This 'six to one' trick might make your grocery shopping easier

stock image of a shopping trolley with NZ cash in it
The "6 to 1" method is said to help you "spend less time in the grocery store and keep more money in your pockets." Photo credit: Getty Images

Six veggies, five fruits, four proteins, three starches, two sauces and one fun thing - if that's your grocery shopping list this week, you are probably a fan of Will Coleman, a New York City-based chef, television personality and social media content creator.

Coleman went viral on TikTok after sharing his "6 to 1" method that he says will help you "spend less time in the grocery store and keep more money in your pockets."

"You're also reducing your food waste, because you aren't buying random ingredients that you don't really need," he added.

What is the 6 to 1 method? 

Coleman originally shared his shopping philosophy in March 2022.

"I was personally spending a lot of money on groceries, entertaining friends and creating content," said Coleman, a prolific recipe developer who says this method changed his life.

This weekly technique makes shopping more efficient and affordable, and allows you to add more variety, freshness and direction to your menu, according to Coleman. It also helps you keep your eye on the prize - adding what you really need to your cart - rather than getting distracted by the splashy items on supermarket endcaps (where grocers place items they want you to buy on impulse).

Here is your 6 to 1 mission, should you choose to accept it: Seek out six fresh, frozen or canned vegetables, five fresh, frozen or canned fruits, four proteins, three starches, two sauces and one little luxury per supermarket trip. No matter where you shop, this should help you incorporate more variety and spice up your pantry staples without feeling overwhelmed by all the choices - and potentially overinvesting. (Coleman has guides for how he's put the 6 to 1 method into practice at Whole Foods MarketTrader Joe's and Publix.) Keep in mind that pop-in shops for forgotten items can be exempt from this practice. 

While the strategy originally came in handy for Coleman and his partner, he said that the 6 to 1 method "is for everyone." Even folks cooking for one.

You can use this process at the farmers market, the supermarket or your favorite specialty grocer based on how much you want to invest and what you have access to. Scale up or down by grabbing more of each ingredient to accommodate your household, Coleman said.

Coleman made a fresh cheddar apple Cobb salad using his grocery hack.
Coleman made a fresh cheddar apple Cobb salad using his grocery hack. Photo credit: Courtesy Will Coleman via CNN Newsource

The benefits of the 6 to 1 method

Frances Largeman-Roth, a Dobbs Ferry, New York-based dietitian, mom of three and author of Everyday Snack Tray: Easy Ideas and Recipes for Boards That Nourish for Moments Big and Small, tried the 6 to 1 method and reported it worked. 

"There are so many benefits to including more diversity in your diet, from different types of produce to new grains, proteins and even cooking oils. Switching up what we usually buy could help us consume more nutrients," Largeman-Roth said via email. "Plus, being flexible with shopping is what we all need to do if we want to save money."

The dietitian and mom said she appreciated how the 6 to 1 method built in structure, yet allowed for flexibility like opting for the store brand over the name brand, or trading an inflation-impacted protein, like eggs, for a more budget-friendly alternative, such as lentils. Largeman-Roth also awarded bonus points for the emphasis on fruits and vegetables.

"We all need to be eating more of those, so I like his priorities. And you can definitely make several meals out of four proteins," Largeman-Roth said. The starches, sauces and fun foods can help to round out the meal and keep you from feeling restricted or tempted to order takeout, she added.

Using his 6 to 1 grocery hack, Chef Will Coleman made this sweet and spicy chicken bowl.
Using his 6 to 1 grocery hack, Chef Will Coleman made this sweet and spicy chicken bowl. Photo credit: Courtesy Will Coleman via CNN Newsource

How to make the 6 to 1 method work for you 

This shopping style still requires some meal planning.

Regardless of your budget, nutrition goals or household size, "you can't just roll up to the grocery store without a plan and think that 6 veggies and 4 proteins are going to get you through the week," Largeman-Roth said.

"You have to think about whether you're going to put your chicken breasts with asparagus, and whether you need tortillas for the ground turkey you just bought. Even a rough plan is important for coming out of the store - or putting away items from your online grocery order-with the right mix of products to create meals with."

Peek at your pantry, refrigerator and freezer stock. Select the recipes first based on what you're craving, Coleman recommended. Or if budget is the priority more than food waste and your mood, seek out what's on sale, then retroactively find menu inspiration in cookbooks, on blogs or on Pinterest, he added. 

Keeping those pointers in mind, Largeman-Roth ended up with:

  • six veggies: brussels sprouts, asparagus, butternut squash, celery and two different salad kits
  • five fruits: apples, bananas, grapes, pomelos (off the beaten path for her) and strawberries
  • four proteins: eggs, meatballs, sliders and shrimp 
  • three starches: garlic bread, pasta and tortillas
  • two sauces: She omitted these from her list since she has so many on hand, but noted she loves salsa and sour cream.
  • one fun item: brownie mix.

If you're comfortable in the kitchen, Coleman said "you can use all these ingredients to make spontaneous meals; pair them with items you already have in your pantry. Try pasta, a casserole, soup." Or butternut squash and egg breakfast tacos with a fruit salad, shrimp and brussels sprout pasta with garlic olive oil sauce and sliders with a side salad. And, of course, berry-topped brownies for dessert. 

Not sure what to do with your ingredients? To help walk his fans through the aisles (and their meal prep), Coleman recently released a $10 e-book that includes three weeks of grocery lists and recipes that align with his method. (Or you can score one week for free.)

"This is designed to save you some brain power and gets you cooking and eating more at home. Eventually, I want to do a game show where we put the 6-1 method to the test with families around the world," Coleman said.