Friday, April 13, 2012

Grocery store trip is a lesson in restraint for all

From today's Briefing:

I wore the red pants once, then washed them with everything else I’d worn that week — including whites.
Those whites turned a decidedly unfashionable splotchy pink.
I’m sure I had been told the importance of sorting laundry before washing, but I obviously didn’t listen. Experience was my real teacher.
Experience has been the best guide for most housekeeping duties.
For example, when a snickerdoodle recipe calls for one stick of butter, pay attention. Otherwise you might use one cup of butter and end up with greasy snickerdoodly goo instead of cookies.
When an automatic dishwasher calls for only automatic dishwashing detergent, take heed. Otherwise you might substitute liquid dish soap and fight a losing battle with freakishly multiplying suds.
Similarly, years of grocery shopping have yielded plenty of mistakes and time and money wasted — and lessons learned.
Now, as a middle-aged adult, I can sweep through my neighborhood grocery store in 30 minutes to gather enough healthy food and drinks for a full week.
Every week it’s the same efficient path: deli, bakery, produce, organic shelves and freezer, dairy, butcher, sometimes floral, checkout lane.
I was recently reminded that this is not an innate skill.
Cooper is a brand-new Boy Scout, having graduated from the ranks of Cub Scouts and Webelos. The Boy Scout program encourages more independence than Cub Scouts, which emphasizes family participation.
For his first Boy Scout camping trip, Cooper volunteered to be his patrol’s grubmaster, arguably the most essential position of the weekend. The grubmaster is in charge of procuring food for ravenous, active boys.
Cooper and five fellow patrol members planned their menu the week before camping. Cooper left the meeting with a budget and list of meals. I was advised to take him shopping and to keep my opinions to myself.
I did my best.
That meant we spent an hour wandering aisles. Cooper didn’t divide his shopping list into departments — he shopped meal by meal.
For the snack supper, we fetched Doritos and Double Stuf Oreos. (My skills of silence were tested early.)
For Saturday’s breakfast, we crisscrossed the store, getting eggs, then tortillas, then sausage, then cheese.
I couldn’t keep quiet at the wall of cheese. (Admittedly an intimidating section — so many choices!)
Cooper’s instinct was to grab the first package of shredded cheddar he could find. It was also the most expensive.
I suggested he look at the prices before deciding. That’s when he noticed that one brand was $2 more than the store brand. He was sold on generic.
Gathering lunch supplies took us back to the meat department, then to produce for carrots (the only fresh fruit or vegetable for the entire weekend), back to dairy for more cheese and grated potatoes, then to paper goods for aluminum foil.
Dinner sent us back to the chip aisle for Fritos and the canned-good aisle for beans. Sunday’s breakfast menu sent us looking for cereal, Pop-Tarts, powdered doughnuts and milk. (I was quiet, but my facial expression spoke loudly, I’m sure.)
An hour later we left, my patience slightly frayed and my minivan filled with more junk food than it’s ever seen.
Cooper returned from the campout, declaring the meals a success.
“But next time I might buy more healthy food,” he said, unprompted, “like fruits and vegetables. I mean, we only had carrots.”
It’s a lesson he’ll remember better because he experienced it instead of hearing it from me.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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