Did you know that the average supermarket carries 38,718 products? No wonder navigating the aisles can feel overwhelming! When you add in the temptation we all feel to grab less-than-healthy choices, a trip to the grocery store begins to seem more like a battle than an opportunity to fill your cart—and your body—with wholesome, good-for-you foods. But with these simple shopping strategies, you can skip the stress and leave the market with bags full of healthy options.
Go With a Plan
Before you go to the store, think about the meals you’re going to prepare over the coming week, and make a list of the ingredients. (Check out Canyon Ranch recipes for inspiration!) You can save time in the store by grouping the ingredients on your list by department or aisle (produce, dairy, frozen, etc.), so you can stock up more efficiently. Stick to your list to keep you from wandering aimlessly through the store and buying items you don’t need or that aren’t the healthiest.
Have a Snack First
It may sound silly, but it works: Eating a little something before you shop helps you to avoid the temptation of buying junk food or filling your cart with more than you need. Protein gives a snack staying power, so try a smear of hummus or peanut butter on apple slices, celery sticks or whole grain crackers before you head to the store.
Try to avoid items that have refined (white) flour, high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, preservatives or artificial flavors, colors or sweeteners. Processed foods are more likely to be higher in calories and less likely to have the vitamins and minerals that your body needs.
Shop the Perimeter
The outer aisles of the grocery store are where you can find the freshest, least processed foods—fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, dairy and breads. Aim to get most of your foods there.
While You’re There, Go Seasonal…
Fruits and vegetables that are in season are usually more nutritious, abundant, tasty and inexpensive than those that are out of season—in other words, a grand slam!
…and Buy the Rainbow
The USDA recommends filling half our plates with colorful fruits and vegetables at mealtimes, since it helps with calorie management and ensures consumption of a variety of nutrients. Your cart should reflect this suggestion. Green is great, but how about a bright red tomato or a beautiful pint of blueberries?
Say No to Bulk
Many grocery stores offer foods in bulk quantities. They can seem like a good deal for your wallet, but having large quantities of food around can make it easy to overeat. If you do buy bulk foods, package them in smaller, single-serving-size containers once you get home.
Pressed for time but still want to ensure you’re eating balanced meals? Pre-grilled chicken or already cut broccoli will likely cost more, but that additional expense can be worth it if it means that you’re eating healthier foods on a regular basis.
Stock Up on Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
Flash-frozen fruits and veggies that aren’t packed in sugary syrups are picked at their peak and contain almost the exact same nutritional value (often at a lower cost) as their fresh counterparts, if not better! Keeping these items in your freezer ensures that you always have healthy snacks and meal ingredients on hand.
Don’t Buy Now if You Don’t Want to Be Tempted Later
This one sounds obvious enough, but it’s easy to forget. Think about what foods you have a tendency to overindulge in, and if you just can’t seem to limit your serving sizes, keep them out of the house and allow yourself to indulge in a sensible portion when you’re out instead. After all, isn’t enjoying a scoop of your favorite flavor at the local ice cream shop more fun than eating a pint of Rocky Road while standing over the sink at home?
Broaden Your Shopping Horizons
Supermarkets are easy to come by, but farmers markets, food co-ops and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs are growing in popularity and abundance. They offer fresh, local produce (often organic), and many sell locally sourced meats, dairy products and breads as well. Try making the switch, or working some of these options into your shopping plans when you can. To find a farmers market, co-op or CSA near you, visit localharvest.org.