Hacking the Grocery Store

Anything that thrives in business is built that way for a reason.  A grocery store is no different.  Whether it be Albertson’s, Safeway, Kroger, or any other, the main design is the same.  The store is composed of two sections, an outside “perishables” loop and an inner grouping of “canned and boxed” goods in the form of aisles.  This design has held for a long time due to its success.  The outer loop of perishables consists of items that offer a considerably lower margin to the grocer.  These items are commodity level items; meats, cheeses, fruits, and veggies.  There is nothing particular to the branding here.  This outer loop is continuous and is meant by the grocer to be able to be traversed quickly.

Why is that?  It’s so you, the shopper can move onto their more lucrative offerings within the aisles.  This is the referred to inner loop.  Due the arrangement of food items within aisles, it takes considerably longer to browse for items.  This method is an excellent advertising opportunity for the grocer as the shopper is essentially a captive audience within these aisles.

In addition, the shopping journey ends with similar methods of advertisement on the way towards the register.  In some instances, there may be a maze of aisles in order to get the checkout portion.

A local grocery store and it's maze towards the register.

A local grocery store and it’s maze towards the register hidden in the upper right portion

The impact of a grocery store layout may now be apparent to your control over your pocketbook, but how about your diet?  This standard layout design is also detrimental to healthy eating habits.  The reasoning is that all of the healthy whole foods are on that outer loop, the loop that is built to be only shortly visited on the way to the aisles.  Again, the aisles are focused on boxed, canned, and processed foods, which should take a second seat to traditional whole foods.

Here’s the grocery store hack:  It takes discipline to overcome conditioning.  Sticking to a list helps, but adopting a new approach will prove its effectiveness shortly.  Try this:  Only shop the outer sections of a store.  Try your best to build a complete meal plan off of this alone.  If you find that there are other items that you need from the inner aisles, get them from the other store in town, only after you have exhausted your options as prescribed above.  This changes your conditioning patterns.  Most prices are close enough anyways.  The savings in adjusting behavior patterns will be greater than a slight difference in prices.

Morning oatmeal done like porridge

A normal breakfast around the house consists of oatmeal of some form.  I like the steel-cut oats, but I don’t always have those around.  The recipe on the back of those cans calls for making more of a porridge out of the oats.  I have started to do the same with rolled oats.  While the flavor is different with rolled oats, the result is favorable.  Here’s what I do:

  1. Pour 4 cups of water into a pot significantly bigger than what you think you need.  Boiling can cause a good amount of rising.
  2. Bring the water to a boil.
  3. Add 1 cup of oats.
  4. Keep boiling the oats.
  5. Boil them some more.
  6. You’ll know when to turn to low when the mixture looks cloudy and has risen a bit.  It will take on the first signs of thickening, though not much.  I find this to be about 4-5 minutes.
  7. Turn to low and wait 30 minutes.  Stir a couple of times throughout.  Adding in 2 pads of butter and 2 tsp. of muscovado sugar works great.
  8. serves 2, add cinnamon and nutmeg to taste.  Serve with milk if desired.

Baked Apples

I make a batch of baked apples every week or so.  I’ve found these best done with Winesap apples, but those are a hard find.  Our farmers market is done for the season, so I’ve since switched to Honeycrisp apples.  Start with 6 large apples or 8 small apples.  Core, but do not peel the apples.  Place apples in a 9×13 or similar glass pan and fill with 1/2″ water.  Add cinnamon to taste.  A nut medley similar to the dark applesauce goes into the mix.  For this a mix of walnuts, pecans, almonds, and pistachios will work.  Add to this and additional 50% in rolled oats, 2 tsp each of flax-seed and rice bran.  Process this whole mix into a fine powder.  Combine with melted butter and milk to get a mixture the consistency of oatmeal.  Place this mixture into the hole of each apple and top with a pad of butter.  Bake for 20 minutes at 350F or until very soft.  The tops will be crispy like a bread crust.

Dark Applesauce Recipe

I have found the immersion blender priceless for making various types of foods.  A personal favorite has been applesauce.  Here’s the recipe, and yes, it can be scaled accordingly.

15 large apples – A good base apple such as ambrosia or honeycrisp with some granny smith mixed in for tartness

cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves

1/4 cup each walnuts, pecans, pistachios, almonds

2 tsp muscovado sugar

1 1/2 cups water


Peel and core the apples.  Cut into smallest slices.  Combine the nuts and sugar into a food processor and mince into a fine powder.  Pour water into a slow cooker.  Add enough cinnamon to lightly coat the surface of the water.  Add 1/3 this amount in nutmeg, and a 1 tsp of cloves or to taste.  Add the apples and nut powder.  Cook on low for 8 hours.  Immersion blend the apples in place to get the applesauce.  Let cool and serve.  It is good eaten warm over toast with a pour of scotch on the side.

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