Healthy (and budget minded) grocery shopping starts before you leave home. There are steps you can do to ensure that your shopping cart reflects what you meant to buy, and not just the items you were lured to.
Keep an organized pantry and refrigerator: If you can’t see what you need, then how will you know what you need? A clean pantry and refrigerator will reduce waste (by ensuring you eat foods before they expire) and save money so that you don’t end up with a several bottles of ketchup (or none when you need it). Save yourself from having to do an extensive pantry/fridge check prior to leaving for the store by keeping a running list (in a visible spot so that everyone in the house can contribute to it).
Start with a helpful list: It may sound simple, but beginning with a list is essential. Your round up of needed groceries shouldn’t just be a quick review of the basics, but reflect the meals you intend to cook and the healthful convenience items you may need to get through a busy week like prewashed lettuce bags or microwave brown rice pouches. A list that is at targeted as possible will not only make your shopping faster, it will lead to a balanced cart of foods that actually work together to create meals (and avoid take out!).
Think about a basic meal plan: Whether you shop several times a week or just once a week (or every two weeks!), starting with an idea of what you want to make is crucial to ending up with the right ingredients. Nobody likes making “emergency” trips to the market for that missing item! It doesn’t have to be formal, just a simple plan of your main dish on each day is enough—you can often wing it on the side dishes provided you have a fairly well-stocked fridge and pantry (see #1 above).
PLAN to be flexible in the produce department: You know that you need fruits and vegetables, but unless you need particular produce to complete your meals, approach the produce department with flexibility to take advantage of seasonal savings and the best options. Keep color and variety in mind and you will be sure to have a cart full of antioxidants and other nutrients.
Have a balanced meal: You’ve heard that you should eat before you go to the store to avoid “splurchasing” on foods you don’t mean to buy (you know, those that simply “look good to you”). However, it’s important to recognize that simply “eating” isn’t enough and that what you eat matters. Choose a balanced meal or snack that includes protein and/or fat along with carbohydrate and possibly filling fiber, such as a piece of fruit with nut butter, a few whole grain crackers with cheese or a large salad with grilled chicken.
About the authors:
Kitty Broihier MS, RD, LD, Scientific Advisory Panel at Guiding Stars
Allison Stowell, MS, RD, CDN, and dietitian for Guiding Stars