The wise homemakers of the world — like Martha and all those people who make their beds every day — will tell you to never shop for groceries when you’re hungry. And frankly, the science supports them. Shopping while hungry is a sure-fire way to spend more money and end up with a cabinet full of Goldfish crackers and gummy candies.
But those of us who stroll the grocery aisles just before (or waaay after) mealtime, calorically weak, know another reality: Shopping hungry heightens your culinary creativity. It unlocks pregnant lady-level cravings without the burden of actually birthing a baby, resulting in maximum inspiration for the recipe weary.
Last week, I was in a cooking rut. Pictures of smashed sweet potatoes and chicken ranch wraps on Pinterest were not doing it for me. I wanted a meal that was exciting! Mind-blowing, even! I needed an itch to illuminate the way forward. I needed a change of scenery.
Fortunately, it was prime time — well past when I should have eaten dinner on a Friday night — so my senses were starved and ready. Before I let my stomach completely off its leash, I laid a few ground rules to ensure a successful journey.
Establish your objective.
First, I established my objective: vegetables and meat. This would be a virtuous trip based in the produce section. Only after my boundaries were delineated could I explore my hunger in safety. I walked around, caressed an eggplant, and then asked the critical question. What was calling my name?
Cabbage. Most certainly, cabbage. I had a raging need for cabbage!
Now, what to do with that epiphany?
Find a recipe that inspires you.
I am not Alice Waters or Dorie Greenspan or Giada, so when I go to the grocery store sans recipe, I require help. I am sure people do not like this person, who has come to an unforeseen halt in front of some essential thing, eyes glued to her cellphone screen.
But I had an important mission to complete. I could not move on with my star ingredient until I googled “cabbage” and “Serious Eats.” Because there is no point going to the grocery store intentionally hungry if you go home only to make a dud recipe. So there I was, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling until halfway down the page, I found the meal that would complete me: crispy pork and cabbage egg rolls with duck sauce for dipping.
Let that inspiration flow into other areas.
Armed with an Asian theme, I was suddenly salivating with ingenuity. I passed the cereal aisle and envisioned the perfect complimentary treat: matcha-glazed Rice Krispies. Never in my life had I considered this combination — and such is the beauty of shopping hungry. Three hours later, I fell asleep, dreaming of my new discoveries.
The necessary disclaimer to this wild approach to open-ended shopping is that I am a whimsical, childless 20-something with a touch of gluttony. I can afford to neglect meal times and run errands inefficiently because the only consequence I put up with is my well-fed husband’s grumblings.
For those of you with real responsibilities, I would not advise regularly restructuring your life around self-compromised shopping trips — although they are a fun way to introduce novelty once in a while.
Food Network Star Jeff Mauro Agrees: Jeff Mauro Believes in Shopping Hungry and in Chickpea Pasta
Thoughts? Do you prefer to shop with a full or empty tummy?