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How I’ve Made Grocery Pickup Work for Me

Once upon a time, I didn’t even consider grocery pickup as an option. Now I love the convenience and ease of it.

Paper grocery bags from a grocery pickup order are shown in the trunk of a vehicle.

Strolling the aisles of the grocery store used to be a balm for me. It was time alone where I could see what was new or different and imagine the recipes I would make that week.

The pandemic changed that.

In March, as COVID-19 gained a foothold in Maine, I hurriedly shopped our local stores, stocking up. I planned to not grocery shop for three weeks — and to have some extra food, just in case things didn’t change within that time. I’d approached stocking up with an exacting eye to what we’d need to make that happen.

It worked out. From fancy ramen to homemade donuts to all sorts of stir-fries, there was much to enjoy. Since then, with the pandemic continuing, I haven’t returned to those leisurely strolls through the grocery store aisles. And, as it turns out, I haven’t missed them either.

Instead, I’ve fallen in love with grocery pickup. It’s so easy to shop virtually in the crevices of my day, only heading to the store to pick up the order. And when I do, I get just what we need. Usually. As we continue to work and school at home, grocery orders have made life easier.

Here are a few things I have learned along the way:

Find the right grocery pickup ordering balance

The first few times I placed an order, I would add everything I thought we needed, realize it was way too much, empty the cart and start again. This wasn’t productive.

But, over time, I’ve found a faster, easier and more efficient way to create grocery pickup orders. I start with the things we are out of — or that I know we’ll be out of (think milk, eggs, cheese — the basics).

Then I ask for requests from my family. While I do take requests, I don’t buy absolutely everything. Ultimately, I am usually trying to shop for two weeks at a time, so if the requests seem like too much, I pare them back.

Next, I add some of the things they assume I will buy even if they don’t write them down — fruit, juice and popcorn, for instance. And some of the things I want (am I feeling like pesto this week? Fancy rolls for sandwiches?).

Finally, I consider meals. Does what’s in the order help me make meals for two weeks? If not, what else do we need?

This sounds like a lot — and a time-consuming process. But it’s not. Each of these items is done separately, in pockets of a few minutes here and there. That means I barely notice the time it takes to prepare the order.

Know how long you are buying for

The length of time between shopping trips should help dictate how much you purchase when you place your grocery pickup order. Usually, I shop for two weeks at a time. As a result, I make sure that my order has enough veggies and proteins for about 12 dinners (when combined with what is already on hand).

Since all of our meals happen at home, I also have to make sure we have enough foods for breakfasts and lunches for two weeks. That means keeping an eye on cereals, breads, bagels, fruits, soups, deli meats and quick grab items.

For us, some days are busier than others (even at home!), so it’s essential to have a few breakfast and lunch items on hand that can be simply heated to eat. If that’s true for you, make sure you add those to the cart when you need them as well.

Learn the best days to pick up orders

I never thought much about what days were better to shop than others until the pandemic hit. But I’ve found that some days are busier than others — and some days have barer shelves than others.

I used to place my grocery pickup order on Thursday mornings. However, since that’s a popular day to get paid, that ended up being a day when many people shopped — and my order often was missing important items. So I played around with different days until I found that Tuesdays, once the shelves are restocked from the weekend rush, are actually better for grocery pickup here.

The day that works for me may not work for you though. Use a little trial and error to find the best option.

To substitute or not to substitute?

As I am placing my grocery order, it asks me which — if any — items I want substituted by the clerk. It’s a conundrum for me.

On one hand, if you say yes to everything, you are more likely to get everything on your list. But I am pretty selective about products and brands, so I often don’t want someone else to choose a substitute.

In the end, I often select a few items that I really need to be substituted but skip the rest. When the type or brand really matters, I note that in the comments for that item.

Decide what you’re comfortable with when choosing to substitute items or not. It differs for all of us.

Don’t be afraid to order groceries from more than one store

One local store charges less for milk and some convenience foods — and allows for same day pickup of orders without appointments. But my local grocery store has a greater variety of foods available. As a result, I almost always order from both.

I’ve found the best way to handle the ordering is to decide what is a better value from the grocery store and from the other store. That begins each order.

At the grocery store, I always want to spend more than $130, so that I can get a discount on the pickup fee (ordering for two weeks at a time helps with this). So I make sure my order is substantial enough there (consider: not all items will be fulfilled, so you want to order more than that amount).

Then I wait on the second order. A few hours before my pickup time, I receive an email with the items that are out of stock. Of those, I decide which ones are must-haves and add them to the same-day order at the other store and place that order.

When I go to pick up groceries a few hours later, my second order is ready too so I can pick that up as well.

Will I go back to shopping in person?

This is a question that I often ask myself. And if I am being completely honest, the answer is probably not. I’ve gotten hours back each week because I no longer shop in person for short periods of time. That’s a huge boon for quality of life.

It’s impossible to know when life will resume a similar flow to the time before the pandemic arrived. But when it does, the convenience, ease and simplicity of grocery pickup orders is likely to remain something I take advantage of.

Rita Dietrich

Saturday 20th of November 2021

The only place to shop for pick-up without an extra fee is walmart...they provide the service...insta cart includes extra fees which is reflected in the added cost to an item you purchase...

Sarah Walker Caron

Tuesday 30th of November 2021

If your Target has groceries, it's free to do curbside pickup there as well. I can't speak for anywhere else though. There may be other stores where it's free as well.


Thursday 28th of January 2021

We too began ordering online last March and absolutely love it. It took us a couple of tries to determine what day is best (Tuesday) Our store tracks previous orders sorting them by most purchased. It is so easy to click on most purchased and then click on the weekly flyer. We intend to use the service from here on in.

Rita Dietrich

Saturday 20th of November 2021

@Dianne, I did online grocery shopping almost a year before the pandemic, love to shop that way very convenient!!!