Healthy eating starts at the grocery store. In order to eat balanced, nutritious meals, you need to stock your kitchen full of good foods. But grocery shopping can be a daunting task, especially because there are so many choices. While you may walk into the store with good intentions, supermarkets are set up to tempt you into buying other foods.
To help you start shopping smarter, I reached out to 15 dietitian nutritionists to find out what they put in their carts at the grocery store. Here are their tips to help make your next trip to the grocery store a healthy one.
“Living in NYC I seem to be a daily food shopper, buying lunch and dinner foods more that I feel like that day versus planning ahead. However, no matter what meal I am buying for, I make sure it includes fruits and veggies. I do keep breakfast foods on hand though to make sure no matter what I start my day in a healthy way.”
– Keri Gans, RDN, Author, The Small Change Diet.
“I’ve become a big fan of the click-and-collect approach, where you order your groceries online and pick them up at the store. It encourages smart grocery choices, helps with meal planning and reduces the temptation to go “off list.” Even if it costs a few extra bucks, you’ll usually save that money by avoiding impulse buys inside the store.”
– Torey Armul, MS, RD, CSSD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
“My number 1 rule for myself is to always have a list. I never shop without one. This helps me remember exactly what I need and keeps me from buying things I don’t need (most of the time). My other tip is to not be shy about asking the people who work at the grocery store for their help. Ask the produce person how to find the best melon. Ask the meat counter person to find you the best cut of meat. And ask the cheese person about the best cheese to use for your casserole or cheese plate! Their expertise is invaluable and they’re usually 100% happy to help.”
– Sara Haas, RDN, LDN, culinary dietitian based in Chicago, Illinois.
“I save money and get a variety of vitamins and minerals by picking up a number of different fruits and veggies, focusing on including many that cost less. For instance, bananas and carrots all cost less than $.30 per cup, and apples and onions are less than $.45 cents per cup. Then I’ll mix in a few higher-priced picks, like broccoli ($.72 per cup) and strawberries ($.80 per cup). I also try to shop for in-season fruits and vegetables. Not only are they fresher, but they tend to cost less and help to keep my grocery bill down.”
– Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in Jersey City, NJ
“I almost always shop online. I try to go inside the grocery store as little as possible and do most of my shopping online. You can have it delivered to your doorstep or pick it up at the front of the store, depending on where you live. It saves time but, more importantly, it saves me from impulsive purchases and marketing traps.”
– Denine Marie, MPH, RDN of Healthy Out of Habit.
“I recommend keeping a list on your phone or computer of your regular staples to serve as a grocery list template that you can customize each week. That way you can remember to get the specific stuff you might need for that grocery store trip, without forgetting the basics. Plus you’ll save time each week since you won’t have to start your list from scratch.”
– Jessica Cording, MS, RD of Jessica Cording Nutrition.
“Review your local grocery stores’ weekly ads for sales and meal planning inspiration before hitting the store. Create a grocery list that’s categorized by department (i.e. produce, meat, dairy, etc.) to get in and out as quick as possible. Also, check out the bulk food section for money-saving deals on pantry staples. Shopping the bulk food bins can be a great way to try new products without committing to a large package.”
– Kara Golis, RD of Byte Sized Nutrition.
“Always remember to take inventory at home before heading to the store. Buy only what you need to make a few key recipes for the week. If I go in with two to three healthy recipes planned I am much more likely to come out under budget and actually able to make some good healthy meals for the week. I also always buy staples in bulk. Foods like whole grains like quinoa or oats, nuts, nut butters, seeds, salsas, frozen fruits and veggies, and almond milk are great foods to buy in bulk. These items don’t go bad as quickly and you are more likely to make healthy choices at home if you always have your healthy staples on hand.”
– Lori Zanini, RD, CDE and creator of the free 7 day diabetes meal plan.
“Don’t overlook frozen vegetables. They’re picked at peak ripeness, last a long time, and are a really great and quick addition to anything.”
– Rebecca Clyde, MS, RDN, CD of Nourish Nutrition.
“Never mind the old advice ‘shop the perimeter’…why not make the most of the middle! The center of the store holds beans, whole wheat pastas, cereals, nuts and so many of the foods that boost health. The entire store offers a wealth of nutrition gems.”
– Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of betterthandieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It.
“I grocery shop by having a plan. That plan includes recipes that I want to try for the week or my favorite healthy comfort foods. I also plan for emergency and non-perishable recipe back-ups just in case there is a day when I don’t feel like cooking. My #1 tip is to plan your shopping as you plan your workday. Failing to plan is planning to fail – whether that is ending up with less than healthy meals or throwing away money by letting food go to waste.”
– Jonathan Valdez, NYC-based Telehealth Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer.
“Shop the sales on Wednesday! Many markets honor both the sales from the prior week and the week ahead on Wednesdays. I make my list and try and plan my meals around these items, knowing that if pears are on sale, my apple and peanut butter snack will likely be swapped for a pear that week! Buying in season, on sale and on Wednesdays has helped me save hundreds on my bill each week.”
– Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT of Shaw’s Simple Swaps.
“I always make a menu for the week before going to the grocery store. Once I have the menu, it’s easy to figure out what items I need to buy at the store so I don’t buy extra goodies or waste food. I also try to pick recipes that include similar items so I can use the entire product. For example, if we make tacos one night, we’ll make quesadillas for lunch or dinner another day so we can use the tortillas, cheese, and beans again.”
– Sarah Koszyk, MA, RDN, dietitian and author of 365 Snacks for Every Day of the Year.
“I like to use a shopping basket or small cart. This way I only buy what I really need since I have limited room. It helps me stick to my list and get out of the store without filling up on foods that I don’t really need to get.”
– Lauren Manganiello, MS, RD, CDN; owner of Lauren Manganiello Nutrition & Wellness, LLC in NYC
“I like to keep my grocery list right on my phone. I use Google Tasks and can compile my lists and then check off items as I go. Not only is this easy to manage, but I can share my list with my wife so we can coordinate. As for shopping, I like to go either really early or late as the crowds thin out. This lets me get in and out quickly or, if I’m in the mood to browse, I can scope out what new items are available.”
– Angel Planells, MS, RDN, Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Many grocery stores have dietitian nutritionists on staff. They can help you understand food labels, manage food allergies, share delicious ways to cook with vegetables and fruits, and more. Some stores even offer in-store nutrition counseling and wellness services.
How do you tackle your grocery shopping trips? Let us know in the comments below!
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