And, we’re on week 4 of this series! The first week we talked about how to plan out your dinners before you went shopping, the second week we talked about how to plan different meals during the week and last week we talked about the five W (what, who, when, where and why) of food planning and food prep. This week, we’ll talk about how to optimise your shopping list according to your needs and preferences. Most people will buy almost all of their food in a single store, but it’s definitely worth trying out if other stores may be a better fit for you in some regards.
In house Swann, we have 4 stores that we do shopping weekly and 2 more stores where we shop about once a month. It sounds like a lot, but really isn’t, as they all have different functions and we use them for different products. But before I go into the exact stores and how we split up out shopping, I’ll go into the why for doing this as there are quite a few reasons for doing this.
Lots of fresh foods like veggies and fruits but also staples like milk are the same no matter the store you go to. So, it can pay to buy them at a cheaper store. To add to that, many products are made at the same places, no matter if it’s an expensive or a home brand, so it’s really worth it to try out different brands of the same product. For example, I prefer one store’s canned liver paste over the big brand liver paste as the flavour and consistency are better.
Big brand doesn’t always mean big flavours or even that they’re better, often you’re paying for the brand, not the product.
To keep on the track of big brands versus home brands. It’s really worth it to actually compare them. You may think you prefer one because you’ve always had it, but sometimes it’s not just about the flavour, but also the ingredients of a product. For example, how much sugar or fats are there in your favourite pre-made sauce? Are there brands that offer healthier choices or can you easily make them yourself? We also buy our breakfasts at a local health store because they offer more options of sugar-free muesli and cereal, without giving up on flavour. And they’re not even branded lower in sugar, they’re just less processed and have less sugar added to them. It’s not always needed to buy at health stores or things like that, but sometimes, if you want to pay attention to what you eat, it can really be a good idea.
Lots of stores have product ranges that are optimised for the location that the store is at and even different types of stores will hold different products depending on the deal that the stores have with the distributor and certain brands. For example, we have one store around here who has Fanta Zero Cassis, while other stores only have the regular Fanta Cassis (Cassis is a household favourite). Different stores and different locations of stores will all have different products, so you may have to go a little further just to get your favourite product. I love sweet and salty popcorn and I actually will walk to a store a bit further away because they’re the only store around here that sells them.
Some stores are closer and some further away, that’s a fact of life. But you can make lists depending on the store that you buy them at. For example, I regularly take a longer walk just so I can get a bag of popcorn, but that same store also sells some different other products, so I always pick up a few of those too. At the same time, two neighbourhoods over, there are two big stores, right opposite each other, one more expensive and one cheaper store. We often go there instead of our local (smaller) store because it allows us a larger range of products and to pick up cheaper products that we otherwise would have to pay a lot more for. The fact that they’re opposite each other makes us go (slightly) out of our way just to take advantage of this.
Ah, and this is, of course, the most important option. Think to yourself, are you buying the product because that is what you grew up with? Or because that’s a habit? Or even because of commercials? If you buy lots of big brand products, why are you doing that? Do you believe that because you pay more that they are better (90% of the time, they’re the same or even worse when it comes to nutritional value)? If you only buy really cheap products, are there some that you may splurge on a bit more for a lot more flavour? The question of what you like and what you prefer is of course one of the most important ones. But you have to be honest with yourself and check that you’re not biased by TV commercials or just because you’ve always known the brand. We actually buy our bread from a different store than the ones we normally go to because we prefer their bread, and the same goes for coffee. We have certain stores where we go just to buy certain products because we prefer the flavour of them. In those cases, price can be a consideration, but doesn’t have to be.
After going into all of that, let’s get to the stuff why you actually clicked to get here, how I split my grocery shopping into different lists. I’m going to name all the stores where I shop at, because otherwise this is all going to get really confusing. So, there are 4 stores where we do weekly shopping and 2 stores for monthly shopping, these are all stores available in the Netherlands, so they will be different for your country, but at least it gives an idea of how we do this.
Type of store: Dutch store that is average/expensive for products, most common around here, there are 5 within a 10-minute bike ride from my house.
Type of shopping: General shopping
If we’re only going to one store, this is the store that we go to. There are three big ones and two small ones around where we live. The closest one is a small one and mainly focused on people who drop by there before and after work, so lots of pre-packaged breakfasts, lunches and dinners. They have a lot less fresh products. There are two bigger ones a bit off, that have more variation in products and also more choice in for example household items, as these are general stores designed for people who do their main shopping. Then there is a smaller store that has lots of more high-end products and more luxurious options (like the sweet and salty popcorn, but also exotic fruits and more expensive pre-made meals) focused mainly on (wealthier) students and working couples. Finally, there is the one a couple of neighbourhoods over, that is in a poorer neighbourhood, so they have more range in cheaper options, more multi-packs and special bigger packaging (for example in pasta or mince), these are focused on families with multiple kids that live on middle or lower class incomes.
