Grocery Shopping for the Lazy Bum

So let’s say you’ve decided you want to try the flexible diet approach and count your macros. You’re either worried it’s too difficult or you’ve already started and are struggling to make it work. I’m here to let you know that there might be an easier way: the way of the lazy bum. If you’ve read the post I just linked and want to know how it works in action, we’ll start with the first key battlefield: the kitchen.

The Armory of Kitchen Tools

I like to keep this list as simple as possible, but no simpler (I’m lazy, remember)? Here are the basics that suit me well:

  • Microwave – The single most important tool in a lazy bum’s arsenal. About half of my diet requires no cooking at all. For as much of the other half as possible, I use the microwave. Sweet potatoes? Eggs/egg whites? Steam-in-the-bag vegetables? Nuke it FTW.
  • Freezer – Essential. If I had a choice, my freezer would be larger than my fridge.
  • Blender – Not necessary, but helpful. Something small to midsize like the NutriBullet worked for me because it was easy to clean and had enough ‘oomph’ to puree fruit and grind nuts/seeds down to a not-quite-flour consistency, which helped with shakes.
  • Oven/Stove – it is entirely possible to be a completely lazy bum and NEVER COOK, but I recommend even the laziest bums cook every once in a while. It’s a basic human skill and a great trick to pull out on a date.
  • Measuring spoons/cups: at minimum, I need a teaspoon, tablespoon, 1/3 cup, 1/2 cup, and a full cup for measuring. Alternatively (preferably, in fact), you can get away with small and large graduated spoons and cups (with the measurements marked out on the side) that cover these sizes.
  • Ounce/Gram digital scale – I hesitate to add this one, but I use it often enough that I feel I should, and they’re pretty cheap. Some foods that I like require it, and every once in a while, the food manufacturer’s count will clearly be wrong and you’ll have to check it manually:
So you're telling me that 3oz of the exact same shrimp means 11 in one bag and 9 in the value-sized bag? GTFO.
So you’re telling me that 3 oz of the same shrimp means “11 shrimp” in one bag and “8 shrimp” in the value-sized bag? GTFO.

How This Lazy Bum Think About Meals

I’ll go into this in more detail in my next post on how I cook/prepare food and execute the daily macro plan, but you only need the basic gist to understand the “why” behind my grocery-selection process. The key to being a lazy bum is flexibility. The goal is to be able to select meals on the fly without needing to pre-plan. This led to 3 key rules:

  • Know what an ‘average’ meal each day will look like, macro-wise.
  • Don’t blow all of one macro before the last meal.
  • Use the last meal to ‘clean up’ the leftovers and get you to your targets.

Initially these three rules alone… sort of worked. I’d end up with a decent balance of macros for my final meal, open up my fridge… and nothing really seemed to fit.

I found that being flexible required having options. The key to it all was to have a core set of food staples at all times that I would A) enjoy eating that B) would cover all my bases.

Lazy Bum Staples

These are my staples:

This isn’t all-inclusive, but it covers about 90% of what I eat. Every macronutrient (and combination thereof) needs to be represented with multiple options (nut butters and nuts/seeds are a bit of an exception- they have enough protein/carbs you have to count them, but they’re mostly fat). If I’m at the end of my day and I have no fat left (sad panda), I can whip up fat-free Greek yogurt, frozen berries, and vanilla protein powder into a tasty mash or microwave some steam-in-the-bag peas and toss in some packed salmon. Bam! A 4-minute, macro-friendly, tasty meal.

It’s key that you have all three groups: single, double, and ‘complete’ foods. 

