5 Tips for Grocery Shopping from a Professional Instacart Shopper

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: Faith Durand)

If you haven’t had that moment of panic after a grocery shopping trip gone awry, the rest of us worship you. Those of us who, at 6:17 p.m. on a Thursday night, bleary-eyed from a day of work, wander zombie-like around the grocery store throwing things like mangos and imported German mustard into our carts even though we wanted to make pasta that night. Or those of us who brave the 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon crowd at Trader Joe’s, elbows thrown over the last of the seasonal Jo Jo’s, strollers ramming up against our ankles, waiting patiently to get to the front of the line only to realize we forgot milk, which was the reason we came to the store in the first place.

Sure, grocery shopping can be a therapeutic, enjoyable activity when it’s done on our time, in our way, but everyone’s gotta eat. And often times, that “gotta eat” means you “gotta shop,” versus “get to shop.”

Want to get better at grocery shopping? Shawna Haner, Instacart‘s new markets associate is showing us the ropes. She spent time as a personal shopper with Instacart and knows her way around a grocery store. In case you’re not familiar with Instacart, it’s basically a service that lets you shop from local grocery stores online, and then a personal shopper picks up and delivers your order to you the same day. Basically, she’s a total pro at this stuff.

1. Stick to the plan.

Haner says if you’re trying to stay healthy, within a budget, or just sane, planning is essential: “Meal planning is a great tool for maintaining a healthy diet because if you stock your fridge and pantry with the right foods, it’s that much easier to eat the right foods. Go into your grocery shopping trip knowing what you plan to cook for the week and have a list of the ingredients you’ll need to make those meals.” Don’t get distracted by fancy displays and shiny objects! Stick to the plan!

(Image credit: Lisa Freedman)

2. Shop for deals ASAP.

The day your grocery store puts avocados on sale is the day to buy them! According to Haner, “Waiting until later in the week could result in missing the sale items, as inventory runs out. Don’t be afraid to ask department managers when they generally apply markdowns and bring out items on clearance.”

3. Make the deli line work for you.

Do you hate wasting time waiting for that honey-roasted turkey to be sliced? Haner suggests, “Head to that counter first and place your full order. Then, rather than waiting for the full order to be prepped, let the employee know you’ll be back to pick it up and go find the other items on your list. Swing back by as you wrap up your shopping to pick up your order and head to the checkout line.” So simple, yet so smart.

4. Embrace the mid-week shop.

Haner says shopping Sunday or Monday could be the reason it takes you 25 minutes just to check out, because those are the most popular days to shop. “Consider the time of day — on weekdays the hours between the ending of the work day and dinnertime are busy times at the grocery store,” she says. “Lunchtime is also a busy time for grocery stores with prepared foods sections”

5. Placement matters.

Once you’re finished shopping, where you stash your groceries makes all the difference. According to Haner, “For transport home, put your groceries in the main cabin of your car rather than your trunk. The trunk is not climate controlled and can lead to frozen items melting — especially in warmer climates — before you can get them to the safety of your freezer.”