Supermarket Sweep: How to Dominate the Grocery Store

eerie supermarket

Remember watching that absolutely ridiculous show, “Supermarket Sweep?” 

Contestants participated in shopping sprees in an actual super market, where they had limited amounts of time to find certain items or fill up their shopping carts with the most expensive items.  I promise you, it was compelling at the time.

I remember watching this show with my sister Emily (hey Em!) when were little kids, and we couldn’t help but yell at the TV screen when the dummy shoppers went for the cheap large items, and yelled even louder as they skipped the big bonus items to grind more coffee (ugh).

Thanks to that show, my brain has been trained to operate as efficiently as possible when navigating the treacherous aisles and crowded checkout lines of my local grocery store.

Today, I’m going to provide you with a game you can play every time you can set foot in the store; you’ll be in and out of there before you can utter the phrase, “wait, Supermarket Sweep actually existed?”

Have a plan


If you’re going to set a high score in your Supermarket Sweep and dominate the competition, you’re going to need a plan.  

The more you can plan, the more you’ll succeed.

So, before you go to the store, create a list outlining everything you are going to buy.  I use Evernote to make my grocery lists, though I know there are “grocery list” apps as well.  A piece of paper hanging on the fridge or something like that works great too.

Next: only put things on your list that are good for you.  Then?  Only BUY things that are on the list. If it’s not on the list, then it doesn’t go in your cart.

Want to see my grocery list?

  • Chicken breast
  • Steak
  • Broccoli
  • Asparagus
  • Carrots
  • Apples
  • Almond Butter

“But Steve, that’s so simple!” Simple wins.  Not only that, but your list kind of acts like “horse blinders” – you don’t have wandering eyes and won’t need to rely on willpower to say no.  If it ain’t on the list, it doesn’t go in the cart.

Next: don’t shop hungry! Sounds like a weird comment until you realize that you have a shopping cart full of Funyuns, Ice Cream, Tortilla Chips, and Double-Stuff OREO cookies. When you shop with an empty stomach, you’ll be more likely drawn to the terrible foods that you crave.

However, when you shop with a full stomach (…preferably full with healthy foods), you’ll tend to actually buy the things you’re supposed to buy and not the crap you’re supposed to avoid.

Stick to the outer rim


In Sci-Fi movies and shows (hey Firefly!), all the good stuff happens on the ‘outer rim’ of the galaxy.  

In grocery stores, all the good stuff lives on the outer rim too!

With a few exceptions (like Frozen veggies, spices, and oils), these are the things you’ll find on the outer rim:

  • Meat
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits

Does that list look familiar?  It should; it’s pretty much the Paleo Diet! These are the foods that will keep you healthy and happy, so they belong in the WIN column.

Things you don’t find on the outer rim:

  • Candy
  • Cookies
  • Ice cream
  • Pasta/cereal/bread/etc.
  • Soda

These are the things that can get you into trouble (“I’ll eat just one” never works!), and thus belong in the “FAIL” category.  We’re going to avoid trouble, and the best way to do that is NOT KEEP JUNK FOOD in your house.

Not sure what you should be buying? We provide a handy Shopping List PDF in the Nerd Fitness Academy that you can print out, and the Paleo Central app clears up any questions about what’s Paleo and what’s not.

Remember, when building your batcave, prepare for success by minimizing the amount of willpower required to stay on target.

Learn to read a nutrition label


Now, hopefully you’re aware that you’ll need to use your best judgment on foods that don’t have nutrition labels.  Fortunately, most of the good stuff won’t HAVE nutrition labels (meat, fruits, and vegetables).

If you happen to be shopping for things in boxes and bags, make sure you take 30 seconds to actually read the nutrition label.  It’s amazing what they’ll hide in food these days!

When scoping out a potential product, these are the important things you need to know:

  • Don’t let the name on the front fool you!  Never let the words “healthy choice” or “natural” get in the way of you making a good decision again. Make sure you don’t get scammed by labels.
  • Scope the ingredients list.  The first ingredient makes up the most of the product, followed by the next, etc.  Generally speaking, the fewer the ingredients, the better. Don’t let the name of the item fool you either – “all-natural” is a complete waste of label space.
  • Just because it doesn’t say “sugar” doesn’t mean it’s not loaded with the evil stuff! You know those “healthy” Nature Valley crunchy granola bars?  Three of its ingredients are sugar, brown rice syrup, and honey.
  • Avoid high fructose corn syrup like the plague. Go pick up a loaf of “heart healthy whole grain bread” – $10 says one of the top five ingredients is “high fructose corn syrup.”  Gross.

Your body is the only one you get. Until we can build our own Iron Man suits, take care of it by paying attention to the food you put in it!

eat more fruits and veggies


Every time you go into a grocery store, make it a goal to pick out ONE new vegetable or one new fruit and learn how to prepare it.

Too many options?  Narrow it down by picking a new veggie or fruit that’s on sale that week!  It’s a great way to branch out, limit the number of decisions you need to make, AND save money.

Don’t know what the vegetable is, or how to prepare it?  Google it!  Back when I bought my first spaghetti squash I had no clue what to do with it…so I googled “spaghetti squash” and we ended up with Paleo Spaghetti, a Nerd Fitness favorite!

Make good choices!  Here’s a fantastic resource about how to pick the right kind of produce.

And when in doubt, ask!  Ask one of the nice employees in the produce section if you have questions about what a fruit/veggie is or how to pick out good ones. That’s what they’re there for: to help!

how to pick out your meat and fish


After you’ve gone through the produce section, it’s time to move onto the meat and fish!

For starters, don’t overwhelm yourself.  If you aren’t eating healthy now, don’t stress TOO much over getting the right grass fed organic beef, or making sure you only eat wild salmon. If you haven’t eaten a diet with quality food before, just get started by purchasing healthy food you can afford.

