Americans are now spending less time eating-out, and a lot more time in the grocery store. So before you go shopping, Reader's Digest shares hidden tricks of the trade that will help you save a lot of money and make your family's meals healthier:
13 things your grocer won't tell you
1. If you hate crowds and lines, shop at dinnertime (5 to 9 p.m.) or even later. Only 4 percent of shoppers hit the aisles between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. Least-crowded day of the week? Wednesday.
2. Go ahead and reach way back for the fresh milk. Everybody does.
3. Coupons with a bar code are easy to scan. The other ones take an eternity. But if you're willing to wait...
4. That star fruit has been here a lot longer than the broccoli. Familiar produce turns over more quickly than exotic things.
5. "The more products you see, the more you are likely to buy," says Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat. "That's why the aisles are so long and the milk is usually in the far corner."
6. Like employees with a good attitude? Shop at chains that are employee-owned, suggest customer-satisfaction surveys. When employees have a stake in the profits, it shows in their attitude.
7. The "grazers" order food at the deli, eat it as they're shopping, and get rid of the wrappers before they check out. We also call that stealing.
8. I'm not just selling groceries, I'm selling real estate. Look high and low-literally-for good values from smaller manufacturers who can't afford to stock their products in the eye-level sweet spot.
9. We're marketing to your kids too. That's why we put the rainbow-colored cereals and other kiddie catnip at their eye level.
10. Be wary of "specials." When people see signs with numbers-"8 for $10!" "Limit: 5 per customer" — they buy 30 to 100 percent more than they otherwise might have.
11. The baby formula is locked up because thieves resell it on the black market. Ditto for the cough and cold medications, smoking-cessation products, razor blades, and batteries.
12. Driving your Ferrari to the Piggly Wiggly and want to avoid shopping-cart dents? Park far, far away.
13. You'll end up tossing 12 percent of what you buy.
18 more tips from your grocers
1. "Don't buy anything with more than five ingredients (too processed), with ingredients you can’t pronounce (too processed), with anything artificial (tastes bad), with a cartoon on it (direct marketing to children), or with a health claim (misleading)," says Nestle.
2. Check sizes. "Stores are constantly trying to repackage things to make them sound like better deal," says David Livingston, a supermarket industry consultant. "The new Jiffy peanut butter container looks the same, but it actually has less peanut butter inside. 95 percent of customers don't watch this kind of stuff."
3. Paper? Plastic? We don't really care. But asking us to double-bag… that's just wasteful.
4. Dig and reach for the freshest produce. Older merchandise gets pushed to the front of the bin and spread across the top to encourage customers to take it first.
5. This isn't a social service agency. "The purpose of grocery stores is to get you to buy more food, not less," says Marion Nestle, author of "What to Eat" (North Point Press). Only 14 percent of consumers overall stick to just the items on their shopping list.
6. Very few people really like the "loyalty card" program, and it's expensive for us to run.
7. The kid at the cash register or the cart collector in the parking lot is making minimum wage at best. The buyers for the store and department managers earn bigger paychecks.
8. Attention, shoppers: Don't start your shopping just as we're closing. We just want to leave. It's been a long day.
9. Watch out for gimmicks. They are intended to get you into a store more frequently and to keep you away from competitors.
10. The person who supervises it all has a tough job; they're just a big babysitter.
11. Thanksgiving is our least favorite holiday.
12. Bring back your recyclable cans and bottles, but wash them out first. Don't bring them in with soda still inside — it's not sanitary, and it's disgusting.
13. Dealing with perishables, such as seafood and produce, is tricky business. "I always say we have to have everything that the customer wants, but maybe they don't want it today. Maybe they don't want it tomorrow. But we still have to have it here," says Nizzardo. "Perishable items are where supermarkets loose the biggest amount of money."
14. Signs of a store in trouble: Stocking fewer perishable items, storing non-perishables in refrigerated cases to make them look full, and "dummying up" shelves with empty boxes. If we were offering the best prices and highest quality, wouldn't there be more people shopping here?
15. I'm not getting rich here. After-tax net profit for the grocery industry is less than 2 percent, and by the end of 2013, the Food Marketing Institute, an industry group, predicts annual average wages will be just $18,000.
16. If you get in the 10 items or less line with 25 items, don't be surprised if you are asked to leave. If you have 12 items, not many people will care.
17. Watch those shopping-cart handles. They're covered in bacteria, says food-safety consultant Jeff Nelken. Use a sanitary wipe if the store provides them. Finicky shoppers can even patronize supermarkets that send their carts through a cart wash.
18. Skip the center aisles. That's where you'll find the junk food, like sodas and snack foods.
For more great tips and helpful information, visit Reader's Digest online.