You may not automatically think of the grocery store as the front line in your efforts to develop a healthier lifestyle. But in many ways, it’s actually ground zero of great nutrition—it’s where you go to gather much of the food that nourishes and sustains you and your family.
Even so, some people find grocery shopping for healthy foods a little daunting. There’s a lot to choose from, and it’s not always clear what the best choices might be. Even when items display “natural” or “organic”, this doesn’t mean that the food is a healthy choice.
Fortunately, with just a few simple tweaks to your grocery shopping routine, you can leave the store with bags full of food that are healthful and that support your goal of eating more nutritiously. Here are some ideas to get you moving down a healthy path.
Start with the end in mind
Successful grocery shopping starts with planning your week and coming up with ideas for healthy meals ahead of time. For people not used to planning, this may sound difficult, but it quickly becomes second nature with a little practice.
Some tips to help:
- Create a spreadsheet and map out your meals. Or use an app that will simplify the process. As you get better at this, create a master grocery list. Print out multiple copies to keep in your kitchen or at your desk, so you can easily add to it. Consider using apps such as Six O’clock Scramble (thescramble.com), Plan To Eat (plantoeat.com) or Paprika (paprikaapp.com). All integrate recipes with lists.
- Review your meal plan to make sure it dovetails with sound nutritional goals. High-quality protein and plenty of fruits and vegetables are the foundation of healthy meals for most people; the fewer processed and sugary foods, the better.
- Get inspired on Pinterest. Pinterest.com is a terrific source of new recipes that you can “pin” to your own boards in your free account. Scan your boards before planning your meals and occasionally try something new. (Simply search for recipes with the food items you have on hand, e.g., “cauliflower curry recipes.”)
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. If everyone in your family loves salmon, serve it for dinner every week or two. No need to find a new dinner idea every week if you already have nutritious go-to recipes.
Refine your planning
Many people don’t realize that most grocery stores are laid out in exactly the same way.
- The middle aisles are where the less healthful food is displayed. That’s where Americans spend a whopping 25% of their grocery budget—on processed foods and sweets.
- The best place to shop is along the perimeter, where you’ll find produce, meat and fish, and dairy—the foods that are generally more healthful.
- This isn’t to say that there aren’t nutritious foods located in the middle because there are: grains, beans, canned fish, nuts, etc. But as a general rule, if you buy most of your food from the perimeter, you’ll be making more healthful choices.
- Fill up your cart with produce — the more colorful, the better. Focus on dark leafy greens like kale, chard, collard greens, and spinach; and deeply colored vegetables including sweet potatoes, beets, blueberries, and red cabbage.
Find nutritious substitutions
The processed and sugary foods in the middle of the store can be tempting. But with a little planning and research, it’s possible to find options you like and that are much more healthy.
- Try oatmeal without added sugar, topped with dried or fresh fruit, shredded coconut, or chopped nuts. Wean yourself of expensive, caloric, and nutritionally empty cereals.
- Create your own personal list of go-to convenience foods. Try fresh or dried fruit, plain nonfat Greek yogurt with a drizzle of no-sugar-added jam, whole grain crackers with sliced cheese, a small container of refried beans or hummus with corn chips, or a handful of nuts.
- Allow plenty of time in the store. Take time to browse. You may be surprised at what you discover in your local supermarket that you’d like to add to your cart.
Read the labels
Many people mistakenly believe that some things are nutritious when they really aren’t. Protein or granola bars, for example, can contain as much sugar as a candy bar. The same is true with some yogurts.
So consider taking the time to eyeball the labels. This will show you which of your favorite cereals has less sugar, for example. Over time, checking labels can lead to significant improvements in your health.
You will probably be hitting the grocery store once or twice a week for many years to come. There’s no need to make sudden, drastic changes in how you approach it. Your best bet is to implement one or two of these suggestions as you gradually shift how you eat so that you develop a long-term habit of eating in ways that sustain and improve your overall health.
If you would like expert advice on your own personal meal planning, we offer nutrition counseling services at Digestive Care Specialists. Schedule an appointment by calling 301-288-1319.