The Definitive Guide to Shopping for Healthy Groceries

The Quick and Easy Guide to Finding the Healthiest Produce on a Budget

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Look, I get it. You’re busy and you have to do the shopping because your significant other doesn’t want to go to the grocery store with you, but you still want to make sure that you’re getting enough vegetables in your diet while sticking to your budget. It’s okay—you don’t have to feel bad about buying the 99 cent snack pack of processed cheese nachos anymore!

Before you leave

Most people need some sort of plan if they are going to the grocery store without a list or any idea of which meals they will prepare.

In case you get easily side-tracked in the grocery store or are unsure where to start, you might consider bringing along a grocery list or a weekly menu.

Creating a healthy shopping list

It is essential for many shoppers to have a grocery list. It can help you stay on task and remind you of the items you need. Not only that, but studies show that grocery lists make you choose healthier items when shopping.

How do I create a “Healthy” grocery list?

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Basically, your diet should primarily consist of nutrient-dense whole foods. I am talking about foods such as vegetables, fruits, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, and seeds. Prioritize these foods for your shopping list.

When preparing your grocery list, you may want to break it down into categories, such as nonstarchy and starchy vegetables, fruits, beans and grains, nuts and seeds, proteins, frozen foods, dairy and nondairy alternatives, drinks, condiments, and miscellaneous items.

Below is an example of what an appropriate grocery list might contain:

  • Fruits: avocados, apples, blueberries, grapefruits, and clementine
  • Nonstarchy vegetables: broccoli, asparagus, onions, spinach, peppers, and zucchini
  • Starchy vegetables: butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and baby red potatoes
  • Beans and grains: chickpeas, brown rice, black beans, and quinoa
  • Proteins: eggs, canned salmon, skin-on chicken breast, and pea protein powder
  • Frozen foods: frozen mixed berries and frozen kale
  • Nuts and seeds: roasted almonds, pumpkin seeds, and natural peanut butter
  • Dairy and nondairy substitutes: cashew milk, coconut milk, Greek yogurt, and feta cheese
  • Condiments: olives, sun-dried tomatoes, salad dressing, olive oil, pesto, and salsa
  • Drinks: unsweetened coconut water and sparkling water
  • Miscellaneous: coffee, dried fruit, dark chocolate, dried plantain chips, and unsweetened coconut shreds.

You won’t have to stock up on shelf-stable items like peanut butter, protein powder, and bulk grains every time you go shopping. In this article, I discuss stocking your kitchen with long-lasting goods.

Creating a weekly menu

It’s also possible to bring a weekly menu to the store instead of a regular shopping list. This menu could list the ingredients you’ll need to make the meals you would like to cook during the coming week.

For example, if you like meal prepping, try printing out the recipes you are thinking of cooking. After that, simply shop using the ingredient lists.

Remember that if you are accustomed to eating out for most of your meals, trying to prepare your meals and snacks at home will not be realistic. As such, if you’re a newbie to meal prepping, be gradual and plan to prep only a few meals during the first week.

After you’ve developed this habit, you can add more meals to your weekly menu. If you want to make healthy eating part of your everyday routine, it may take time to regularly go grocery shopping and prepare nutritious meals.

Stocking Your Kitchen Like a Pro

When you don’t like frequent trips to the grocery store, stock your kitchen with nonperishable and frozen foods. You can prepare nutritional meals and snacks even when your supply of fresh foods is running low.

It’s best to go through all your kitchen cabinets, pantry, refrigerator, and freezer to take inventory of what you need before you go shopping. You can reduce food waste and make sure you have the ingredients you need to prepare healthy meals.

Purchase fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy products, and other perishable items more often. Non-perishable goods and food items can be stocked up more sparingly during the sweltering summer.

Keep these long-lasting staples in your pantry and freezer:

Pantry

  • Nuts, seeds, and nut butter: pistachios, cashews, almonds, and natural almond butter
  • Grains: quinoa, brown rice, oats, buckwheat, and brown rice pasta
  • Unsweetened dried fruit: dried mango, raisins, dates, and dried cherries
  • Spices: garlic powder, turmeric, curry powder, cumin, paprika, and cinnamon
  • Canned and dried beans: black beans, chickpeas, and lentils
  • Canned tuna and salmon: Tuna and salmon canned by Wild Planet
  • Baking goods and sweeteners: baking powder, baking soda, honey, maple syrup, vanilla extract, cocoa powder, and flour blends
  • Shelf-stable milk substitutes: coconut milk, oat milk, and Elmhurst cashew milk
  • Sauces, dressings, and condiments: pasta salad that contains tomatoes, olive oil, olive-vinegar and raw sun-dried tomatoes
  • Snack foods: banana plantain chips, trail mix, tortilla chips, and chocolate-covered almonds
  • Long-lasting produce: sweet potatoes, potatoes, onions, butternut squash, and garlic
  • Miscellaneous: unsweetened coconut flakes, dark chocolate chips, coffee, vegetables, and a carton of coconut water.

Freezer

  • Protein sources: chicken, ground turkey, chicken sausages, and wild-caught salmon
  • Frozen fruits and veggies: cherries, berries, mango, spinach, edamame, broccoli, peas, and riced cauliflower
  • Bread: Ezekiel bread and sourdough
  • Nuts, flours, and grain-free flours: if you need to store flour and nuts for a long time, place them in the freezer.

