Making a trip to the grocery store is where your healthy eating begins! And just because you are eating healthy, does not mean that you need to spend hundreds of dollars or shop at specialty stores. From time to time we will purchase very specific ingredients at a health food store, but our weekly trips are all done at our local Market Basket. If you are not from New England, think of Market Basket as your areas dominate local grocery chain – maybe that’s a Publix or a Piggly Wiggly – but no matter what store you have, use the tips below to help you shop for healthy and delicious ingredients!
Try to shop once a week
This can be a matter of personal preference (and maybe you like to shop multiple times per week), but if grocery shopping gets your anxiety going, then try to do one big trip each week. That way you have everything you need and do not have to wait in a line or bulldoze people over with your cart. For us, we tend to shop Friday or Saturday mornings. We of course forget things from time to time and need to stop by the store again during the week, but for the most part, we do one stop shopping so that we are good to go!
Do not go grocery shopping hungry
Raise your hand if you have ever made an impulse buy because you were hungry… 🙋 Yes, I am definitely guilty of this! It happens, but try to go shopping right after you have eaten a meal or had a snack. For us, we like to go right after breakfast, and it’s usually more empty at the store early in the morning. If you are hungry though and want to buy a snack, opt for a healthier option like a Lara bar, kale chips, or other veggie chips/bites, compared to potato chips or muffins. Those snacks may not be preferred if they are loaded with salt or fried, but they are better compared to the alternative.
Use a grocery list & pen
Go shopping with a plan! I absolutely cannot go shopping without a list. The few times that I have forgotten the list at home, I forgot half of the things that I needed. We keep a list going all week as we run out of things, and we also write out a tentative list of dinners that we want to eat during the week. That way, when we are out shopping, we can see what we think we will have for dinner and make sure that we have all of the ingredients for those meals. Any leftovers or extra veggies just go into our breakfasts and lunches for the week. Lastly, and this may be the most important step, cross off the items as you put them in your cart. This is especially satisfying if you are a little OCD, but it helps you remember what you already have and what aisle you may need to go to next.
This may seem like an obvious one, but when buying anything in a package, go for as few ingredients as possible. Now, most of your shopping should be whole foods (see later tip), but when buying things like canned beans or peanut butter, there should be one ingredient (i.e. – peanuts). If there are more ingredients, see what they are. Is it a little sodium because you have a low sodium product? That can be okay. However, are the other ingredients hydrogenated oils and syrups? Then you might want to put that item back on the shelf.
Note – To be completely transparent, from time to time we buy things that are more processed with more ingredients. For example, during the holiday baking season we used Earth Balance vegan butter. Is this an actual health food? No, of course not. But you also do not need to drive yourself crazy, because sometimes using a processed item is still better than other processed sugars and heavy dairy products.
Beware of low carb, fat free and diet products
This tip is actually a continuation of the shop for simple ingredients tip. Many products will advertise themselves as low carb, fat free, sugar free, etc. However, when something is removed from a product, that just means that something else is added in. This is where you can find higher amounts of sugars, syrups, and chemical additives, which should not go into your body. It’s like diet soda. Having soda in general is absolutely not good for you, and we would never recommend it; however, regular soda can be seen as the better option compared to diet soda, because of what is added to diet soda. Ultimately, be weary and check labels when you see products like this, and think about what you are losing or gaining.
Shop the outer edges
That saying of shopping the edges of the grocery store and limiting the middle aisles is still true. Produce and whole foods tend to be on the outer aisles, and processed and packaged foods in the middle. Now, if you need a box of pasta or a can of beans, or maybe you are low on detergent, you will need to shop the middle aisles. Just try to fill your cart up more when you are in the produce aisle, versus buying pre-boxed potatoes or other veggies.
Carbs – skip or buy?
BUY! Seriously. That does not mean you should fill up on white bread, but you do need carbohydrates. Opt for healthy grains and starches like whole grain bread, Ezekiel bread (our preferred kind), brown rice, oats, millet, buckwheat, quinoa, rye, whole wheat pastas, and yes, popcorn kernels! Making your own popcorn can actually be a nice snack or after dinner treat.
In general, please do not be afraid of purchasing foods with carbs. You can see why and much more detail about the importance and how carbohydrates work in our bodies HERE. However, when shopping, here is a helpful tip you can keep in mind (but seriously, DO NOT go crazy over this if it is not exact):
The Five to One Rule.* The five to one rule is this – when buying grains, look at the ratio of grams of carbohydrates to grams of fiber. If it is five or less, then it is a great, healthy, option. For example, if you have a box of pasta with 30 grams of carbohydrates and only 3 grams of fiber, the ratio is 10, so not as great of an option (30 divided by 3 is 10). However, if the grams of carbohydrates is 15, and the grams of fiber is 3, the ratio is 5 (15 divided by 3 is 5), so that is a healthier option.
This rule is not black or white. We currently have a box of pasta in our pantry with a ratio of 8, and that is okay. You do not need to be doing crazy math equations every time you shop, but the more you keep this in mind, the healthier your grocery trips will become.
Keep these tips in mind the next time you go shopping. And remember, you do not have to be perfect at this – we have canned items and vegan butter in our fridge right now. However, do your best to follow all of these tips, and your body will absolutely thank you! Happy shopping!
*The Five to One Rule is referenced from Dr. Michael Greger of nutritionfacts.org