products in bulk packs.

But also notice that there are virtually no packaged or processed food on this list. These items are cheap, but I'd hesitate to call them food. It's my dream that your grocery budget be allowed to stretch if it means supporting the body with actual food. When you eat real, unprocessed food, research suggests that it offers greater satiety. You'll eat less of it and your grocery bill will reflect that. It all comes out in the wash.

Now's the time to really offer yourself the healthy support your body needs and deserves.

Good luck, and stay safe and smart.

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