How to Create No-Stress Grocery Lists, Plus 3 Short-Cut Meals

By Caroline Young Bearden, MS, RD, LD, RYT


Once you’re ready to hit the grocery store, there is one essential item to bring with you (aside from your money!) – The List.

Here are some of my suggestions to help you become a grocery list pro:

Commit to one trip with one list.

Pick a day that you have an hour or two -- depending on your schedule each week -- to hit the grocery store or market. Before you go, take a quick look in your fridge and pantry to see what you’re working with, and fill in from there. Then, before you go in the store (I tend to do it in the parking lot or right before I’m out the door), jot down a list in your phone or on a piece of paper. As you make your list, try to:

Hit all your macros.

To create balanced, nourishing meals, get all your macronutrient groups (carbs, fats and proteins), which include the foods that give us the most energy (calories), which are necessary for life. Each week, make sure you have at least a few foods from each group on your list. Here are some examples:

  • Carbs: Grains (pasta, rice, breads, crackers, tortillas, quinoa, farro, cereal etc.), all fruit, and starchy veggies (potatoes, pumpkin, butternut squash, corn, etc.)
  • Fats: Peanuts, peanut butter, avocados, oils, seeds, butter, cheese, hummus, salad dressings
  • Proteins: Peanuts, peanut butter, seeds, cheese, poultry, meat, seafood, beans, lentils, chickpeas, eggs, milk, yogurt
Include Produce.

Whether they’re fresh or frozen (I like to buy some of both), don’t forget your veggies! As far as fresh produce goes, what’s in season is usually the cheapest and freshest. While non-starchy vegetables (i.e. cauliflower, broccoli, greens, etc.) do not provide many calories, they are full of essential nutrients – mostly micronutrients, which includes essential vitamins and minerals.

Remember snacks.

Snacks are often an important part of a balanced diet, especially if you get hungry between meals. Include carbs like dried and fresh fruit, and protein, and/or fat sources like peanuts and peanut butter. These are easy things to grab throughout the week when you’re needing something to hold you over.

Make room for a few extras.

A balanced diet includes some “fun foods,” like ice cream and cookies (yes, even sugar is fine). Deprivation of foods we love should not be part of balanced meal planning, and can lead to food preoccupation and overeating/binging on those foods in the future. So, pick a few of your favorites to sprinkle in each week.

Let the list be fluid.

And I don’t mean add a bunch of stuff to your list when you’re shopping! But if something’s on sale (and you’re on a budget like me) that’s not on your list, make a swap. For example, if I see kale’s on sale, but spinach is on my list, I’m buying the kale. For my fellow budget-shoppers, it can help to check sales and coupons beforehand (most grocery stores have phone apps now to make it easier and quicker), and let that shape your list.

And Don’t Be Afraid to Take Short-Cuts.

There is absolutely no shame in take the easy route! When there just isn’t time for – or you don’t feel like -- making everything (or anything) from scratch, things like jarred pasta sauce, salsa and pesto, premade pizza dough, canned beans and cake mixes are life-savers. Some of my favorite short-cut meals are:

  • Black Bean & Cheese Quesadillas:  Place a tortilla in skillet on medium heat. Add your favorite cheese, canned (drained and rinsed) beans, and cumin (or spice of choice, and top with another tortilla. Cook for a few minutes, until tortillas are crispy and cheese melts.  Top with avocado and salsa.
  • Naan Veggie Pizzas: Spread jarred pesto on naan bread, and top with cheese, chickpeas and sundried tomatoes. Bake at 400 for 10 minutes. Add handful of arugula. Season with salt, pepper, and/or oregano.
  • Breakfast stuffed sweet potatoes: Poke holes in and microwave potato (wrapped in paper towel) for 8-10 minutes. While it’s cooking, warm frozen blueberries on the stove. Spread peanut butter on potato, add berries, a sprinkle of cinnamon and a spoonful of Greek yogurt.

Once you get in the groove, creating your list and forming delicious, nutrient-dense and simple meals will be second nature.

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