Once you have established this new way of shopping healthy (primarily meats and veggies!), it’s time to level up that new ability. Pick the right kind of chicken, right kind of meat, right kind of fish.  Curious about which types to pick?  I got you covered here 🙂

Don’t be scared to go for fatty cuts of meat to save money. Remember, fat isn’t the enemy: Just ask the Inuits!

Choose meats based on your goals. Fatty cuts of beef might be great for a guy trying to increase calorie levels to put on weight, while lean, boneless, skinless cuts of chicken breast will be more ideal for someone trying to keep calories down.  My friends over at Greatist put together a pretty solid infographic all about meat.  Check it out!

If you’re going to cook that night or the next day, buy the fresh meats from the counter (check Still Tasty to see how long the meat will stay ‘fresh’).  Not sure when you’re going to cook? Frozen meat or meat can be tossed into the freezer and will be ready to roll when you are.

Bacon. Buy it.  You’re welcome.

tips and tricks for winning


Frozen vegetables are amazing – If the option is between eating frozen veggies or no veggies, go with frozen veggies!  Frozen veggies are great for a few reasons: they won’t go bad, they’re easy to prepare, and they’re cheap!

Be sure to check the weekly coupons, grabbing one as you walk into the store – you can usually find savings on things you already buy (or by switching brands for one trip).  As previously stated, this is a great way to narrow down your decisions and choices.

Don’t be fooled by the sale price!  Even if it says “10 for $10″…usually you don’t have to buy ten; that’s them subtly trying to influence your purchases. Usually you can buy one or two and you’ll still get the sale price.  Speaking of sale prices…

Get the grocery store “member card!”  It’s free, and generally this the only way you can make sure to get the huge discounts (and thus huge savings over time).  It’s worth it.

Go to the store for smaller more frequent trips rather than giant infrequent trips. Veggies and other healthy perishables can spoil quickly, so try to make more stops and quickly.

Buy in bulk when and if you can for efficiency’s sake. Normally I shop at Harris Teeter here in Nashville, but occasionally I go out of my way to Trader Joe’s, as they have some fantastic deals.  I stock up on frozen fruit for my smoothies, half a dozen jars of raw almond butter, and organic coconut oil.  These are all things that last a LONG time, so I don’t mind buying a crazy amount of them.  I always chuckle at the funny looks I get at the counter when they ask “let me guess, smoothies?” as they scan 20 bags of Frozen Organic Berry Medley.

CHECK OUT STILLTASTY.COM! Throwing away food is throwing away money, but eating food that’s no longer safe is even worse.  Check out, and you can see the shelf life for ANY food you want.  This is one of the best resources out there for a novice chef.

The Supermarket sweep Game

Supermarket sweep

Once you take a look at your list, it’s time to play SUPERMARKET SWEEP!

Set a time limit, and see if you can get in and out of the store while getting EVERYTHING on your list within the time allotted.    Why not turn everything into a game?  I will pretty much gamify anything, including my trip to the grocery store.

Here are the rules:

1) Time is of the essence: You have 30 minutes.  You earn one point for every minute you come in under that time limit.  Finish in 20 minutes?  You already have 10 points.  Luckily, there’s no need to peruse those cookie aisles, as you have a game to win, right!?

2) Prepare for success: Create your shopping list, and know that you earn 1 point for each WIN item on your list: fruit, vegetable, meat, fish. (You know, the good stuff.)

3) Level up your purchases: Earn DOUBLE points for each new fruit, vegetable, and type of meat/fish that you purchase.

4) Don’t buy foods in the “FAIL” category: You will lose one point for any food that doesn’t fit in the “Win” category.  Come on, you know what those items are.

5) Earn double points for each level up:  If you are trying to upgrade your shopping, earn double points on any item you “level up” with: switching from regular to organic, regular beef to grass fed, swapping out something unhealthy that you normally buy with something that IS healthy.

Tally up your point total, and let us know how you did:

  • 0-5 points: Supermarket Uber Noob – Did you waste too much time reading National Inquirer?  Bought a few too many unhealthy options?  You can do better.
  • 6-10 points: Supermarket Rookie – A step in the right direction.  You can increase this score by branching out and adding more veggies into that cart!
  • 11-15 points: Supermarket Regular – You might not be running through the grocery store, but you’re eating good foods and not sabotaging your efforts with too many FAIL foods.
  • 16-20 points: Supermarket Veteran – You’re getting pretty darn good at this.  Hit the outer rim, snag a few key items in the middle aisles, and find the shortest line. Boom.
  • 20-30 points: Supermarket Semi-pro – You eat new foods, you don’t dilly dally, and you’re always trying to upgrade the foods you’re consuming.  You’re almost ready for the big leagues.
  • 30+ points: Supermarket Superhero – You’re the Mario Andretti of food shopping.  Fasting driving carts, healthy foods, and a knack for trying out new things.

Keep track of your score, and try to do better next time!

I’d love to hear from you:

  • How can we make the game better?
  • What sort of questions do you have about shopping that I can help with?
  • Want to tell me how much of a fan you are of Supermarket Sweep too?


PS: We’re working on a fun project, and we need your help.  If you are a woman, and you can do a pull up (or two pull ups, or three, or..), I want video footage!  Send us an email at with the footage of you doing your pull ups, and also include your name and where you’re from.  We’ll take it from there 🙂


photo source: flossyflotsam: pepper, Sodaniechea: Lemons, ilovebutter: butter, roboppy: meats, Rami: candy, rick: veggies, Kees van Mansom: cart, rickh710: supermarket sweep, Gabrielap93: supermarket

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