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5 Tips for Better Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping is a skill. It’s necessary, and it’s the first step toward eating a healthy diet. So, why is it so difficult to leave the grocery store with healthy food in your cart? 

Blaire Wolski MS, RD, LD, a performance dietician at the University of Florida, explained a few widespread misconceptions. The first is that, “People perceive it is expensive to buy healthy foods.” However, there are many ways to pile up your cart with good stuff without piling on the costs.  

Wolski also discussed how “many people are not confident in their abilities to pick out produce.  They don’t know when it is ripe, or if it’s in season. They may not use it in time, or they think it will go bad.” This easily creates an aversion to the produce section. 

Whatever may be holding you back from buying healthy items, here’s a list of five practical tips for finding, choosing and buying nutrient-packed foods at the grocery store. 

Make a list!

Making a list (and sticking to it) will ensure you leave with items you need, and it will help you avoid items you don’t. It can prompt you to grab healthier items, even if they wouldn’t catch your eye at first. Of course, this means you may have to do a bit of planning before you leave for the store. Think about ingredients you need to create balanced meals throughout the week, and plan ahead with recipes or dinner ideas.

The Blue Zones, an organization that applies research from the diets of the world’s oldest, healthiest people, suggests keeping these four foods on hand to support longevity.  They are: “100% whole grains, nuts, beans, and fruits and vegetables.” Consider adding items from each of these groups to your list.

Pro tip – use a grocery list app. That way, you can worry less about forgetting your list at home, and you can save any items you purchase on a regular basis, such as salad supplies. 

Shop the perimeter 

Have you noticed nearly every grocery store in America is set up in a similar fashion? “If you think about what’s on the perimeter of the store, it’s all the fresh produce, fresh meat, dairy products and items that are generally healthier. Once you get into the aisles, you’ll find more of the commercialized and packaged foods,” Wolski said.

In the middle of the store, especially the dreaded snack aisle, there are more heavily marketed and highly processed foods. Brands are fantastic at making these foods look and taste delicious, but they are truly the ones you should avoid. According to Harvard Medical School, they tend to have more added sugar, saturated fat, sodium and other components that can lead to chronic health problems.

However, the aisles do have some great staples, including grains and non-perishable foods. Aim to buy more whole grains, including whole wheat bread, rice varieties and whole grain pasta. Canned beans without added ingredients can be a healthy meal addition as well. Don’t completely cut yourself off from the snack aisle either, but perhaps limit yourself to one splurge item. Overall, a good rule of thumb is to shop the perimeter first, then go into the aisles for only what you are specifically looking for. 

Buy In-Season Produce

When you find yourself in the produce section, you’ll likely be surrounded by healthy foods, so let your intuition guide you towards fruits and veggies that look good! There’s no sense in buying something you are not going to eat, so go for those plump strawberries that are making your mouth water (or your favorite fresh fruit). To keep costs lower and get the freshest ingredients, keep an eye out for what’s in season. Pumpkin, apples and sweet potatoes are a few classic autumn items, and the USDA has a handy guide to in season produce for more. And remember: Never shop while hungry!

Browse the Bulk

Taking advantage of the bulk section is another great way to avoid processed foods while sticking to a budget. Not all grocery stores have one, but it’s worth a look if your local store does. Wolski explained how you can usually find grains, beans, dried fruits, nuts, flours, coffee beans and lots more for much cheaper than the packaged varieties.

Consider Fresh Alternatives

Sometimes, it’s not practical to stock up on a bunch of fresh fruits and veggies, especially if you only have one mouth to feed, or if you travel often. However, Wolski said “Frozen produce actually holds in nutrients better than fresh produce by the time it reaches your table.” Stroll through the frozen aisle last, so your selections don’t thaw while you’re shopping. On top of this, you can freeze most leftover produce at home to avoid food waste. Use it later in soups, smoothies or other recipes. Lastly, canned is another shelf-stable option, but watch out for added sugars in fruit, and added sodium in veggies.  

Incorporating healthy foods into your diet starts with grocery shopping: your pre-made list, your decisions at the store and your cart when you leave. Improving your diet starts with acquiring healthier foods, and it ends with eating them. The more good stuff you have on hand, the more of it you will eat. Happy shopping!


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