Strategies for Healthy Food Shopping

Written by Stacey London-Oshkello, MS, RD, CD, for the Brattleboro Reformer September 12, 2014.

Going to the grocery store can be stressful! We need to eat, yet healthy food appears expensive and high-sugar junk food lurks around every aisle. Grocery stores are designed to make us spend money, so sticking to budget and health goals can become challenging.

The following are some strategies to simplify shopping healthy on a budget:

  1. Have a plan before you get to the store. Making a weekly meal plan can help you choose healthy foods, save money, and keep you focused on what you really need at the supermarket. Take 10 - 15 minutes each week to create a realistic meal plan, and then check your cupboards to see what you already have so you use that food first. Plan for leftovers. The store is setting you up for impulse buying, so stick to your list.
  2. Shop the perimeter of the store. Most of the healthy whole foods are found there. That is where you can find whole foods such as fresh produce, dairy foods, whole grain breads, meats, and fish. The highly processed foods are in the middle of the market, so reduce temptations and stay out of those aisles.
  3. Plan to shop once a week so that the fresh food will last you for the week. If we have the mind set of stocking up, then we may find we buy more than we need, go over our food budget, waste fresh food, or run out of food at the end of the month. Remember to budget yourself appropriately. Going to the store more often than once a week may also cause you to go over budget and increases your temptation to get junk foods. Consider chopping some fruits and vegetables when you get home from the store so they are ready to eat, and keep where you can see them.
  4. Never shop hungry. Make sure you have a healthy snack or meal with protein before venturing out to the store. If you are hungry, you are likely to buy more foods that you don't need.
  5. Look at unit pricing to find the best deals. Buying in bulk is often cheaper but make sure you store the food well so it stays fresh at home.
  6. Give yourself enough time in the supermarket so you can evaluate the unit pricing and understand what's in the item you are buying. Ideally, we want to purchase foods that are in their whole form and not loaded with lots of added sugar and sodium. Read the ingredients labels to find out what is in your food, and then analyze the nutrition facts label so that you are eating things that are less than 10-20% of your daily needs for salt and sugar. In general if you can't pronounce an ingredient, don't eat it.
  7. Even better, spend most of your food dollars on foods without a label. Fruits and vegetables don't have a label and these are the whole foods we want to eat the most of. Fresh or frozen is a wise choice; canned fruits and vegetables tend to have more salt and sugar. Canned fruits should be in their own juices and not in heavy syrup.
  8. Shop locally!!! This fall season, there are many farm stands and farmers' markets that offer delicious fresh food. Foods offered at our local markets will often taste better, have increased nutritional value, and contribute to decreased fossil fuel output for the planet. Consider buying these foods in bulk and preserving them for the winter. This will often be cheaper in the long run. You can preserve apples in a root cellar or by making applesauce; blueberries freeze well; and of course tomatoes can be canned for sauce or soups. Shopping locally also helps to support our local community and farms.

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