Which one we go to depends on the type of products we need for the week, and how much we feel like walking or cycling to a store.
- sweet and salty popcorn (only available in one of the stores)
Type of store: German store that is on the cheaper side for products, we have two within 10 minutes cycling
Type of shopping: Household items, veggies and meat
Lidl, like Aldi (which we don’t shop at), is a store from Germany that have started to pop up all over the world. I first started shopping a lot at Lidl when I lived in the UK and this was the closest store I could get to that had a good range of products (Sainsbury’s was right across a very busy road from it, so I bought more specialised products there).
From Lidl I prefer their vegetables as they are often of better quality, their meat comes in more sensible pieces and I definitely prefer their range of beef and pork. We also buy most of our household items here as they are more sensibly priced and I actually prefer them 100% over more expensive brands that I can buy at other stores. They are cheaper in price but the quality of the products is more like the expensive brands at other stores.
- veggies + fruits (though their range is limited, so I often supplement with Albert Heijn products)
- beef and pork
- toilet paper, paper towels
- trash bags (they are bigger and of better quality)
- other household items
Type of store: Dutch store, also on the average/expensive side, only one store within range
Type of shopping: specific products, though on rare occasions general shopping
This is one of the other main grocery stores around here, though we prefer the Albert Heijn over the Jumbo selection in most cases. Also, this one is a bit further off and a bit out of our normal way. We do regularly drop by here for loafs of bread and their cheese and some of their fizzy drinks (they have a larger range from some brands than other stores).
- cheese (home brand)
- pop/fizzy drinks
Type of store: Dutch store, specialised in healthier products and health-specific products, one within range
Type of shopping: breakfast
This is a specific health food store, you can get all sorts of healthy foods here but we mostly come here because they carry a range of muesli and rolled oats that they don’t carry elsewhere. This range is specifically designed to be very basic and non-processed and we prefer this over the (sugar added) brands that you can buy at the regular store. They’re often a lot cheaper too.
- muesli (they do a good range of sugar-free options)
- rolled oats (they have about 6 types of rolled oats and all sugar-free)
Type of store: Asian store that does a lot of import, one within range
Type of shopping: monthly, Asian products
This is our local Asian store, we go here about once per month or two months to stock up on spices and other things. This is a store that is built to supplement the other grocery store but with specific Asian products for Asian families. Lots of the packaging have stickers all over them so that there are English and Dutch instructions and ingredients and stuff like that. I love coming here, though I often come out with way more than I planned on getting. I love trying out new stuff so I regularly pick up things that sound good but I haven’t tried before.
- rice (nice big bags)
- Japanese candy (one of my guilty pleasures)
- curry ingredients
Kelly’s Expat Shopping
Type of store: Online store for mainly American and British products
Type of shopping: monthly, British products
After I moved back to the Netherlands there were two things I really missed, Robinsons squash and British cider. I now get both at this web store and I love that! I find Robinsons squash to be more fruity and not as sugary as Dutch squash brands and cider… Well… Dutch people still don’t seem to understand the stuff that well… I adore British ciders and I always get a couple of bottles when I stock up on squash.
- Robinsons squash
Shopping list routine
With that many stores to keep track of, shopping lists are actually quite easy. Every week, as we sit down to decide on recipes we go through a couple of steps to make sure that everything is still stocked up.
- Check if we’re still high on store specific products, if not, make a list for that store.
- Add ingredients from the recipes to the different shopping lists.
- Decide priority of the different lists.
This usually leaves us with two to four shopping lists, depending on the recipes and whatever else we have in the house.
The Albert Heijn and Lidl we usually do in one shop (a couple of neighbourhoods over, they are the stores that face each other, so it’s just a single trip). The Jumbo we either do on the same day or one of us will go on a different day to pick up things there. Ekoplaza too, we’ll drop be then when we need to, but since it’s so close, that’s easy. When we need specific things from the Oriental, we’ll go there, but if it’s just general stuff, we usually leave it until one of us has time to go. Kelly’s we can do online, so that’s easy.
What I wanted to show with this post is that it’s not hard to optimise your shopping lists, either for speed, financial reasons or just because you have favourite products that aren’t available everywhere. What I also hope to achieve is to make you think about why you buy certain products. Is it really because you like it, or have you been influenced by something/someone else to believe that you want that item? You can save a lot of money if you shop at cheaper stores or buy cheaper products, without giving up on quality or nutrition. Shopping at different stores and having a larger range of products to choose from really helps with that.
Food planning can really make you a more savvy shopper, and knowing that you’re getting the best product for you, makes all the difference!
Questions, comments? Leave them below!