7 Ways Your Grocery Lists Fail

Grocery List
This is going to be interesting!

If meal preparation & managing your nutrition are your Achilles Heel when it comes to fat loss, weight loss and overall fitness & wellness, it might not be your fault.

Maybe your grocery lists suck. Let’s see if yours fail in any (or all) of these seven ways…


My wife and I have been learning and re-learning an important lesson related to nutrition, fitness and fat loss recently.

We’ve been eating a flexible ketogenic diet since the beginning of the year. For us, that means short periods (7-14 days) of very keto-adherent eating followed by slightly longer periods of more relaxed ketogenic eating. The consistent thing for us has been the near total avoidance of processed foods, significant reduction in sugar intake and the virtual elimination of bread, pasta, rice and other grain products.

So that means lots of creative cooking with meats, dairy, minimal fruit and lots and lots of vegetables, mostly the cruciferous kind. I think we eat more spinach than Popeye!

I don’t ascribe to any single nutrition theory or system for all of my clients. Every person is different and their nutrition plans should reflect goals, tolerances and preferences. So while a few of my clients have used ketogenic plans, I’ve also had clients succeed on Whole30 style plans, elimination diets and even more traditional balanced diets.

But no matter the meal plan, my clients all have to learn the lesson my wife and I have been (re) learning all these months.

If you fail to plan, plan to fail.

When it comes to nutrition plans, your grocery list is a key element. When ours is weak or non-existent, our nutrition crashes and burns like the Hindenberg. When our grocery list game is strong, so is our diet plan.

Lots of people struggle with maintaining a healthy meal plan. Some people struggle just to get in the general vicinity of anything even resembling a healthy diet. But it might not be their fault.

Their grocery lists might suck.

You see, just because you know what you want to eat, know what you should eat and know what will support your health and fitness goals doesn’t mean it’ll make its way on to your grocery list!

There are 7 primary ways that your grocery shopping list can fail. Let’s have a look.

1. You live in a fantasy world – You think about dieting or creating a wholesome meal plan to support your weight loss or fitness goals. Then, you pick a bunch of foods that you think are “fitness foods” and put them on your list.

The problem? You hate kale. You hate brussel sprouts. You’ve never tried any kind of fish, yet there’s Bronzino and Burundi on your list. Sprouted beans? Check. Chia seeds? Check.

But you either don’t like or have never tried any of them. So when they get into your fridge or pantry, that’s where they stay. Until they rot to the point that they can walk to the garbage themselves.

All while you’re ordering Chinese and pizza takeout all week. Good job with the food choices, genius.

Embarking on a new diet or nutrition plan will involve eating some new foods. But don’t substitute ALL the things you like for new, exotic or barely palatable “healthy” stuff.

No food is healthy if you don’t eat it, and no food can help you if you end up tossing it.

2. You’re a terrible planner – An empty fridge is a terrible source for a healthy meal. To go along with that, making your grocery list at the last minute and/or when you’re hungry may be diet suicide.

Try keeping a running grocery list. When you come across a healthy recipe you want to try, cross-reference the ingredient list with those of other healthy recipes you already like as well as the things you already have in the house.

Minimize the purchase of exotic or unusual one-and-done ingredients. Exotic ingredients may sound great, but if you have to buy a butt-load of something that you never use again, you’ll eventually be throwing it (and your money) in the trash.

Keep a meal board, listing all the healthy meals you like and the ones you want to try. It makes cross-referencing easier and more efficient. Once you get better at meal planning, this process will be easier, too.

Meal planning is the key to nutrition success for most people seeking a fitness lifestyle. Creating your grocery list based on a cogent plan will help prevent failure.

3. You don’t have your grocery s&%t together – If you can’t organize a grocery list, you’ll be running all over the store and probably wind up with garbage in the cart.

