I'm one of the food stylists here at Cooking Light, which means I find myself spending time at several different grocery stores at least 6 days out of the week. During my years on the job, I've learned that preparation is key. That's the only way I can make my shopping quick, easy, and efficient.

Whether you're shopping for a huge list or just picking up a handful of items, here are some tips to get you in and out of the grocery store in a hurry:

1. Have a list: I organize my list according to category, starting with the bakery. That includes deli, cheese, artisanal breads, and baked goods. Next stop, produce, including grains and nuts. Then I'm on to meats and seafoods, dry goods, dairy, frozen, and alcohol. Having a list keeps me from overbuying—which is especially helpful when I end up hungry, standing in the frozen-food aisle, staring down a box of Bagel Bites.

2. Plan your route. If it is a grocery store I am familiar with, I have my route planned out according to my list. I start by walking in, grabbing a cart, and working my route right to left or left to right. I like starting with the produce section, as it takes me time to sort through to find the best produce they have.

3. Call ahead. If there is anything questionable on my list or if a store might only carry that particular item occasionally, I will call ahead and check. I don’t want to spend time wandering the aisles looking for it, so I find out if they carry it and if they have it in stock before I leave the house.

4. Be line smart. Lines … where to even begin? If I only have a handful of items, less than five, I head over to customer service. If the store has an express lane, that may be an option, but those can be long sometimes. Other than that, it is the luck of the draw. Look for fast-moving cashiers and have your items out of your cart as quickly as possible.

5. Master the check-out game: My number one pet peeve is unloading my groceries to find my herbs, especially parsley and cilantro, at the very bottom of a bag squished under my potatoes. Argh! That's why I tend to group my items together, how I want them to be bagged. It doesn’t always work out that way, but I try. Another example: I like my produce and other cold-storage items to be together. I also want my meat bagged separately. Try keeping boxy items together, frozen, and dairy, too.

What other savvy shopping tips do you have for maximizing your time in the grocery aisles? Share in the comments section.

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