If you’ve been doing this for a while, you probably already have an idea of how your own staples list would look, but if you’re new or experienced-but-struggling, I’d encourage you to adopt this one or make up your own: start by recording the foods you eat most often and keep around the house. You might find a few gaps in your list, most likely in the F-C or P-C categories. A few guidelines for constructing your own staples list and guiding your grocery experience:

  • Embrace the frozen foods section. Whole frozen meals are a great quick option. Keeping frozen vegetables, fruits, and meats on hand means you will always have tasty, quality, healthy, macro-friendly foods in reserve, and many of them can be thawed or microwaved straight away. Keeping staples in the freezer reduces food waste, and if you’re worried about nutrition, frozen fruits and vegetables contain equal or greater nutritional value than their fresh peers unless you go local. When it comes to “fresh,” I have 3-4 days’ worth of bananas, tangerines, spinach, dairy, sweet potatoes, eggs, and ground turkey because I know I eat these regularly. For the most part, the rest is frozen or packed.
  • Pick foods that have longer shelf lives, especially those that maintain that shelf life by being dehydrated or tightly sealed. “Expires X days after opening” is a good sign. Peanut butter, canned-in-water tuna, dried fruit, and jerky will all be waiting for when you’ve got a hankering. For me, avocado is the worst offender here. It’s so tasty, but the window for use is very narrow.

not yet

  • Pick foods you like. I shouldn’t have to say it, but I’ve made this mistaken often enough I’ll mention it. It doesn’t matter if some article tells you some food “should” be part of your diet. If you eat a varied diet of mostly single-ingredient foods that fits your macros and you don’t like brussel sprouts… don’t buy them.
  • Bias towards items that measure easily: “by the slice” is easier than “by the ounce.” Remember: the lazy bum’s goal is to put as few barriers as possible between them and a good meal. There will usually be a cost trade-off here, so it’ll be your call whether it’s worth it.
  • Microwaveable is good (and you’ll be surprised how many whole foods can be microwaved).
  • Mostly stick to the staples. Your meal pattern will start to become routine with occasional variations (special meals, going out, treats, etc.) and this is a good thing. Making your diet a habit will make following it your default choice.

But… But…

I can almost hear the screams now. I’ll respond to a few objections before they get off the ground.

“The safest way to navigate the grocery store is to avoid the isles and stick to the outside: fresh produce and fresh meat. Natural food goes bad, and I don’t trust anything that doesn’t need to be refrigerated.”

I don’t buy the “fresh 4 lyfe” argument for a few reasons:

  1. As I linked above, freezing doesn’t harm the nutritional quality of the food.
  2. Many processed foods (packed salmon, dried fruit, some canned goods like coconut milk) keep their long storage life with minimal if any added preservatives.
  3. I don’t care what Food Babe said: there’s no quality evidence that common preservatives designated as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) are harmful.

But you eat so many inflammatory foods! Grains… peanut butter… corn… pizza… how are you alive?

I must be inflammation-powered, honestly. I did a thorough Paleo/Whole30 stint for about 6 months, and when I reintroduced grains, dairy and legumes afterwards, I felt no difference whatsoever in performance or quality of life. For no benefit that I could see, I was restricting my flexibility and making it harder to hit my performance and body composition goals.

Knowing what I know now about how I respond to those foods, “going Paleo” or following “anti-inflammatory” diet rules would be a violation of Rule #3: “Don’t work harder than you have to.” If you have food sensitivities or have chosen to take the narrow path, simply take those items out of your staples list and find ample replacements. I’ll keep my gluten, thank you very much.

What about food variety? Don’t I risk deficiencies eating the same food every day?

The short answer is no. My staples list is actually quite varied, with frozen fruit, frozen vegetables, dairy, fish, and the wide variety of protein sources covering the most common gaps. Taking the wider view, the goal here isn’t monotony but consistency. Macro-wise, most of the whole foods I eat are pretty interchangeable (bacon or fatty beef, peas or carrots or both, tuna or shrimp, olive oil or butter), so rotating foods for variety’s sake doesn’t make my life any more difficult.

The Sendoff

I honestly hope this little blog post makes your life as a macro-tracker easier. There’s a lot of hype in recent news about how dieting never works, you’re doomed to regain the weight, and you might as well just give up. Pardon my French, but that’s bullshit.

When a diet ‘works’ is when it stops being a “diet.” It becomes ‘what you eat.” A habit. A way of life. When your way of life, your “diet” (whatever it is) is working for you and it’s simple and ‘sustainable’ enough that even a lazy bum can do it… you’re on the right track.

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