Grocery Shopping 101

photo 1Grocery shopping. Some people dread it, other people have fun with it, and people like me turn it into a game that will be WON!! Over the years, I’ve spent some time (mostly trial and error) working towards getting better at budgeting, buying healthier foods, and doing all of this in a decent amount of time. While it would be ideal to have 4 hours of time to go grocery shopping and take our time dancing on rainbow aisles and drinking free coffee the entire time, that’s just not a reality. I wanted to put together some helpful tips to make grocery shopping easier, less daunting, and suggest some easy ways for you to save a chunk of money while stocking up your fridge. Plus, the more you plan what you’re going to eat, the less likely you’ll be to binge eat all those wheat thins you bought last Thursday when you were hungry and they were on sale 2 for $5.

Tip # 1: Planning Your Trip

A lot of people don’t like to plan for a shopping trip:

It takes too much time!

I already know what I need!

The problem is that it’s super easy to get off track once you’re at the store, especially when you’re hungry or tired. Taking just 10 minutes to write up a list of what you need will save you tons of time at the store, trust me.

  • Take inventory of what you already have at home. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve bought extra cream cheese, pasta sauce, or milk because I really didn’t think I had any at home. Not only is it a waste of money when you buy double of something that expires quickly, but it’s frustrating.
  • Keep a white board or list on your fridge of what you need and what you run out of. Run out of dish soap? Use the last of the cereal? Make an easy and creative way to track what you’ll need on your next grocery trip. That way when you go to make your list, most of what you’ll need will already be written down. It also keeps you from getting in the shower the next day and discovering you forgot conditioner….again.
  • Clear space for the new food. This may not seem obvious at first but I’ve come home so many times to realize that I need to re-organize my pantry or fridge because I have old/expired food in the way or have just been lazy shoving stuff back into cabinets.

Tip # 2: Couponing and Knowing the Sales

Don’t worry – you don’t have to go extreme couponing on your family to get some great deals and save a ton of money. Currently, I don’t even clip physical coupons, I just use a digital Safeway App that lets me add digital coupons to my virtual cart. I then enter my phone number at the store and everything is applied to my trip. More and more stores now are offering apps similar to this like QFC, Kroger, Fred Meyer, etc. Typically I save around 40-50% on my shopping trips. I try not to go below 30% savings. This can be HUGE though when you’re on a tight budget.orgnaic produce2

Signing up for a stores discount card will also bring you a lot more savings. Some people worry about the data that’s collected but my feeling on that particular piece is that yes they know what I’m buying more of, but then that comes back to me with more coupons and discounts for those specific items. Stores also base a lot of their purchasing off of this information. Commissaries now also offer a discount card.

If the idea of couponing (whether digital, paper, or both) overwhelms you, try browsing Couponing 101 that has some great tips and pointers on how to coupon without it taking over your life.

It’s also important to scope out the weekly sales at your local grocery store, you can find these flyers in the mail or online. Weekly circulars can let you know what you may want to stock up on while they are heavily discounted. Often times, I’ve gotten items for free because I’ll have a digital coupon for $2 off and if the item is on sale of $2 or less and sometimes BOGO (buy one get one) I’ll walk out of store with two boxes of granola bars for FREE!

Tip # 3: Don’t Pay Full Price for Things You Use All The Time

936830_579955968756004_907932427_nIn line with couponing is making sure you have a general understanding of how most things are priced. Some stores have contracts with vendors to provide products at a lower wholesale price or close to cost. Figuring out which stores offer EDLP (everyday low prices) on certain things you buy regularly may help you out in the long run. Of course, we don’t want to be making 5 different trips to different stores for one grocery outing. But for example, I’ll stock up on shampoo/conditioner and body wash when I’m at certain stores that I know have lower prices when I’m in the area and then leave weekly food items to my local store trips.

Learning when stores change their prices can also be helpful. If you’re a military shopper, the commissary site goes over the dates they change their product pricing, just twice a month compared to most stores that do so weekly.

Waiting until the last minute to buy staple items you run out of like toilet paper and shampoo can leave you rushed and spending extra money. I keep a list on my fridge of things I’m running low on and add that to my grocery list as well. That way if I notice that the large tub of peanut butter is on sale for $5 instead of $11, I’ll buy it. The key for me is stocking up on goods without hoarding. I may have 2-3 of a particular item I actually use all the time but I won’t stock up on things that I don’t use just because they are free. IF you do enjoy doing that though there are great ways to donate those items to food banks and military overseas.

