Your Healthy Grocery Shopping Guide: No More Confusion & Angst in the Aisles
One of the things that I’ve discovered as a practicing physiologist is that grocery shopping can be an overwhelming and tiring experience for many people. For instance, most of my clients are completely out of touch on where to begin when they’re in the grocery store. They are also not sure which foods to purchase.
What’s more, with seemingly hundreds of thousands of food choices available – with colorful and enticing packaging – it can be hard to know which foods are healthy in the true sense of the word and which are junk.
In this article, I will explain in detail what you should know about healthy grocery shopping, including tips on choosing healthy and nutritious foods, creating a sound and smart shopping list, and making bulk purchases, so you don’t have to go to the grocery shop all the time.
What you need to know before going to the grocery store
Yes. Some people are experts and can afford to hit the grocery store without a shopping list. However, most people will need some plan or guide.
Creating a weekly menu or a grocery shopping list is an excellent idea if you have no idea where to begin.
First, you need to create a healthy shopping list
A grocery list is a vital tool for many shoppers. With it, you can stay on task and have an idea of the items you need. Also, studies have shown that a grocery list can help you make healthy choices while hitting the shelves (1, 2).
But are the contents of a healthy grocery shopping list?
To start with, a healthy, balanced diet should comprise foods that are dense in nutrients. Of course, I’m referring to foods like fruits, veggies, proteins such as beans, seeds, nuts, eggs, and fish. So it would help if you made these foods a top priority on your list.
When you’re preparing your shopping list, try breaking it into categories such as starchy and non-starchy vegetables, grains, beans, fruits, seeds and nuts, frozen foods, proteins, drinks, dairy and non-dairy substitutes, and miscellaneous stuff.
I’ll give you an example of what a healthy grocery shopping list would look like:
- Non-starchy vegetables: zucchini, peppers, spinach, onions, asparagus, and broccoli
- Fruits: avocados, grapefruits, clementines, blueberries, and apples
- Grains and beans: quinoa, black beans, brown rice, and chickpeas
- Starchy vegetables: baby red potatoes, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes
- Proteins: pea protein powder, chicken breast, canned salmon, eggs
- Dairy and non-dairy substitutes: feta cheese, coconut milk, cashew milk, full-fat Greek yogurt.
- Nuts and seeds: pumpkin seeds, roasted almonds, and natural peanut butter.
- Frozen foods: frozen kale and mixed berries
- Drinks: sparkling water and unsweetened coconut water
- Ingredients/condiments: olive oil, salad dressing, salsa, sun-dried tomatoes, olives.
- Miscellaneous: dried fruit, ground coffee, banana plantain chips, shredded unsweetened coconut, dark chocolate.
Planning a weekly menu
If you like, you can create a menu weekly and bring it to the store instead of a regular shopping list. In this menu, you can list the ingredients you need to make meals you’d like to cook in the following week.
Let’s assume you’re a fan of meal prepping; try searching for and printing the recipes you’d like to make. Then, you can head to the grocery and shop for the ingredients.
Now, if you’re used to ordering most of your meals or eating out, suddenly switching to preparing meals by yourself might seem a bit unrealistic. So, if you are new to meal prepping, begin slowly, and make it a goal to prepare very few meals the first week.
Once you are used to it, you can add more meals to your menu each week. Healthy habits take some time to get used to, and healthy grocery shopping and meal prep are not exceptions. It will take some time before it becomes a part of your routine.
Best way to stock your kitchen
If you are not used to visiting the grocery store frequently, stocking your kitchen with frozen and non-perishable foods is essential. With this, you can prepare healthy snacks and meals even when running low on fresh foods.
A vital step to take is checking your pantry, cabinets, freezer, and fridge to take inventory of what you’ll need before heading to the grocery store. This can reduce wastage and help you get the necessary items for a healthy meal (3).
You’ll have to purchase fresh food items like veggies, fruits, dairy products, and other perishables more often. On the other hand, non-perishable foods and goods that can be frozen can be purchased less often.
Below are examples of staples that can last long in your freezer and pantry:
- Seeds, nut, and nut butter: almonds, cashews, and natural almond butter. Note that some natural butter has to be refrigerated once they’re opened. Nut-based flours and nuts should be kept in the freezer to preserve their freshness.
- Oils: avocado oil, coconut oil, and olive oil.
- Grains: oats, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, and brown rice pasta.
- Unsweetened fried fruit: raisins, dried cherries, and dried mango
- Canned and dried beans: chickpeas, black beans, and lentils
- Spices: turmeric, garlic powder, cumin, curry powder, paprika, and cinnamon.
