Arrange groceries in the cart so cold and frozen items get bagged together

Teri's good-thinking grocery hack:

When I go grocery shopping with my toddler, I keep the cold or frozen items together in the cart and at checkout. That way, I end up with nicely sorted "cold" bags. (The items keep each other cold as a bonus.) If my little guy needs some attention when I get home, I put away the one or two cold bags and leave the rest. Boxes and cans can wait. This lets me take care my little guy without stressing out about what's melting in the car. It was also helpful when I was pregnant; most of the groceries could stay in the car until my husband got home. In the winter (living in Canada), switch the hack to separate items that can't handle being frozen (e.g. lettuce).

Trader Joe's sells a fantastic quality insulated cold bag for $5 — heavy-duty red and black canvas with a thick vinyl interior. I keep mine in the car for groceries and cold snacks and drinks. When I'm really organized I remember to throw in an icepack before I leave the house.

Related: Smarter grocery shopping


  1. Shauna says

    I’ve tried this before with some success, but it seems like most baggers don’t bother to bag like items together even when I’ve presorted the items for them.

  2. Sarah says

    I bag my own usually, and this works great for me too. If I’m lucky, I can get everything in the freezer/refrigerator before the kids need me.

  3. Duane says

    Speaking of keeping things together, how do people prefer to unpack? I noticed a long time ago that while I like to empty out all the bags onto the counter so that I can see everything first and thus group my trips around the kitchen, my wife prefers to grab a bag and walk around the kitchen, putting away whatever is in it before going on to the next bag. It’s a toss up who gets done first (hers requires more crossing back and forth, but does not have the setup time required by my emptying all the bags first).

  4. Trisha says

    Maybe I’ve just been spoiled but it seems like most baggers/checkers I’ve had DO bag the cold stuff together FOR me. Even if I don’t sort it well for them.
    Then again, that was really most common in Utah, I’m in DC now and it’s more like I’m pleasantly surprised when it happens.
    I do often make it a point to load my gorceries onto the belt in a somewhat sorted out manner.

  5. Trisha says

    Duane- that’s an interesting question:)
    My husband is a lot like you I think it that food-putting-away aspect.
    I tend to fully empty the bags one at a time (more like your wife) BUT our kitchen is small so not much walking around required.

  6. Michael - Family Hack says

    Duane – I not only unpack everything, but sort it into a few “piles”. One for pantry stuff, another for items that get shuttled to bathrooms or laundry. Finally, I stack all the cold stuff near the fridge so I can put it all away at once. This saves me from opening the fridge or freezer more than once. A small energy saver and it’s also nice not to have to stoop down again and again.


  7. Serene and Not Herd says

    My wife taught me to sort groceries on the belt, and most of the time, the baggers bag it as it comes to them. Only rarely do they undo my sorting.

    I’ve even tried it with Walmart essentials: all the cleaning supplies in a pile, all the bath/shower stuff in another. That way I can carry the whole bag to the room to put it away.

    It doesn’t always work out, but it does often enough to be worth the effort while in line.

  8. Jon Phillips says

    I try to place all the cold items together in the cart so when we check out, the items get bagged together but customer service isn’t what it used to be.

  9. Jill in Atlanta says

    I’d just be happy if the baggers stopped putting things like lettuce and peaches at the bottom of a bag. I send it down the belt all organized….

    I’m a “take it all out, then sort it” kind of person. If I can, I’ll sort some in the trunk of the car so I can drop off whole bags by the pantry and put others on the counter by the fridge.

    A cooler/cooler bag in the car is a great idea.

  10. ChristieNY says

    I sort it on the belt and then because I use reusable grocery bags I put them out and usually help fill them. I have one or two cold bags that I stick into a cooler in the trunk of the car (since I grocery shop while my eldest is at a 1-hr drop off class.

    When I get home I put the kids in their seats (littlest bucked in the high chair) at the table and give them a snack while I put everything cold away, already sorted in cold-bags. The warm pantry items I stick in the corner of the kitchen until my husband gets home from work, or the kids go to bed, whichever comes first. ;)

  11. Zed says

    ChristieNY brings up something that I’ve wanted to ask: I’m all set to make the move to reusable grocery bags, and I’m wondering what the etiquette is with them. Do I hand them to the bagger as soon as the checker starts ringing me up? Do I not hand them to anyone and instead just start filling them myself? Do I say something like, “Will you put the produce (or some other specific item) in this bag?”

    I know doing this may be old hat to many of you, but sometimes I get sudden freaked-out-ness in retail situations (not sure why) and it sure helps if I can walk through something new before I do it.