Tip # 4: Know The Layout of Your Grocery Store

Most grocery stores follow a similar layout with produce and flowers near the entrance, dairy and cold items near the back, and all of the processed stuff in the middle aisles in between. Ever hear that grocery stores put milk in the back of the store to get you to walk all the way through other products? This is true but it’s also easier for vendors and employees to load in those items into fridges located near the rear of the store. Grocery stores DO have a method to their madness, however.

The following image from Food Pyrenees shows how most grocery stores are arranged. They also talk about the importance of sticking to the perimeter of the store for healthier foods. The deeper you get into the aisles, the more you’re going to find processed foods and ingredients like fake sugars, food thickening agents, etc. Let’s be honest, eating some processed stuff in moderation is not the end of the world, but a good rule to stick to involves buying cleaner foods that are most likely going to be on the outside of the aisles.

Supermarket-LayoutGrocery stores also place products according to their price and value. For instance, products typically found at eye level will be higher end and more expensive. Store brands and value items will usually be lower on the shelf or places that aren’t as easily accessible.

Tip #5: Don’t Shop Hungry!

This may be the most important one! My Mom always told me this and truer words have never been spoken. If I go to the grocery store after a long day without having a snack or a meal first, I will buy ALL of the things that 1) aren’t good for me and 2) aren’t on my list or in my budget. Hunger is a strong beast and will make it harder to stick to your game plan.

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Tip #6: Know the Ingredients

I’ve talked a lot in the past about fake sugars and a variety of ingredients that are put into processed foods to save on costs and make it easier to manufacture them. When you are standing in front of 100+ loaves of bread, the last thing yohonest_labels_600u want to be thinking about is where do I start? Educating yourself on healthier products, what to look for, and what to avoid can make you more confident about your consumer decisions. I mean, after all, this food is going INSIDE you and your families bodies, it should be good stuff!

I’ll do another article soon about some of my favorite foods but for the most part it’s all about choosing food with few ingredients. If it has less than 5 that’s stellar but if it’s got more than 15 and most of them have x’s and gum at the end of them, you might not really know what you’re buying. The first ingredient is always what the product is composed MOST of. If you buy bread and the first ingredient is whole wheat flour that’s much better than high fructose corn syrup. Ingredients are then listed in order with the last one being the ingredient that’s least prevalent.

I try to buy as real of foods as possible without chemicals if I can. While many of the things we see in foods such as guar gum, which is primarily used in foods as a thickening agent, are harmless in small amounts, I still try to avoid buying things with ingredients I wouldn’t add if I was cooking in my own kitchen.

Tip #7: Meal Planning

tacosaladdddThese tips aren’t necessarily in order of importance (or in the order you should do them) but meal planning is important with grocery shopping. What are you going to eat this week? What will you need to make that happen? Do you already have avocados? Is that one that’s been sitting in the fridge still any good? Answering all of these questions before you step out the door will help. In addition to meal planning around store savings and coupons, it’s also a great idea to organize the food you already have so you know what you need to eat and when. A while back I organized my entire fridge and even labeled stuff. While it was a little bit OCD, it also really helped keep me accountable of eating food I already had at home instead of going out to eat or buying more food…just because….well more food!

Having some sort of system where you place food that’s close to expiring at the front of the fridge or pantry will ensure that more food (money and time) ends up in your stomach and less ends up in the garbage or compost bin. I’ll even just throw cans of beans in my cupboard but make sure to put the fresher one in the back so I use the one that will expire in 6 months first.

It’s also easy some days to make extra food for dinner and plan for leftovers. I do that with my coconut tilapia. So good!

Tip #8: Have Fun and Make A System That Works for YOU

Some of these tips may be helpful to you, some may already be extremely obvious, some not so much. With everything we have to do in life – on top of everything else we already have to do – it’s great to turn these types of things into something fun that we can enjoy. For me, it’s seeing the savings at the end of my trip on the receipt. I even made a pact with my fiance that he doesn’t have to come with me as long as he carries all of the groceries out of the car once I get home.

Then again, sometimes you just have to go to the store with no idea of what you might end up with 😉

Happy shopping! What are your tips and strategies?

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Working Out: The Perks We Forget About

It’s so easy to stay in the negative when we aren’t in the shape we want to be in. We make excuses, we say it’s too hard, we complain of being so tired, depressed, and unenergetic. There’s NO WAY we could possibly committ to a daily workout, especially BEFORE we start our day.

But we forget (and so easily, too) how amazing it does feel to BE active and to STAY active.