- Canned salmon and tuna: Wild planet canned salmon and tuna
- Sweeteners and baking goods: baking soda, baking powder, maple syrup, honey, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, and flour blends. Flour should be kept in the freezer for long-term storage.
- Shelf-stable dairy substitutes: oat milk, Elmhurst cashew milk, coconut milk.
- Sauces, condiments, and dressings: primal kitchen salad dressing, mayo, unsweetened marinara sauce, olives, apple cider vinegar, sun-dried tomatoes, hot sauce, and balsamic vinegar.
- Snacks: trail mix, banana plantain chips, tortilla chips, chocolate-covered almonds
- Long-lasting produce: potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, garlic, and onions.
- Miscellaneous: dark chocolate chips, unsweetened dried coconut, pea protein powder, vegetable, and chicken broth, coffee, and coconut water.
- Proteins: ground turkey, chicken, wild-caught salmon, and chicken sausages
- Bread: sourdough and Ezekiel bread
- Flours, grain-free flours, and nuts: all should be stored in the freezer for long-term storage
- Frozen veggies and fruits: berries, cherries, mango, edamame, spinach, riced cauliflower, and peas.
When you stock your kitchen properly, you won’t have to bother going to the grocery store often. Instead, always check your inventory before shopping time to avoid purchasing items you’ve already got in your kitchen.
When you get to the store
Now that you’ve mastered the art of preparing a shopping list and stocking your kitchen let’s discuss healthy grocery shopping.
You must pay close attention to the following when you go shopping:
- Purchase whole, nutrient-dense foods
- Shop off your weekly meal plan or list
- Do not purchase foods because of their colorful packaging. Looks can be deceiving.
- Study the ingredient lists and nutrition labels of packaged foods.
- Stick to your plan. Avoid impulse buying as much as possible.
Here’s a little secret:
Most grocery stores are designed to encourage junk and unhealthy eating. You see, they are laid out to tempt you to buy off certain items – and these items are usually very harmful.
However, if you have a list or a plan, you may not get distracted by the displays and sales. Just stick to your shopping list, and you are good to go.
Finally, do not go to the grocery shop when you are hungry. It may trigger you into making impulse purchases.
- Dubowitz, T., Cohen, D. A., Huang, C. Y., Beckman, R. A., & Collins, R. L. (2015). Using a Grocery List Is Associated With a Healthier Diet and Lower BMI Among Very High-Risk Adults. Journal of nutrition education and behavior, 47(3), 259–264. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jneb.2015.01.005
- Palacios, C., Torres, M., López, D., Trak-Fellermeier, M. A., Coccia, C., & Pérez, C. M. (2018). Effectiveness of the Nutritional App “MyNutriCart” on Food Choices Related to Purchase and Dietary Behavior: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients, 10(12), 1967. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10121967
- Neff, R. A., Spiker, M. L., & Truant, P. L. (2015). Wasted Food: U.S. Consumers’ Reported Awareness, Attitudes, and Behaviors. PloS one, 10(6), e0127881. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0127881
- Jahns, L., Scheett, A. J., Johnson, L. K., Krebs-Smith, S. M., Payne, C. R., Whigham, L. D., Hoverson, B. S., & Kranz, S. (2016). Diet Quality of Items Advertised in Supermarket Sales Circulars Compared to Diets of the US Population, as Assessed by the Healthy Eating Index-2010. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(1), 115–122.e1. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2015.09.016
- Grigsby-Duffy, L., Schultz, S., Orellana, L., Robinson, E., Cameron, A. J., Marshall, J., Backholer, K., & Sacks, G. (2020). The Healthiness of Food and Beverages on Price Promotion at Promotional Displays: A Cross-Sectional Audit of Australian Supermarkets. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(23), 9026. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17239026
- Ravensbergen, E. A., Waterlander, W. E., Kroeze, W., & Steenhuis, I. H. (2015). Healthy or Unhealthy on Sale? A cross-sectional study on the proportion of healthy and unhealthy foods promoted through flyer advertising by supermarkets in the Netherlands. BMC public health, 15, 470. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-015-1748-8
- Thorndike, A. N., & Sunstein, C. R. (2017). Obesity Prevention in the Supermarket-Choice Architecture and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. American journal of public health, 107(10), 1582–1583. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2017.303991
Ifiokobong Ene is a Medical Physiologist, and a freelance medical writer. Ifiok brings his years of medical research experience to help consistently create high-quality, and engaging articles and products that uphold the highest medical standards. He is dedicated to making health and wellness information available, actionable, and understandable so that readers can make the best decisions about their health.