TBI Tips and Tricks: Surviving Grocery Shopping after a Head Injury

Food is vital to our survival, yet, after my head injury, I would forget to eat. You’d think my grumbling stomach and the fact that I was hungry would make me realize I needed to eat something, but in the early days, even that required reminders. Once I realized I was skipping most meals during the day, I started building a better routine for myself and left post-it notes around the house reminding me of what I meal I needed to eat. I kept my meals very simplistic if I was preparing them myself (cereal, muffins, frozen waffles, sandwiches, salads).  I was never much of a cook before my accident, I didn’t have the time, I worked too much, and the energy it required for me to even prepare the most simplistic meals took everything I had so I kept it very basic.

At the time, my fiancée (now husband) took the reigns on food shopping (or maybe my sister did, she was my sidekick in my recovery and instrumental in everything I did).  But a few years later, I stepped up and took on the responsibility. During the early days, I don’t recommend food shopping at all, or even stepping into a grocery store.  It took me months to actually be able to go into a food store and function because the overstimulation was too much and would cause me to lose my coping skills the minute I stepped in there. Some days, it’s still too much for me so I send my husband or wait a day and go tomorrow.  When you can start going into a grocery store for a chunk of time without exacerbating your symptoms, you’ll know you’re ready to start spending more time there.  These are some of my survival tips for grocery shopping after TBI, I am still practicing them almost nine years later…

Meal plan, Make your list at home, and snap a picture of your shopping list 

My list needs direction so I meal plan and make my list in the morning, on a different day before I go food shopping (because who has that much energy to both meal plan and shop on the same day?  If you do, you’re at a great spot in your recovery, this is definitely a goal of mine!). I have some meal planning tips too, but that’s a post for another day.  But for food shopping purposes, I meal plan and try to check my cabinets and fridge for things we have run out of, so I don’t buy unnecessary things when I get overwhelmed in the store (guilty, on more than I’d like to admit occasions!).   I also try and make my list to be in the order of the store (so fruits and vegetables first, then meats, breakfast cereals and so on) so I use less energy trying to decipher my list while in the store.  Having my shopping list in the order of the store definitely helps me save my spoons.  I also snap a picture of my grocery list (and use  the Paperless app for it too) that way when I get to the store and have forgotten my paper list, I have it on my phone so I don’t have to turn around.  Or when you are shopping and you misplace your list in the asparagus bag and then become frantic that you will forget everything else on the list, you’ve got your electronic copy to save the day. #truestory

Shop during the time of day that you feel your best

For me, this is the early morning, because my brain seems to work best after resting all night. This time of day also has another perk because it is generally far less crowded than other points in the day. I also only food shop during the week because the weekend is INSANE in our food stores and the crowds alone overwhelm me.  I have driven to our store on a Saturday, only to turn around and go back home because I realize it’s Saturday and the parking lot had me all flustered and done.  Based on the parking lot alone, I knew it was too much for me and chose to go another day.

Know your store and your crowd

I live in a densely populated area. There are probably five or six grocery stores all within five to ten minutes of me and it took me a number of tries, but I found the stores in which I felt the most comfortable, and which were the least crowded during certain days.  We have a number of Senior Citizen buses that drop off people during the week, and I actively avoid those stores if I need something that day because the added people and crowds make it more difficult for me (and if you can’t remember which stores those are, write it down!).  If I do need to shop over the weekend, I will drive further to less crowded stores simply because that’s all I can handle.  My favorite place to shop is Trader Joe’s-  it’s a smaller grocery store and is wayyyyy more manageable for me.  There are only a few items to choose from (think 10 cereals instead of 80) and I can execute my list quicker and save my spoons if I go in there.  A few bonuses are their employees seem to be the friendliest, they are always willing to help me, their food is less expensive (generally!) and delicious.  So if you have a Trader Joe’s nearby, I definitely recommend them, or recommend finding a similar store in size and convenience.

Try and get in and out as quickly as possible

Since my accident, food shopping has become a game to me. I try and get in and out of the store as quickly as possible because I know I only have enough energy for a 45 minute trip and anything in excess of that will destroy my day.  When I first started shopping, I would do so with assistance (my mom, sister, or husband) and they would help me make decisions and decide on items.  When I started shopping alone, I started monitoring the amount of time I had in there (and kept my list particularly short if I needed to) and that forced me to make quicker decisions on items rather than standing there debating over which brand of peanut butter to buy.  Decisions that would normally overwhelm and frustrate me forced me to move on and continue on the task at hand, which was completing the entire shopping list.  I start my shopping trip by looking at the time and noting, what time I need to get out of there to stay on track.

Take a picture of the inside of your fridge and cabinet

This is a new habit I am trying to start implementing, and it was recommended to me by my Aunt (who, for the record, does not have a brain injury!). She told me how she takes a picture of her fridge and cabinets before she goes food shopping so she can remember what is in them when she is there.  I think this is a genius idea!  Despite trying my best efforts to stick only to my list when I am in the store (getting sidetracked is a huge distraction and will cause me to spend more time in the store then lose track of what I need to get, you get how it spirals!) I often find myself wondering about certain items that are on sale and if I need them.  If I have a picture snapped on my phone of what we currently have, I can quickly refer to it and grab whatever items are on sale so I can take advantage of the pricing.  This also helps me identify any items I NEED, that for one reason or another did not make their way on my original list.

Make your dinner before you go food shopping or plan on take out for that night

This is an honest, yes I generally do this, way of life for me.  If I don’t have dinner prepared and already in the crockpot when I go food shopping, then we are most likely ordering dinner if my husband isn’t home to prepare it. I feel like this is exactly what a spoonie has to do to survive, because grocery shopping alone uses up a tremendous amount of spoons, I’ll never know how I feel when I get home.  On the rare chance that I do feel okay after I go grocery shopping, I generally have forgotten an ingredient and need to go to the store the next day to pick it up.  Which brings me to my final point…

Skip going to the store all together and order your groceries online for pickup or delivery

After I had our son (during a bitter, cold Winter) I started using a local grocery store and would make my shopping list and order my groceries all on an app on my phone.  This was super convenient because I could select the time I was going to pick everything up (generally when my husband was home so I didn’t have to drag two kids out in the cold) or he would stop on the way home from work.  Recently, I have started using AmazonFresh.  If I get home from the store and have forgotten an item (or two, or three) I’ll add it to my Fresh shopping cart and place an order later in the week with all the extra items I need.  Or, I’ll text my mom/husband/sister and see if anyone is stopping somewhere on their way home from work and pick up the items I forgot.

AmazonFresh Delivery

Right now, I am doing the bulk of my shopping online through AmazonFresh and I will touch on all of those perks another day.  That’s all for today, gang.  Go enjoy that take out and food shop tomorrow.

New to chronic illness?  This is what I mean when I say “Save My Spoons.

While I was in the process of writing this post, I came across this great podcast that has a few more tips about grocery shopping after TBI.  A few of our tips are the same, but if you’re more of a visual/audio person, this video by The TBI Coach is for you.

Note some links above are to an affiliate program with Amazon.  Please refer to my Disclosures for additional information.

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