People often say “I just ran out of motivation” and believe me, I used to say the same thing. Then I realized that waiting to do something or start something until you WANT to do it is never going to get you anywhere. If I only did things based on when I FELT like it, I’d never go to work, I’d never get out of bed before 9AM, I’d be completely and utterly unaccomplished and bored with myself.

We have to CREATE motivation, strength, and determination. These are outcomes of our own internal assessment and self growth.

Here are some things I started doing lately and the after effects:

  • I started drinking LOTS more water (close to 100 oz a day) and now I WANT to drink more water all the time, in fact, I’m thirstier
  • I started doing 5am cardio and now I go to bed on time WANTING to wake up and workout all over again
  • I started putting fuel into my body instead of sludge to merely keep me alive and now I CRAVE healthier food
  • I stopped drinking alcohol when I was depressed or had a rough day and instead I go on a walk or a run and guess what, I FEEL better
  • I never let myself go more than 2 days without working out, even when I’ve had bad food the same day, and now I find myself craving bad foods less!

I now SLEEP harder, think DEEPER, SEE further, and feel BETTER.

But why is it so easy to forget this when we dive into a plate of nachos Friday night and then somehow don’t come up for air again until Monday morning when we feel defeated, exhausted, and mentally drained from guilt?

We have to keep track of how things make us feel. We have to REMEMBER what makes us feel GOOD, what makes us feel ACCOMPLISHED, and sexy!

Trust me, there are perks to the hard work it takes to lose weight and get your body into shape. This is a continual journey for more than just abs, it keeps your brain active and alert and aids in the complete, all-encompassing joy that is your life.

Don’t give up! You GOT this! Get it!

A look into my early start today….

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12 Great Ways to Improve Your Life!

Haven’t blogged in a while (oops!) but I’m back on track for my health and fitness goals in a HUGE way and I can’t wait to share everything with you! Until then, I will leave you with 12 tips I wrote today for the Wellness Newsletter at the college I work for.

1. Get organized! Life is hectic enough without trying to remember where you left your keys or where that receipt went. Take some time to create a system to keep yourself organized so when you’re short on time you can check your priority list and get things squared away without creating more stress in your life. Here are 10 tips for keeping your desk clean and organized.

conclusions 2. Don’t jump to conclusions. It’s easy to assume the negative in new and different situations but often times we can spend so much time assuming what “might” happen that we forget to look at the reality or the bigger picture. This can lead to actions that can hurt relationships or create unwanted anxiety in our lives. Create open communication with those around you and try to focus on what can be done as you go instead of dreading all the ways something might fail in the future.

3. Start a project to feel good about yourself. Often times we get so caught up and busy with work and aspects of home life that we forget to take time to be proud of ourselves. Starting a project can not only get your mind in the zone and away from negative thoughts but it will also make you proud of your accomplishments in the end. A few ideas to start, even if you don’t know how to do something yet, you can learn!

  • Find a volunteer group and make a difference
  • Maximize home storage or clean out your garage/spare room you’ve always wanted to
  • Buy an old piece of furniture and jazz it up with paint, fabric, etc.
  • Learn to play an instrument
  • Find a friend who has a hobby you’re interested in and agree to teach each other your skills
  • Start an exercise program and commit to it
  • Create a recipe book or collect your favorites and plan a weekly or monthly meal schedule
  • Learn to change your own oil in your car
  • Plant a vegetable garden
  • Head to the Good Will or Value Village and see what kind of outfit you can find for under $15 or find      parts and try to build your own home stereo system

4. Make fun and rest days a part of your routine schedule. I hear so many people planning their workouts or when they are going to do homework or housework. Hardly anyone plans days for fun or for sleeping in. Make these priorities, too! I find that if I plan days to relax, not hit the gym, and eat nachos, I’m more likely to stay on track with the rest of my goals. Feeling like you need a day to just veg out in front of the couch and watch TV? Make a date with yourself to do it and you won’t feel like you should be doing something else because it’s planned!

