I Tried the “3-3-2-2-1” Grocery Method, and It Cut My Shopping Time (and Bill) in Half

published Jun 7, 2024
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angled shot of an assortment of trader joe's groceries in a yellow and tan trader joe's tote bag - and some of the groceries are scattered around the bag on the counter.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Tom Hoerup

If Dante had invented a 10th circle of hell, it would have been Trader Joe’s on a Sunday evening. The way the line wraps around all of the aisles; the way I have to brace myself like a linebacker to get through the produce section; the way I completely forget everything I need the second I enter the store; this is the bad place

Quick Overview

The 3,3,2,2,1 Grocery Shopping Method

This is a grocery shopping framework where you fill your grocery cart up with three vegetables, three protein sources, two grains, two fruits, and one dip or spread.

That’s not to say I don’t love Trader Joe’s (I do) — but despite my best efforts, I often end up shopping there when it’s busiest, and I will try anything to get out of there as quickly as possible when that’s the case. So, when I came across this TikTok describing the 3-3-2-2-1 grocery shopping method, I decided it was well worth the shot. And after trying it, I can’t remember the last time I got out of the grocery store with a successful haul so quickly. 

Credit: Sofia Rivera

What Is the 3-3-2-2-1 Grocery Shopping Method?

As TikTok creator and registered dietitian Steph Grasso outlines it, the 3-3-2-2-1-1 means that you fill your grocery cart up with three vegetables, three protein sources, two grains, two fruits, and one dip or spread. In lieu of a grocery list (or in combination with one), you can simply keep this golden ratio in mind and wind up with a nutritious bag of food. 

Looking for a little more guidance about what kind of each item to get? Here’s what Grasso suggests:

  • For veggies, get one that pairs well with a meal (i.e. broccoli and salmon), one leafy green (for salads and sandwiches — Grasso loves spinach to toss into smoothies), and one veggie that’s nice to snack on. And, she says, “Don’t be afraid of the frozen aisle. It’s just as nutritious and fresh, plus it’s cheaper and more convenient.”
  • When it comes to protein, she says to pick up one entrée protein, one kind of fish, and one meatless protein. “I love choosing beans because you can literally just pour it right over a bowl or into a salad,” Grasso says.
  • As for grains, plan to get one for lunch and dinner, and one for breakfast. She suggests batch cooking your farro or rice (or whatever you choose) so you can just serve it up throughout the week. Then for breakfast, grab some bread for toast, oatmeal, or whatever your favorite morning grain may be.
  • For fruits, she says to pick one that pairs well with a meal (i.e. bananas for a smoothie) and one that you can snack on (i.e. watermelon chunks or strawberries). 
  • And finally, for the dip or spread, get something that goes with our other groceries, like hummus for your snacking veggie or peanut butter for your smoothie bowls. 
Credit: Sofia Rivera

What Happened When I Tried the 3-3-2-2-1 Grocery Shopping Method

From the moment I entered the Trader Joe’s this past Sunday and saw the “line starts here” sign miles behind the cash registers, I felt a profound sense of doom. But, armed with my reusable Baggu and a new grocery shopping framework, I tapped “start” on my timer and decided to see how quickly I could complete the trip.

To put the method to a real test, I decided not to make a list ahead of time to see how it would work on the fly — which is how I often grocery shop, anyway (not a great budgeting or meal planning tip, but c’est la vie!). 

I started in the produce section, picking up carrots (which I planned to roast as an entrée veggie), red bell peppers (as a snacking option, plus potential for a stuffed pepper situation), and a bag of arugula for salads. Then I picked up my fruits: bananas (for smoothies and on-the-go breakfast needs) and a bag of gala apples (for snacking, salads, keeping the doctor away, etc.). 

Credit: Sofia Rivera

Having hit my quota, I scurried out of the crowded area and moved onto my next mission: protein. I chose an item I’d never purchased before — the grilled balsamic, vinegar, and rosemary chicken — simply because a barricade of carts was closing off the rest of the aisle. That’s TJ’s on a Sunday, baby! I also managed to grab a pack of smoked salmon and a can of beans to tick off my other two protein boxes.

Next, I navigated to the shelf stable aisles to pick up farro (one of my grains) and peanut butter (my spread, which I’d just run out of at home). None of the other grains were really speaking to me, mainly because my cabinets are already pretty stocked with oats and rice, so I decided to check out the frozen section. 

It took what felt like several slow minutes to crawl through the aisle with my basket, but I thought of the “This Is Water” speech and embraced my inner zen, finding peace in the fact that I only had one item left on my list. Eventually, I settled on a back of frozen cauliflower gnocchi as my final starch, a versatile dinner staple I love. 

Credit: Sofia Rivera

Why It’s My New On-the-Go Grocery Shopping Game Plan

By the time I checked out, I was frazzled but victorious — I’d only purchased the 11 items on my “list” (okay, plus one mini bag of dark chocolate peanut butter cups), I had a nutritious balance of groceries, and my grand total had come out to just under $29. But honestly, the best part? I looked at my timer when I left the store and found I’d only been in there for slightly more than 17 minutes. At Trader Joe’s on a Sunday. Dante, who?

All in all, this grocery shopping method was a success. It did feel a little limiting in terms of not buying lots of ingredients, like herbs or onions that I like to use for cooking, or other staples, but of course, it’s a flexible plan that you could add to or subtract from as needed. It prevented me from picking a bunch of extra items that would rack up my bill, and it cut my time in the store in half, which is an inexpressible win in itself.