  12. ChristieNY says

    Zed, most cashiers/baggers at grocery stores (especially ones that SELL reusable bags by the checkout) are used to customers bringing in reusable bags. Please write your name on them or they may think you’re trying to purchase new ones, unless you ARE purchasing them there in which case, just let them know that you’re purchasing & using them, people do it all the time. ;)

    By quickly sorting your goods on the conveyer belt the bagger/cashier tends to grab like-things and stuff them in which makes it easier for me when I get home.

    While I shop I keep the reusable bags one inside the other so they take up very little space, then when I’m at the checkout it’s the first thing I do, I just pull them out and set them up (they are freestanding like paper grocery bags) and just say “reusable bags” or sometimes they don’t even ask because they are used to it and we just start filling them up together.

    Please don’t feel awkward, your just bringing your own bags, no biggie! Some (un-informed) people would argue, “The plastic bags are going to be used whether it’s by you or someone else, they’ll still end up in landfills.” but the fact is that grocers base their inventory on supply & demand. Fewer people using the plastic, fewer they buy. Most put a small change credit onto your tab for bringing your own bags as well, which I think is great because every little bit adds up.

    I was at the grocery store the other day and a girl was using the reusables for the first time and fumbling over them, but she managed to set them up and she and the bagger filled them and she got out of there in one piece. I’m sure she’ll be braver the next time, too!

    Definitely take the plunge into reusables, there really just isn’t any reason NOT to, just bring them, set them up, maybe mention that you’re using reusables, and just start filling them up – done! :)

  13. Amie says

    Everybody doesn’t do this? Huh.

    My pet peeve is things put in backs at weird angles so the corners rip the plastic. When I can use my resuable bags this is less of a problem but if I forget to bring them in I usually end up rebagging most of my stuff in the parking lot.

    When I was a cashier I always bagged things how I myself would want them bagged. It didn’t take any more time, and in many cases was actually faster (easier to slide things in the right way) and saved bags (because you can fit more items in a properly loaded bag). Guess I was weird.

  14. Amie says

    Also the reusable bags are great for Sam’s Club/Costco where they don’t have bags for you. When I unload my purchases into the trunk I bag them. This makes for less trips into the house. I keep five grocery bags and a thermal bag in my trunk all the time, plus some assorted totes. I always have bags for the library, shopping, or stopping by my mom’s house (why can’t I ever leave there with less than I brought in?).

  15. Kristin Overholt says

    I started using reusable bags last year, and have developed a system to keep groceries and children contained. I bag as I shop directly into the reusable bags. When I get to checkout, I put the filled bags on the belt, which makes it much easier to shop with two children under age 2! When I was still in the baby food stage, it also eliminated the need to move fifty jars one at a time! When I get home, I bring in what needs to go in the fridge, and it is easy to unload, and most of the “like items” are already together in the bags – cleaning, dry goods, fruits, canned goods, etc. I use heavy duty reusable bags that can hold up to 40 lbs and found the investment to be well worth it. Also, when both kids were babies, I would load the bags and put them on the shelf under the cart as I shopped, so the cart would accomodate a baby, an infant in her carrier, and the groceries!

  16. adrienne says

    SIMILARLY: my very smart friend with 4 kids arranges her grocery list to coordinate with the layout of the grocery so she doesn’t have to keep scanning the list in each section.

    REUSABLE BAGS: We LOVE reusable bags, and we live in area where they are not commonly used. I always try to give them to the bagger before any items have been passed through the scanner. Sometimes the baggers don’t initially love them because they’re not on a rack like plastic bags or they don’t stand up on their own like paper bags- but usually they’re convinced when they see how much the bags hold.

    We also sort items on the conveyor from heavy to light. That usually keeps the cans off the lettuce.

  17. Jo says

    I’ve been doing this for years and what helps it to work is telling the baggers that you’d like the cold items bagged together. SOme of them get a little miffed because it means they have to do some work but it makes things so much easier once I get out to the van. We have two cooler bags from Sam’s that I can just put the bags with cold items in, zip it up, and I don’t have to worry so much about things staying cold until I get home.

    This is a great hack! :)

  18. Nicole says

    Shauna – I’m with you. My baggers always have a mind of their own and put things together strangely even if I’ve pre-sorted them. Once in a while when someone does a good job, I really really appreciate it. I know they’re busy and all, but isn’t it the bagger’s job to make sure your produce isn’t getting damaged while they’re handling it? I’ve had more apples and peaches (that I’ve carefully selected) bruised mercilessly by careless bagging. Sometimes (when my toddler’s not causing a ruckus) I’ll grab my reusable bag and start bagging my stuff myself before they can get to it.