Ahh, grocery shopping! For some, it’s an enjoyable pastime, while for others, just the thought of stepping foot into the store is enough to send shivers down their spines. Whether we enjoy it or not, grocery shopping is an inevitable and necessary part of our lives. Over time, what we drop into our shopping cart can have a major impact on our overall health. But sometimes, the endless number of choices can be intimidating.
What we need is a little guidance, right? Look no further! Below are tips to help you navigate the grocery store with ease, successfully find the most nutritious foods and master the art of healthy eating on a budget.
1. Do your homework before you ever leave home.
Plan your meals before the trip, and make a grocery list of the items you don’t have on hand. Check out the grocery store circulars and online coupons when planning to take advantage of the week’s best deals. Once you know what you need, list the foods according to type and your store’s layout. For example, most stores have a large produce section, so top your list with the fruits and vegetables you need, then head to the produce area first. Usually, the deli is situated next to the produce aisle, so organize the rest of your shopping list by deli items, fresh seafood and meat, dairy, etc. When health is your top priority, going to the produce aisle first sets the stage for you to fill your cart with fruits and vegetables.
Conversely, you can also decide to shop the middle aisles first for heavier, sturdier staples, and then top off your shopping cart with fresh produce. Using this strategy, you’re forced to be strategic with perishable purchases which, if you are, will save you money and food waste in the long run.
2. Button down your budget.
Purchasing healthy food doesn’t need to break your bank. Here are a few things you can do to not overspend:
- Resist the urge to fill up your cart. Shopping carts have gotten larger in an effort to encourage people to buy more. Stick with your list and buy just what you need.
- Check out the store’s circulars or websites to find the best deals of the week especially on produce, lean meats, wine and healthier, shelf-stable options. Just make sure what is advertised is a sale and not simply an advertisement.
- Go for store-brands versus name-brand items to shave off costs.
- Look for in-season produce whenever possible to get the best price at peak freshness.
- Browse the bulk bins of nuts, trail mixes, grains, and spices. These items are often less expensive option when purchased in bulk and you can buy exactly the amount you need. This is also a good time to buy a small amount of a new item you have been wanting to try.
- Keep your eye on the unit price (think: price per ounce or price per pound) so you can easily figure out the best value.
- Look high and low! The best deals are often located on the top and bottom shelves. The most expensive items are usually on the middle shelves, which are at eye-level and easy to grab.
This is especially important when selecting packaged and processed items, which can contain excess calories, sugar, fat, artificial ingredients, and sodium. Be aware of buzzwords and marketing gimmicks used to reel in buyers. Just because a snack food is labeled as organic, gluten-free, non GMO or healthy doesn’t always mean it is a better option.
4. Strategize against impulse buys.
Sure, you’ve heard that you shouldn’t grocery shop on an empty stomach, and that saying certainly holds true. Going to the store with a full stomach helps to avoid impulse purchases that you might not make if it weren’t for your rumbling tummy. Grocery shop with a list and make a goal to stick to it avoiding aisles you don’t need to go down that may carry tempting and less-than-stellar food choices. Choose a self checkout lane or flip through a magazine when waiting to pay versus standing in line making googly eyes with the candy bars just begging to go home with you. And if you know temptation in the store is going to be too much to handle, add a “Don’t Buy” column on your grocery list as a gentle reminder.
5. Do a gut (and shopping cart) check.
Take a moment before checking out to ask yourself, “Does my grocery cart reflect the way I want my meals to look?” The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a healthy eating pattern dominated by fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, low-fat dairy, and healthy sources of fat (think: nuts, seeds and oils), while limiting foods high in sugar, salt and trans fat. Does your cart look like that? If it is devoid of colorful produce and heavy on soda and snack foods, you may want to rethink your purchases or take a quick lap around the store to balance what’s missing. You can always put back items you don’t want.