5. Take 10 minutes every day to think about what you like about yourself. This might sound silly but it’s important to remind ourselves why we’re awesome. Try to get in the habit of thinking only positive thoughts when you look in the mirror instead of focusing on something you want to change. Be proud of what your body can do instead of just what it looks like. Praise yourself for your accomplishments, even if it’s something like getting that report in early.

thankfuljar6. Create a what-I’m-thankful-for jar. Wouldn’t it be great when you’re feeling down to reach into a jar and pull out a piece of paper with positive reinforcement from yourself? Take scraps of paper and get in the habit of writing down good things that you accomplish, that happen for you, or that others have said/done. We all take time to vent to others about what annoys us but forget to be happy about things that go well in our lives. It can even just be quotes from the day or something you heard that really resonated with you. Think of ideas as you go and remember to go pull from the jar again at a certain date. You could also do this with your significant other and make jars for what you like about each other. It can be as simple as the following statements:

  • “Today I put $50 extra towards my car payment”
  • “The bus driver saw me running on my way home and held the bus for me so I was able to make it home on time”
  • “I had the MOST amazing meal at this Seattle restaurant that I need to go to again”
  • “My friend said the FUNNIEST thing today….”

7. Remember that your thoughts and emotions aren’t always facts. When something upsets us, it can be easy to let that lead to a slippery slope of bad feelings, assumptions, and unwanted thoughts. If you train yourself to take time to observe your thoughts before you act on them, you can choose which ones you agree with and which ones you’d rather throw out. A simple idea but something that has changed my life completely.

8. Don’t make unnecessary rules for yourself. How often do you say “I should” do something a certain way? Most of the time we set standards for ourselves that are way above and beyond what we would expect of anyone else. For example, I remember when I started working out; I would tell myself that I “should” be working out every morning at the same time and what happened when I didn’t? I felt like a failure for the day. Instead of making rules for yourself that end up making you feel guilty/anxious, make realistic goals. Now when I say I’m going to work out the next day, I will plan a time but don’t punish myself with negative thoughts if something changes; if I can’t workout in the morning, I’ll go at lunch or after work. Life happens, be flexible with yourself.

optimism-19. Keep optimism at the forefront of your mind. What happens when you constantly expect things to go wrong or to feel unhappy? You find it! It’s the core of self-fulfilling prophecy. Even when you have bad days or moments, try to remember that what you look for is what you will find. If you think about what you want in life and how you are going to feel right now and tomorrow, that’s most likely what will happen. Set the pace for your own positive expectations. Here are 60 quotes that will change the way you think.

10. Get out of your comfort zone. How many successful people do you know that always did the same thing, never took any risks, or never ventured down new paths? Yeah, me either. Anything from trying new foods to finally attempting to do something you’ve never done can get your mind working in new ways and create new experiences to bring happiness to your life.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA11. Remember the little things that make you happy. Ever see someone post an old photo of you from back in high school or see a toy or a food that you totally forgot about from when you were little? How happy do you feel in that moment? Little things in life like this make us happy but we forget to acknowledge them. I love getting up and making coffee in the morning or hearing my favorite song randomly on the radio.

12. Be honest. We all know this but how often are you truly honest with yourself and what you really want or need? I can think of plenty of times when I went to go hangout with a group of people when really, all I wanted to do was stay home and scrapbook. It’s important to be as honest as we can with others and remember that no one can read your mind.

Portions: Eating for the size you want to be and 8 ways to do it

This may be the hardest part of losing weight. It doesn’t matter how healthy something you’re eating is, you still can only eat in portions if you are going to lose weight and reach your goals. The key is not eating less of what you’re already eating, but eating smart and eating MORE of what you should be.

There’s a great article that shows the difference between eating a piece of pizza for example vs. a low-fat version with salad. It’s amazing how much you can actually eat when you are making smarter choices. An example below.

portionNot only will you feel fuller longer and more satisfied from eating the bagel with oranges to the left, but you’ll also be staying within your calorie goals. So how do we go about eating less and not feeling so sad about it? We can even indulge in pizza and bad things on the weekend but in order to maintain our goals, it means less of it, drastically less. It can be tough to go from eating 4 slices of your favorite pizza to just one with a smaller side salad.

Here are 8 ways to get your portions under control:

  1. Focus on what you CAN eat and SHOULD eat rather than what you can’t. If you spend all day thinking about the cake you can’t have, what do you think you’ll end up wanting? Just like we have to be thankful for what we already have in life, we have to work with what we should eat and what will make us feel better in the long run and keep us healthy. Try this: the next time you start fantasizing about eating an entire bag/box/carton of your favorite treat, start thinking about what you’re going to have for your next meal, how satisfying it’s going to be, and how great you’re going to feel afterwards aka not guilty and closer to your goal. Tell your brain to focus on something else for 5-10 minutes, before you know it, you’ll probably forget about your craving. If all else fails, make some tea.
  2. Spend a little time thinking about what you love to eat and how you can make substitutions. Tonight I’m making a taco salad and I didn’t buy cheese for it, why? Because with avocado and low-fat sour cream, I won’t even miss it. There are many ingredients we use out of habit when really, if we use other healthy ingredients, we’ll be satisfied without the extra calories and fat. Think about meals you can make for 400-500 calories or less. Some of my past recipes and meal/snack ideas can be found here.  Once you start getting creative, you’ll realize that there are TONS of low-cal recipes out there that are easy to make, even in your crock pot!
  3. Don’t let friends or events pressure you into eating more (or not going at all). It can be easy to eat more when you’re out on the town, at a friend’s birthday part, or enjoying a work gathering, but you don’t have to slide off your meal plan. If everyone is having nachos, have some, just less, and make sure to stop eating when you’re full. Also – you don’t have to be a recluse in order to lose weight, express to your friends your goals and how much their support means to you. That way you won’t have to say “no” anytime they all want to order pizza, suggest making a healthy meal together instead.
  4. Close the kitchen. When you were little you’d get in trouble for sneaking snacks after dinner, what makes it any different now? Establish a strict routine with yourself and close the kitchen after dinner. Limitless tea and water but no more foods! After a week of getting used to the feeling of going to bed without feeling stuffed and waking up feeling lighter and more refreshed, it will become a habit in no time!
  5. Drink that water! I’m pretty sure I say this in 90% of my posts but it’s SO important. Today I’m already through 50oz (my goal is 90) and I can tell you that I feel so much fuller! Normally around 2-3pm I get my afternoon donut craving, but today, I’m feeling great! There are some great apps out there to help you log and track your water intake and get you on the right path (try WaterLogged or iDrated). Most people should be drinking at LEAST 64oz a day but depending on your height and weight you’ll probably require more.
  6. Get portion smart! We’ve all heard that a serving of steak is about the size of a deck of cards. Get familiar with other foods and portions so that when you are at a restaurant, your mind will already have the right idea. WebMD has a great portion guide here.
  7. Order small, be small. I went to FatBurger over the weekend (mother of god it was good) but I should have ordered the small because 1) I was only able to eat half of the medium anyway and 2) even if it wasn’t a healthy meal, I could have been eating better portions. We often think that a small size won’t be enough food, but usually it is and is most likely still more than what a healthy portion should be anyway.
  8. Split food. Not only will your restaurant bill be less expensive but you’ll also be able to indulge in the foods you love more often. Next time you’re out with a friend or your cute significant other, share a burger and get a side salad!

Plan it out: How to Tackle Your Procrastination and Excuses

I’ve had ENOUGH! I just went back and read through all of my 30DS posts and results and wow, I’m motivated again. But thinking back on the past month or so I can see WHY I haven’t been successful. I keep “starting” the Ripped in 30 DVD, giving up halfway through the workout, then not doing it the next day. I need a game plan. I need a SYSTEM!

I’ve been thinking about how upset I am  for not having a flat stomach already. So I decided that as fun as it may be to listen to myself complain, I’m actually going to TAKE action.

I have 19 days to get that much closer to my goals. 19 days until I get to see my boyfriend (who has been gone for 9 months). THIS is motivation. Down to the wire.

First thing I did was make a calendar for the rest of the month and the next 19 days. I decided I’m going to do the 30 Day Shred with all my might for the rest of the month (and then continue after of course). I printed out my routine and schedule goals and started highlighting each of the levels for the different days. I gotta tell ya, as I went along, and the more I realized how much of a plan I was making, I felt more confident, more sure of myself. I now know that THIS is going to work and I’m going to get back on track.

For me, accountability is what I need to move forward. It’s why I’m always blogging and checking in at the gym. It doesn’t even matter if other people care what I’m doing, I just know that other people see it and that keeps me accountable.

I’m also going to make the commitment to track my mood, feelings, energy level, etc and then eventually share it on here. When I went back and read how I was feeling on only the 6th day of 30DS before, it really inspired me to get started again. In order to do this I’ve created a worksheet for myself (what can I say, I’m an admin at heart).  It’s composed of a section for each day of the week to record: my workouts, mood, energy, & motivation levels, successes, and my challenges for the day. I think keeping a log and seeing how much progress I make in all faucets of my life will really encourage me to not give up. I’ve included the Word document for you below to print out and use yourself! 🙂

Weekly Fitness and Nutrition Track Sheet

Our entire lives we plan for school with weekly planners, we make work flows in our jobs, we even plan savings and budget accounts. So why not make a plan for your fitness and your health. Here’s to accountability!