How to Grocery Shop Without a List


Image from The Friendly Fig

Unless you’re eating out at every single meal, the grocery store is a part of life – so let’s talk about how to make it a seamless and enjoyable part of your routine! After all, cooking at home ensures you’re eating in the most nutritious and cost-effective way possible. You get to pick each ingredient and how much of it goes in each meal, plus how everything gets cooked and the serving size that’s right for you. You are your own personal chef so learn how to shop like one!

Let’s get shopping. 

Time for a relevant personal anecdote: I’ve always been pretty good at keeping my fridge full of nutritious food and cooking at home. After all, I love to cook and eat healthy food. But after going to the grocery what felt like twice a week and planning out an itemized grocery list for every meal and snack, I got totally burned out. Not even the snack aisle at Trader Joe’s could keep me interested. Since grocery shopping is going to be a weekly ritual for the rest of my life (too dramatic?) I decided to switch it up.

Forget what you’ve heard about grocery lists. 

When I thought about grocery shopping, what made me dread it was all the planning I was putting into it. Scrolling through the posts I liked on Instagram for recipes, going through my Pinterest Vegan Recipes board… I was over it. For a while that way had really worked for me because I knew I would have ingredients to prep 3 meals a day for the whole week. Then one Sunday I couldn’t bring myself to make a list and still went to the store anyways with the intention of stocking basics, shopping sales, and seeing what seasonal produce was available.

I felt alive! I was reinvigorated! I was texting friends about sales at Sprouts. This was my grocery shopping breakthrough. Now I have tested out two ways of grocery shopping that can be equally effective depending on your needs. This is an example that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to nutrition – what works for many people may not work for you! I can’t tell you how many Good Housekeeping articles I’ve seen with titles like ‘Why You Should Never Shop Without a List’. Well, shopping with a list was driving me nuts so I ditched it! My new way is currently working for me, and I’ll explain how I do it.

This is how you shop without a list. 

Theme. Sales. Recap.

  • Theme – I like to start with a theme. What does my diet need more of? What type of cuisine has inspired me lately? What sounds really good? A recent example of my grocery theme was simply just ‘vegetables’ because I felt like I had been slacking on eating all my servings of vegetables. This way, I have an idea where to focus my efforts and avoid buying things that look good but won’t make it onto the plate.
  • Sales – Something I love about shopping without a list is that it gives me the freedom to buy what is on sale and in season. For example, Sprouts does deals like 3 for $1 avocados and often has BOGO sales on frozen fruit. I scan every aisle to see what’s a really good deal and make sure to incorporate that into my menu (if it’s something healthy that I would normally choose – just because gummy worms are on sale is not a green light to stock up)
  • Recap – After my first run through the store, I take stock of what’s in the cart for two reasons: to make note of what I need to grab to round out meals, and to get rid of anything that won’t fit in that week. For example, in a recent shopping trip I picked up refried beans on my first run, and to turn these into tacos I went back around to grab tortillas. I had also picked up 2 for $5 protein pasta, but realized that I didn’t have any particularly good ideas for pasta that week so I put them back.

Budgeting without a list.

The reason I stuck to using a list for so long was because I thought my grocery bill would skyrocket without it. I also thought I’d get home with something random like 2 bananas, a head of kale, and a can of chick peas that would hardly last the whole week. What really happens is that I get to be creative and resourceful at the grocery store and actually save money by shopping sales! Also, when I was shopping by list and recipe I found that I was buying things that I thought were too expensive because I needed it for a recipe. With three separate recipes to shop for, there was little overlap of ingredients which is a really good way to minimize your grocery bill.

If you like, add up each item as it goes into your cart so you know how much your bill will be. I don’t personally do this, but my bill consistently hovers between $40-$55 to feed myself, depending on the week. Adding up prices as you shop might be a good idea if you are less grocery savvy or have a tendency to buy more than you need.

Grocery store freedom.

It’s simple, but having this freedom at the grocery store really works for me. I took an obstacle (dreading the grocery store) and turned it into an opportunity to do something fun and creative. Plus, I think it’s more enjoyable and efficient to cook what you have and not have to constantly check a recipe!

Like I mentioned before, there’s not one way that works for every body. Shopping without a list makes my life easier, but maybe shopping with a list is better for you! No matter how you do it now, it’s not a bad idea to try something new – especially if you’re feeling burned out on the grocery store like I was. Developing habits around grocery shopping, cooking, and eating is a crucial part of your healthy lifestyle, so take control of it and ENJOY!

Let me know on Instagram how this goes for you, I’d love to see what meals you come up with!


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