With a well-stocked kitchen, your bases will be covered, and you won’t have to stress about buying groceries as often. Checking your inventory before you go shopping will make sure you don’t buy the same items over and over again.

At the store

Now that you know how to prepare for grocery shopping and stock your kitchen, let’s discuss healthy grocery shopping.

Ideally, you’ll want to focus on the following when grocery shopping:

purchasing mainly whole, nutrient-dense foods
shopping off of your list or weekly meal plan
avoiding purchasing foods solely based on their packaging
reading the nutrition labels and ingredient lists of packaged foods
sticking to your plan and trying to avoid impulse purchases
In most grocery stores, healthy eating is not encouraged. Instead, they’re laid out to nudge you to purchase certain items — and these are not always healthy.

An example of this is that grocery stores offer specials on highly processed goods like refined snacks and soft drinks. You’ll often find these at the end of aisles and checkout counters

If you have a plan, you’re less likely to get distracted by sales and displays. Simply make a point to stick to your shopping list.

Finally, trying to only grocery shop when you’re not hungry may help you avoid making impulse purchases.

Navigating grocery aisles

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Instead of just buying the usual things, perimetric shopping encourages you to go to the outside of the store and to buy fresh, healthy produce.

So, you can find many healthy foods near the center aisles, such as packaged grains, nuts, seeds, nut butters, canned foods, condiments, and frozen food.

It isn’t necessary to avoid an aisle just because some of its choices are highly processed. Sometimes, the food selection will contain nutritious as well as highly refined items. A good example of this would be, nuts and seeds would be available at the snack food aisle along with chips and cookies.

Fill your cart with fruits, vegetables, proteins, and other perishable items from your list along the perimeter of the store. Next, look for items such as nuts, whole grains, and canned goods in the inner aisles.

How to read labels

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It doesn’t mean that something is unhealthy just because it’s packaged. You should still read the ingredient label and check the nutrition facts on packaged foods.

Even though unhealthy, highly processed foods usually have a long list of ingredients, the same can be said for certain nutritious packaged foods. Thus, it’s important to take a look at the ingredient label before you decide whether to purchase an item or leave it on the shelf.

A sweetener or refined grain is usually a no-go for me, as well as highly processed oil.

Adding sugar to a food item is something I pay close attention to. Consuming too much added sugar can harm your overall health and increase the risk of conditions like heart disease, mental health disorders, and type 2 diabetes.

As an example, I spotted a premade iced chai latte at the grocery store recently. It was startling to discover that it contains 8 teaspoons of added sugar in 3/4 cup (180 mL) serving.

The packaging labels “organic” and “gluten-free” to make you think it’s healthy, but sugar syrup is listed first in the ingredients.

To avoid products that have a lot of added sugar, shop for cereals and granola with less than 6 grams of sugar per serving.

A healthy grocery shopping cart may look like this

Here’s how a healthy shopping cart might look
Everyone has different dietary needs, but the focus should be on foods that are high in nutrients.

Let’s look at a healthy grocery cart as an example:

  • Nonstarchy vegetables: cauliflower, asparagus, broccoli, sweet peppers, onions, garlic, bell peppers, greens, leeks, and mushrooms
  • Fruits: oranges, bananas, apples, grapefruit, lemons, blueberries, pineapple, and avocados
  • Proteins: eggs, fish, chicken, ground turkey, and tofu
  • Starchy vegetables: red potatoes, sweet potatoes, and winter squash
  • Grains and legumes: quinoa, oats, brown rice, dried black beans, buckwheat, red lentils, barley, and farro
  • Nuts, seeds, and nut butter: pumpkin seeds, macadamia nuts, almonds, and natural peanut butter
  • Canned foods: canned salmon, sardines, canned beans, canned pumpkin puree, diced tomatoes, and marinara sauce
  • Oils and condiments: olive oil, salad dressing, avocado oil, salsa, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, dried spices, honey, and maple syrup
  • Dairy and nondairy products: full fat Greek yogurt, cheddar cheese, goat cheese, cashew milk, and coconut yogurt
  • Snack foods: chips, trail mix, dried fruit, and hummus
  • Frozen foods: frozen shrimp, frozen kale, frozen raspberries, and Ezekiel bread
  • Beverages: seltzer water, herbal tea bags, and coffee beans

This list is not exhaustive or definite, but it can act as a general guide for shopping trips.

Of course, there’s also room for your favorite foods in a healthy, balanced diet. The point is not to completely avoid foods like chips, ice cream, and cookies that are considered unhealthy.

A well-rounded diet should emphasize nutrient-dense foods that make you feel good while satisfying your appetite and delivering the nutrients your body needs to thrive.

I always have good chocolate in my kitchen – and it’s not always dark – and I love almost any salty chip. It’s perfectly healthy to crave and enjoy foods that aren’t considered nutritious from time to time.

The bottom line


Shopping for groceries doesn’t have to be stressful.

To start, make a list or meal plan, take inventory of your kitchen, and stock your freezer and pantry with food that will last longer.

Try using some of the tips covered in this article and before you know it, you’ll be a healthy grocery shopping pro.

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