The 10 Best Grocery Shopping Tips We Learned This Year (So Far)
At Kitchn, we spend a lot of time thinking about groceries — where to shop, which items to add to our carts, what to do with them when we get home, and how to stick to our budget. We’re always learning something new, whether it’s from our own experiences or from chatting with experts like store managers, cashiers, chefs, budget experts, and budget-minded shoppers. From smart baking-aisle finds (even for non-bakers!) to easy advice for saving money, here are the best tips and tricks from 2022 — so far.
1. Shop the perimeter first. (Not just for the reason you think!)
The perimeter of the grocery store is where you’ll mostly encounter fresh foods, but earlier this year we found out there’s another reason to hit this area first. According to Amy Eubanks, Whole Foods Market’s senior team leader for global culinary development, the perimeter of the store is also where you’ll find what’s in season. This goes for produce, but also meat and seafood. That’s right — just like fruit and vegetables, meat and fish can and should be seasonal.
2. Hit up the baking aisle — even if you don’t bake.
Who needs to take the time to visit the baking aisle if you don’t bake, right? We all do! You see, the baking aisle is actually one of the most versatile aisles of the grocery store. Here, you’ll find many groceries that will save you time and add nutrients, flavor, and variety to your everyday dishes. Vanilla extract, for example, can up the flavor in whatever you’re making: oatmeal, coffee, a brown butter sauce, or even some roasted veggies. (You can even use some to deodorize your fridge.) You can also find canned pumpkin (great in smoothies and soups), raw nuts (add them to yogurt or in homemade granola), and more.
3. Private-label brands are vast and offer great quality.
The number of store brands continues to grow across nearly every department — and their value is increasingly more attractive as prices remain, well, pricey. At Sprouts, for example, 16% of all groceries are from the store’s own private-label items, including responsibly sourced wild-caught and farm-raised seafood, various grades of meat, deli-style and prepared foods, award-winning frozen finds, and pantry staples, plus bath and toiletries, vitamins, and more. And you’ve probably heard us sing the praises of the private-label brands at Costco, Target, and Thrive Market.
4. Buy your beef from a local farm and in bulk.
Do you live within driving distance to a local farm? Say, 100 miles or so. Then buying your meat in bulk is ideal for a few reasons: First, you know exactly where your meat comes from and how the animals were raised. You also save money by cutting out the proverbial middleman, plus you support the farm and, by extension, the local community. And finally, it can last you six months to one year (depending on your family). Of course, you may need to snag a chest freezer … if you don’t already have one.
5. Learn about the microclimates in your area.
“Farms, depending on where they are located, have wildly different seasons from one another, ” says Chef Brian, who works directly with many small farmers and fisherman at his restaurant Crudo e Nudo in Santa Monica. He recommends talking to the farmers at your local farmers markets to learn about the microclimates in your area and what’s in season for each particular farm. “You might be able to get corn, peaches, or peas at their peak for one month at one farm, but then someone from a different climate will have a better version of that ingredient one month later.”
6. Seek out end-of-season items.
“Stores often put end-of-season or post-holiday items on sale in order to move the product,” says Ron Hsu, the chef and co-founder of Atlanta’s Lazy Betty. He discovered this tip because he often shops for his family celebrations after major holidays (because he spends the actual holidays cooking in his restaurant). “I usually find a lot of good deals after the main event,” he notes. “And because end-of-season items are closer to expiration, they’re priced lower.”
7. Get your cleaning supplies at the grocery store.
Not only will this save you time because you don’t have to stop at a second store, but you might also be surprised to discover all sorts of new-to-you cleaning products and tools! And, in case you’re wondering, we haven’t found the prices to be that much higher than drug stores or anywhere else. At Aldi, for example, you can find dry sweeping cloths for around 21 cents each.
8. Order your groceries online, then pick them up.
The majority of people who are shopping online are already hip to this tip. And for good reason! If you or someone in your home has a car, it is cheaper to order your groceries online and pick them up at the store than it is to have them delivered. You also control when you pick them up, which means you won’t have to bother with delivery windows and there’s zero chance your groceries will sit outside your home (never ideal, but especially problematic heading into these warmer months).
9. Take advantage of gas savings.
Several grocers (Costco, Kroger, Albertsons) have their own gas stations and gas reward programs. Some, like Hy-Vee, have also added a considerable selection of hybrid and Tesla-specific vehicle chargers. This means your grocery savings can actually extend beyond the store, as long as you sign up for the rewards card. Even if it’s $0.10 per gallon, that can quickly add up at the pump.
10. If something is too pricey, try making it at home.
As the prices of groceries have gone up, it makes more sense (cents?!) to try the homemade over store-bought approach — at least for some items. Take Nicole, who recently made yogurt for the first time after the price of store-bought yogurt hit $3.29. She says, “It’s simple and tastes just like the store-bought kind.” She and her husband also make maple syrup, sourdough bread, everything bagels, and other baked goods at home. Other Kitchn readers make their own snacks, sweets, and more.
Do you have a grocery shopping tip to share? Tell us in the comments below.