If you’re prone to the habit heading to the grocery store before you hit home, it can be hard to remember exactly what’s missing from your fridge and pantry. Add to that all the delicious baked items, homemade breads, and premade entrées, and it can be extra tough to remind yourself to pick healthy, fresh foods over the processed junk. Fortunately, there are some easy tricks you can follow to make sure you’re only picking up foods you should be eating. Abide by these guidelines at the grocery store, and you’ll be eating better in no time.
1. Buy frozen veggies for easy meal prep
If your biggest gripe about eating healthy is that it’s too expensive, you’re not alone — nobody wants to pay seven dollars for a bag of cherries or two dollars for a single avocado. So, make sure you peruse the fresh produce to see if you can get any seasonal deals. If not, think frozen. Eating Well explains frozen veggies still contain tons of nutrients, and you can always keep them stocked without having to worry about a short shelf life. Choose the bags that say “U.S. Fancy” on them, as this label guarantees the produce in the bag is of the best size, shape, and color available.
2. Don’t forget about the canned aisle
If you’ve already hit the frozen veggies and you think you’ve got all the produce you need for the week, take one last look at the canned foods aisle before you head toward checkout. The Huffington Post explains canned fruits and veggies can be just as nutrient-dense as fresh and frozen produce, so stocking up on some healthful favorites can help you make the right meal choices when you’re home.
Just be wary of things that are too processed. Instead of buying jars of pasta sauce, which can packed with sodium and sugar, try making your own easy tomato sauce using canned tomatoes. If you have a sweet tooth you can’t shake, buy some canned peaches or fruit cocktail packed in water (not syrup), as these are perfectly tasty options that offer nutrition instead of empty calories.
3. Make a list
Having a grocery list handy before you hit the store is key to being a successful and healthy shopper once you’re there. WebMD says the best way to make a well-planned grocery list that’s easy to follow is to divide it up by category. Make a list of items that you need for breads, meat and seafood, pasta and rice, oils and sauces, cereals and breakfast foods, soups and canned items, frozen foods, dairy and eggs, produce, beverages, and snacks. By categorizing what you need, you’ll be more efficient and less likely to pick up a processed food item that doesn’t belong in your basket.
4. Grab the smallest cart or basket available
If you’ve got kitty litter or bulky items to pick up, then you’ll have to get a little more creative with this tip from Women’s Health, but if you’re just grabbing a few items for the week, then you may be surprised to see how much more selective you’ll become when your space is limited. Every time you pick something off of the shelves, you’ll be forced to take up room in your precious basket. This means there’s less room for non-essential junk. It’ll also prevent you from going overboard with fresh produce, which loses nutrients as it sits. If you are planning on picking up some bulky household items on your grocery trip, then portion out a space for your regular groceries, and stick to that space.
5. Buy staples in bulk
If you love quinoa as one of your go-to side dishes for a healthy meal, then don’t just buy a small bag every time you visit the store — buy a bag that will last you several weeks. This tip also works for Greek yogurt, brown rice, rolled oats, and lean proteins, says HelpGuide.org.
You can store your cereals and grains in airtight containers so they’re ready whenever you are. And if protein is what you’re after, then buy the large packages of meat that are often on sale at the grocery store. You can split the package up into meal-size portions, then freeze them for later.
6. Know what to buy organic
“Organic” is one of those buzzwords you may or may not care about, but in the case of some foods, it makes a huge difference. Organic foods are grown with fewer pesticides and may contain higher levels of certain nutrients. The downside, of course, is organic food can be expensive. It’s a matter of knowing what items deserve a bigger investment.
Livestrong explains buying organic dairy and meat is best for avoiding hormones that have been given to cattle. Produce you might want to buy organic includes strawberries, blueberries, celery, cherry tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, grapes, hot peppers, leafy greens, peaches, potatoes, and snap peas. Even if you’re on a budget, it’s worth buying these items organic to avoid excess pesticide residue.
7. Shop the perimeter of the store first
You won’t find every heart-healthy food on the perimeter of the grocery store, but chances are, you’ll find the bulk of what you need by just walking around the outside of the aisles. This is because the perimeter is where the fresh produce, dairy, and fresh meats are all located, and this is what you want the bulk of your grocery basket to hold. Before you dare enter the aisles, shop around them — you may be surprised to see you’ve already gotten what you need.
It’s worth noting healthy staples like brown rice, oatmeal, whole-grain breads, nuts and nut butters, and healthy oils are all located within the aisles, so if you’re low on your grains, then feel free to dive in. Otherwise, it may be best to steer clear.