My Grocery Shopping “Rules”

I really love grocery shopping. I usually shop at Valley Natural Foods in Burnsville, MN, where our family is a member. The boys and I make an experience of out it (shopping with a one and three year old is an experience in itself).  Valley (as I lovingly call it) has a garden complete with small waterfall that you are able to walk through. The boys and I always start there. We like to see what is growing and of course look at the waterfall (over and over again). Then I convince the boys to go inside the store by using the “super secret” side door.

Shopping for me is always an adventure to find the best food for my family. I have very strict criteria for what I buy. For me, ideally the food should be: organic, local, in season and should be sold either by the individual farm or by a cooperative of farms. My criteria has more to do with supporting an agricultural system I believe in, a system that supports farms like ours.

Shopping this way is not easy and can be very confusing at times. I often have conflicts with myself while shopping. Should I buy this apple? It is not organic, but grown locally… What if the farm uses a lot of chemicals and I don’t know. Or this peanut butter says its local, but how could that be? There are no peanut farms in Minnesota. The organic strawberries look great, but they are from Mexico; how can I be sure their standards are the same as ours? Can you see why it takes me at least 30 minutes to get through the produce section. I don’t know if it is a curse or a blessing to know as much as I do about food production and the agricultural industry.  Thankfully, I get all our meat from our farm (and you can too) and Organic Valley products meet both my local and organic standard.

I want to stop here and highlight that when I shop, I don’t have the mindset that I am against a certain way of farming, but instead supporting one I feel is best for my family. I do know that 98% of farms are family owned and operated and that most farmers (no matter their size) take measures to be good stewards of the land and their animals. I just choose to support those farmers who have taken an “extra” step to either keep food production small and local; therefore allowing more farmers in the industry or to have taken the huge risk that is associated with farming organically.

My number one steadfast rule is to buy food produced in the United States unless that food is not produced here. The only foods we buy that are from foreign soil are: coffee and bananas and those I try to buy in limited quantities and they for sure have to be Fair Trade/Equal Exchange.

The two labels that I look at to make sure food fits my tough criteria are the COOL label and the USDA Certified Organic Seal. COOL (Country of Origin Label) is a federally mandated label on all produce and meats. This label tells you the country in which the food was produced. There is no standard on what the label should look like, so you might need to search for small print.

The USDA Organic Seal is the label for food that is produced under the National Organic Program. Farmers, food processors and packers must meet strict rule and regulations. There are different “levels” of organic that are explained in the video below from Purdue. The USDA Organic Seal is a label indicating how a food was raised and processed, it is not an indication of nutritional value (i.e. Organic Coke).

So while shopping is often complicated and confusing, it can really be fun. I love seeing all the in season produce and imagining the yummy food I am going to make during the week. If the boys are good while shopping, we always enjoy a “treat” of fruit back outside in Valley’s garden. It is great way to savor a few relaxing and healthy moments.

I would love to hear about your grocery shopping “rules” or if you have great ideas to keep the kids engaged while shopping.


Zweber Farms is a 4th generation family operated organic dairy.  We are proud Organic Valley farmer members and sell our milk under that label. We also specialize in sustainably raised beef, pork and chicken and sell it directly to customers in Minnesota.Visit our website to learn more,

0 thoughts on “My Grocery Shopping “Rules”

  1. Katie

    Hi Emily, I love reading your blog. Keep up the great work. My shopping rules are:
    1. Try to buy food that is on sale or that is in a recipe I have planned for the week. Even better food on sale with a recipe plan! I need a plan on the items I am buying or I spend too much.
    2. I only buy US or Canadian produce unless I absolutely have no choice like bananas. In rural ND, it is very limiting in the winter months. I once assumed I was buying US oranges and they were from South Africa. Seriously they had made it to the center of North America?
    3. Fish is my biggest concern. I don’t buy seafood that is not labeled in the US or Canada. I know a bit about aquaculture standards (or lack of!) and know that US and Canadian fish is best for my family.
    Going grocery shopping when my kids can stay with Grandma is the easiest! Otherwise I always have chaos but I guess I am used to that. 🙂

  2. Gwen

    We belong to Seward Co-op in Minneapolis, which does a great job of sourcing and labeling locally produced items. I also look for organic or local, if possible.

    Planning my meals for the week in advance takes a little time, but it eliminates impulse purchases and saves me a lot. And it’s way easier than being stuck without a crucial ingredient when I need it!