Melissa Perry RD
Before heading to the supermarket, prepare to make healthy choices before you even get in the car. Planning your meals, making lists of weekly necessities, and checking the stock of your refrigerator and pantry before buying will set you up for success and help you avoid making impulse purchases.
Here are five strategies for healthier grocery shopping:
1. Shop with Your Brain, Not Your Blood Sugar
Don’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry. When you’re thinking about what to eat next, your blood sugar is in control, not your brain. And when blood sugar is low, your body responds with a “scarcity” mindset — it literally believes it is starving. This isn’t the ideal mindset for choosing healthy foods, because your brain and body are just looking for quick energy and satisfaction.
You’re more likely to buy items you simply want and that may not be the most healthy or logical choice for your short- and long-term health goals. Make sure to eat something before shopping so you can take your time and make well-reasoned decisions on what goes into your cart.
2. Make a Grocery List
It may seem obvious, but making a list is one of the best ways to prepare for grocery shop and ensure your choices meet your needs and goals. Check your pantry to see what’s missing and what you already have. Then, write down potential meals for the week and base your grocery list on that.
Keep a list of staples like:
• Whole-grain pasta or breads
• Low- or non-fat dairy products
These are usually foods you restock weekly, so having a list of your family’s staple foods can save you time.
When you get to the store, you may feel overwhelmed by the options and forget what you want. With your grocery list in hand (or on your phone), you’ll know exactly what you want and where to find it in the store.
3. Stick to the Store’s Perimeter
The perimeter of the grocery store is where you’re more likely to find healthier foods such as lean meats, whole grains, nuts, low-fat dairy products and fresh fruits and vegetables.
In the middle aisles, you’re more likely to find packaged and processed foods like cookies and cereal. You can still find healthy foods in the aisles — like beans, lentils and canned or frozen fruits and vegetables — but you’ll need to do a little digging to find the healthiest choices among them.
4. Use Nutrition Labels as a Roadmap
Read the ingredients and nutrition labels to determine which foods are healthiest, especially in the canned or frozen sections. The general rule: The fewer ingredients, the better. You’ll also want to identify foods high in dietary fiber, meaning that they contain at least 3 grams or more per serving.
When you’re reading canned and frozen food labels, look out for added sugars, sauces and sodium. These “flavor enhancers” aren’t part of a healthy diet and are often used as preservatives or to encourage kids to eat them. If you buy canned vegetables, opt for low-sodium options and rinse them in a colander before cooking.
5. Offer Kids Healthier Options
Feeding kids — especially picky eaters — can be a challenge, especially when our health goals don’t include breakfast pastries or corn chips. Do some research to find options that are similar to the foods your kids love that also fit into the guidelines for healthy eating.
Look for baked crunchy options like air-fried or dehydrated sugar snap peas and other dehydrated veggies, or choose chips made from vegetables like sweet potatoes, parsnips or beets. Limit sugar-filled fruit juices and soda, instead opting for cold-pressed or all-fruit juices and sparkling water.
Even if you shop online, most websites offer nutrition labels and ingredient lists for most products. Once you know what you want to buy, grocery shopping will be just another tool in your belt when it comes to reaching your health goals.