Speed Shopping: When You Have 10 Minutes at the Grocery Store

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on February 06, 2012
4 min read

For busy moms and professionals, life is all about making every minute count. After all, time saved doing mundane chores equals more time to read to your kids, chat with a good friend, or take a long, hot bath.

But when it comes to some household duties, like grocery shopping, quality is as crucial as speed. You want to leave the supermarket with as many items checked off of your grocery list as possible without sacrificing healthy eating or your nerves.

How can you make healthy decisions when you only have 10 minutes to do your food shopping? Here are some tips to help strike the perfect balance between nutritious and quick.

This will save time in your daily schedule and prevent you from making multiple trips to the supermarket, says Tricia Bland, RD, spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise. After compiling your list, take inventory of your refrigerator, freezer, cupboards, and pantry to make sure you buy only what you need.

Marcia Costello, PhD, RD, LD, professor at Villanova University’s College of Nursing recommends using a pre-printed grocery list and including all of the staples, dairy, meat, and produce you would normally buy. “Keep printed copies of this document handy at home or the office and just circle what you need,” she says. To make the actual trip quicker, arrange the grocery list by order of the aisles in the supermarket so you will not have to circle back for any forgotten items, Costello says.

Of the supermarket, that is. To maximize healthy eating, focus on the perimeter of the store; that’s where you will find fresh produce, low-fat dairy products, and fish and lean meats, says Costello. Plus, you will be able to navigate the outside aisles faster than the smaller inside ones.

You should fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, so start by filling half of your grocery cart with them as well. Go for deeply colored produce, such as spinach, carrots, and berries. These tone-rich fruits and veggies are higher in vitamins and minerals. Also go for fiber-rich produce, such as beans, peas, bananas, strawberries, apples, and oranges.

Try to park at the farthest end of the supermarket parking lot and walk quickly to the entrance, Bland says. If you only have a few items to purchase, forgo the cart and use a basket for food shopping for a mini upper body boost. If the basket is too small for what you need, push the cart at a brisk pace.

Costello suggests doing a monthly grocery shopping to stock up on basic staples such as pasta, rice, cereal, tomato sauce, flour, etc. “If you keep an ample supply of these things, other food shopping trips can be the quick, on-the-way-home stops where you just pick up some fresh items,” she says.

This is a good mantra for life and for grocery shopping. Stock your kitchen with the following easy-to-find foods that are good for you, too. Once you’ve found them the first time, you will be able to grab them with ease on subsequent food shopping trips:

  • Foods that display the American Heart Association’s heart-check mark; you can rest assured that they are heart-healthy.
  • Grain products that contain 100% whole grain flour and/or whole grains foods. Look for the Whole Grain Council Whole Grain Stamp on Items with three grams of fat or less per serving. This stamp indicates a “low in saturated fat and cholesterol” product.
  • Products with zero grams trans fat
  • Fat-free (skim) or low fat (1%) milk
  • Cheeses labeled as fat-free, low-fat or reduced-fat.

Right after work, supermarkets are crowded with people who are hungry and frazzled. Avoid grocery shopping at these times. On the days when you have no choice but to shop at rush hour, put yourself in the right frame of mind. If you have to shop during these times, allow more than 10 minutes to find what you need. Eat a protein-rich snack like peanuts to avoid mindless purchases.

For meals that are both fast and nutritious, Bland suggests picking up and preparing the following:

  • A tuna ‘kit’ served with a piece of fruit or some raw vegetables
  • Canned chicken breast or albacore tuna with light mayo spooned into half of a whole wheat pita pocket with your favorite veggies
  • An entrée salad made with leftover lean protein like chicken or tuna, served with low-fat salad dressing or salsa
  • A veggie burger on 100% whole grain bread

Try these healthy snack options, as Bland recommends:

  • Dried fruits, such as raisins, pitted plums and apricots
  • Part-skim mozzarella cheese sticks or low-fat cheese with whole wheat crackers
  • Granola bar or protein bar
  • Soy nuts
  • Portable Greek yogurt (look for brands that are low in sugar and high in protein)
  • Hummus with raw vegetables
  • Low-fat cottage cheese with fresh fruit, dried fruit or salsa

Everyone has crazy evenings when food preparation is the last thing on their mind. “On these nights, forget the grocery list and pick up some pre-prepared food at the supermarket such as a roasted chicken or some items from the salad bar,” Costello says. Not only will you save time and energy, your family may welcome it as a treat.