Navigating grocery stores

Learn how healthy shopping can lead to healthy eating


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Every day we make food choices. Why not make decisions that set you on the right course for a healthy life? Let’s start at the grocery store. If there’s no healthy food in your kitchen, chances are it won’t end up on your fork.

Winging it at the grocery store may not work, so it’s best to have a plan. With your weekly menu and shopping list in hand at the store, you’ll eat healthier meals, save money, and waste less food. You’ll also save time and reduce stress because you won’t have the burden of answering, “What’s for dinner?” every single day. Just keep a running list of your family’s favorite meals so you’ll always have ideas of what to get. But also inventory what you have on hand at home and jot down menu ideas. When the cupboards contain nutrient-rich foods, it’s a snap to put a healthy meal together at any time.

I know people think of “convenience foods” as processed foods that are high in fat, sodium, sugar, and calories. But convenience doesn’t have to mean unhealthy. These days, you’ll find a whole new category of foods that are packaged to reduce the time of preparing, cooking, and cleanup, without sacrificing quality. Think prepared salads, frozen cooked quinoa, cubed melon, pineapple wedges, hard-boiled eggs, yogurt with granola, shredded cheese, chunks of stew meat, and skinless chicken thighs or breasts.

Here are some shopping tips to consider:

Many grocery stores are designed to propel you to the produce department after you grab your cart. You should take the hint and fill up on colorful vegetables and fruits—fresh, frozen, or canned all work.

  • Buy fresh vegetables in season to save money and maximize taste. Ask the produce manager about what foods are in season
  • Choose plain frozen vegetables and fruit. Try to avoid anything in cream sauces or packed in sugar or syrup
  • Cooking can be your best tool to lower your sodium intake. Buying canned vegetables labeled “reduced sodium,” “low sodium,” or “no salt added” can help. Even if you want to add a little salt yourself, it will likely be less than the amount in the regular canned product
  • Include some red-, black-, or purple-skinned fruit such as plums, grapes, and berries. The compounds that give fruits and vegetables their color and flavor are worth every bite

Green means go! Try to work these vegetables into your meals on a regular basis:

  • kale
  • broccoli
  • spinach
  • brussels sprouts
  • cauliflower

Red may mean stop when you’re driving, but not with your grocery cart. These orange and red vegetables should be on your fork a couple of times a week:

  • acorn squash
  • butternut and hubbard squash
  • carrots
  • pumpkin
  • radishes
  • red cabbage
  • red peppers
  • sweet potatoes
  • tomatoes

Head down the aisles to pick up canned or dried beans, nut butters, and whole grains such as quinoa, bulgur, brown rice, oatmeal, and other cereals. If bread is on the list, look for 2-4 grams of fiber per slice.

In the refrigerated sections, eggs, hummus, cottage cheese, plain yogurt, and milk will make breakfasts and lunch easier.

I recommend leaner cuts of meat such as sirloin tip, top round, bottom round, sirloin, tri-tip, flank steak, and 95% lean ground.

Oh, wait. Did you remember the fish? I recommend two servings per week. Next time you go to the grocery store, try buying frozen or fresh fillets, or canned fish such as tuna, salmon, sardines, oysters, and anchovies.

One last note: Planning your shopping day can help you save time and reduce stress. In my experience, Saturday is the busiest day at the grocery store. I try to avoid shopping on Saturdays to get checked out faster. I believe the quietest days are Monday and Tuesday. If you can, I recommend shopping on weekdays before the after-work rush to avoid the crowds.

Remember to always talk to your healthcare provider before making any changes to your diet, or before starting a specific diet plan.



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