Break your list into categories. Try these:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Meats/Proteins
  • Dairy or non-dairy substitutes
  • Staples/Condiments
  • Beverages
  • Other (you know, like paper products and ammo)

Organizing using categories will make your shopping more efficient and cut down on the impulse buying (ooh! Vodka!)

You can also break your list down based on how your food store is laid out. This will also speed your shopping.

Trying to cut back on a specific type of food, like snacks? Cut back on how much list space they get. Simple, huh?

4. You don’t focus on the healthy stuff – Double check your lists. Try to use your list to minimize your time around processed foods, snack foods or sugary desserts while in the store. This will help prevent the ice cream from sneaking into your cart when you’re really looking for apples.

It also helps to stick to the perimeter of the store for most of your trip. The freshest (and usually healthiest) foods are closest to the loading docks, i.e., the perimeter. Most of the heavily processed foods are in the interior of the store, since they have long shelf lives. The exception to this rule is sometimes the frozen foods section. It’s often adjacent to the dairy aisle, so be cautious.

Eating a lot of highly processed foods has been linked to obesity and diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Reducing these will increase your chances of weight loss and health success.

Focusing on “positive” or healthy choices will help prevent you slipping into the dark depths of processed and junk food hell.

6. You don’t use a sample list – When starting an exercise program, you didn’t just “wing it” when it came to choosing and learning proper technique for exercises, did you? Of course not!

So let’s apply the same logic to your meal planning, shopping and meal prep.

Create a “Master List.” This list would have as many of the healthy foods you want to include in or integrate into your recipe selection and meal planning. It’s a guidepost in a confusing world of snack food, processed food and pseudo-foods.

Here’s an example of what that list might look like:

  • Cruciferous or non-starchy vegetables – Broccoli, bell peppers, spinach, mixed greens, beets, cauliflower, tomatoes, asparagus, onions, carrots, kale, arugula, radishes, green beans, zucchini, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms.
  • Fruits – Berries, apples, grapes, pears, cherries, grapefruit, oranges, lemons, limes,  pineapple, pomegranate, kiwis, mangoes.
  • Meats/proteins – Eggs, shrimp, chicken, beef, lean pork cuts, salmon, tuna, Burundi, scallops, fresh turkey breast, tofu, bison.
  • Starchy Carbs – Sweet potatoes, potatoes, oats, butternut squash, quinoa, brown rice, beans, lentils, chia seeds, buckwheat, barley.
  • Healthy fats:Olives, olive oil, avocados, avocado oil, coconut, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, almond butter, peanut butter, cashew butter, tahini, pesto, ground flaxseeds.
  • Dairy and non-dairy products:Greek yogurt, milk, cheese, cottage cheese, almond milk, coconut milk, goat cheese, kefir.
  • Condiments: Salsa, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, spices, herbs, stone-ground mustard, horseradish, coconut aminos, hot sauce, raw honey, stevia.
  • Beverages: Unsweetened seltzer, sparkling water, green tea, coffee, ginger tea, unsweetened iced tea.

7. You don’t stick to your plan – You plan the menu. You build a great list. You shop like a processed-food-avoiding pro. Then, it comes time to make one of the meals on your plan.

But you had a stressful day, so screw it, you’re ordering Fried Rangoons and Crispy Duck from Hi Fat’s Garden of Asian Delights.

The next day, since you don’t have any healthy meal leftovers for lunch, you decide on a triple decker corned beef and swiss from Schlemiel’s deli, complete with french fries and gravy.

Are you seeing a pattern here?

Once you have a plan, stick to it! Do it for a whole week and the second week is easier. By about week 4, it’s habit and you’re winning.

My bet is you’ll be winning on the scale, too. You’ll be sleeping better and your workouts will be more productive and enjoyable.

In case you hadn’t figured it out yet, these 7 ways your grocery list fails are really 7 strategies for establishing and maintaining a successful nutrition plan for you, and even for your family.

Conquer them one at a time. Then, put all the pieces together and become a meal planning, grocery list making nutrition champion!

Keep the faith and keep after it!



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