We all have idiosyncrasies about food shopping. For reasons only known to us, or maybe not even that obvious, we develop patterns of shopping.
For instance, I always start in the deli and bakery, move to produce, then meat and seafood, then dry goods and paper goods, then dairy, on to the frozen aisles and then the checkout. I don't know why I shop this way. I just do.
Recently, as I was grabbing the two-for-one ice cream deal, I overheard a young man say to the woman he was with: "You never start with the ice cream. You're the worst shopper I've ever seen." They had an empty cart and had obviously just walked in.
Of course, he was right. That ice cream would be a soupy mess by the time it hit the home freezer. I also suspect that might have been the last time he would be invited to shop with her. Maybe that's all she was getting!
It got me thinking, though, about the ways we shop and the way we pile the food in the basket. I am always careful with the bread so it doesn't get smooshed under large cans of diced tomatoes or, worse, an eight-pack of Gatorade. I try to leave room up front, at the bottom, for the couple of gallons of milk that are gone by the middle of the week.
I put the big stuff on the shelf underneath the cart, along with my growing passel of cloth bags. (And I always ask the baggers not to cram my environmentally friendly bags to the brim. They can hold a lot, but then I can't lift them.) I keep my purse in the seat formerly occupied by my child but I watch it carefully. A bad habit, I know.
When I check out, I try to put like things together on the belt because I think that makes the checker's job easier. My mother taught me that. She also used to say that the price of a trip to the grocery store was about $10 a bag. I think gas was 75 cents a gallon then, too. Today, that $10 has at least doubled, and tripled if you buy a lot of meat . . . or cereal. I always marvel when I look at the receipt, noting that there are few items that cost less than $2 and almost nothing under $1.
I use a list, though I deviate from it when something looks good. I cross off items as I put them in my basket, and even so, am notorious for overlooking something. Ask my husband how many times he has been asked to go back for a head of garlic, buttermilk or, doggone it, the lemons crucial to my pound cake. I do not group items on my list, so it's not unusual for lemons to come between laundry soap and yogurt.
I haven't caught the bug of extreme couponing though I use some occasionally. I am big on the BOGO deals but I only get things I actually use and don't hoard stuff.
Sometimes, I am tempted by a small bag of peanut M&Ms and a People magazine at the checkout. And I've been known to leaf through one of the tabloids to find out who that poor celebrity is with the unsightly cellulite.
I always take my groceries to the car myself no matter how much I've gotten. I don't know why, though I always tell the baggers it's good exercise. (I hear my mother's voice when I say that.)
That's my story. I am wondering about yours. I would love to hear about how you shop. In fact, I would like to go with some of you and chat while you traverse the aisles. In these tough economic times, I think you might have strategies that could help the rest of us get more for our food bucks. Plus, it's just interesting.
If you'd like to share your stories, please e-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org (include "grocery stories" in the subject line) or jot down a few words and send them to me via snail mail at St. Petersburg Times, Newsfeatures, 490 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg, FL 33701. Include your name, where you live and a daytime phone number.
And don't worry. I won't call you names if you grab the ice cream first. But I will bring a couple of spoons so we can eat it in the car.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8586.