10 Healthy Grocery Shopping Tips Nutritionists Swear By
Remember when you were a little kid and you’d walk into a theme park and everything seemed so big? There were so many rides, so many games and so much to explore that you didn’t even know where to start.
This is what walking into a grocery store may feel like for many of us. There are so many products, shelves, colours, packages and terminologies that it can feel overwhelming to find healthier items for you and your family. But, with the right tools and a little knowledge about what to look for, what to avoid and how to read food labels, you’ll be able to hack the grocery store (in a healthy way) too.
As holistic nutritional consultants, we’ve seen and heard it all and want to help make your next grocery shop more informed so you can be empowered like we are. Here are our 10 of our favourite grocery shopping tips for eating healthy.
Our favourite healthy grocery shopping tips:
Don’t fall for marketing tactics
Many of us fall for label claims and it’s not our fault. Marketing firms spend lots of money designing food packages to have enticing imagery, play on our emotions, use trendy words to persuade us, and pinpoint that exact ‘problem’ that we didn’t even know we needed to solve.
The good news is that we can train our brains to spot the claims and choose packaged foods that actually live up to the marketing claims.
How do we do that?
We question trendy claims and buzz words on the front of the package. So, if it says ‘natural’, ‘gluten-free’, ‘free from’, ‘hidden veggies’ and even ‘sugar-free’, flip to the back and read the full ingredient list. Do the ingredients actually correspond to the package claims made? (Check out point #2 as it digs a little deeper into this label-reading topic.)
Read labels & ingredient lists
We’ve been told for YEARS now that the important parts of labels are calorie and fat content, however, we beg to differ. If you ask us, the most important information on a label is the individual ingredients. We need to know what, exactly, is going into that product.
The ingredient list is the first place you should guide your eyes. If the product contains too many ingredients, if you can’t understand what an ingredient is, or if ingredients sound like something made in a lab, we advise you to question that product.
Highly processed foods contain artificial colours, shelf stabilizers, and preservatives that can be damaging to our bodies. Try to purchase packaged foods made with real food and food-based ingredients rather than synthetic chemicals!
Also, you want to make sure that the sugar and sodium content is on the lower end, that there are no trans fats or hydrogenated oils, and that you are mindful of portion sizes. (i.e., understand whether or not that nutritional label information is for 1 cracker or 1/2 cup of crackers.)
Please don’t focus on calories. Many of us gravitate toward low-calorie foods to stay slim. While calorie deficit has a place in weight loss, we like to remind people that many healthy foods have a higher caloric count and that a lot of these foods are used to fuel and nourish the body vs “empty calories” found in highly-processed foods.
Have a plan for your meals
One of our favourite healthy grocery shopping tips is planning ahead. It’s a simple practice, but it really helps us reduce waste in our households and helps eliminate buying foods that aren’t needed (which also helps with budgeting).
First, we like to map out a plan. This can be done on a whiteboard weekly planner, or with one, of plenty, great apps designed for this. Good old pen and paperwork nicely too. Simply write down some meal ideas to take you through the week. Easy. From there, create a quick list of ingredients you’ll need for those meals and add those to your grocery shopping list.
This type of planning makes meal planning and prepping so easy. It doesn’t take a lot of time (15 minutes max) and helps keep you on a healthy track and stops you from buying things you don’t need.
Don’t shop hungry
This is such an underrated grocery shopping hack. But in all honesty, when we’re famished, we’ll reach for anything. When you have a world of choices at your fingertips in the grocery store, it’s really easy to pick up a croissant, or a bag of chips instead of an apple or banana. Even for nutritionists.
We like to make sure we do our grocery shop after a snack, or on a full stomach so we’re not enticed to grab whatever we can to feed our hunger.
We also know that sometimes, “life happens” and we end up in the grocery store hungry. So, if that does happen, grab something healthy to snack on while you make your way through the aisles.
Visit the health food section
You don’t need to give up all packaged food to be healthy. Thankfully, these days, there are lots of healthy packaged foods and snack options just waiting to be munched on in the health food section of your local grocers.
If you know you’re going to have a busy few nights, grab an easy (healthy) frozen dinner for those nights when you know you can’t be bothered to cook. Using your knowledge from tip 1 & 2, you’ll know how to find those healthier brands.
Buy ready veggies
If prepping veggies is what’s stopping you from eating healthy, then buy pre-cut, pre-washed or frozen veggies. From spiralized zucchini, carrots and beets to cauliflower rice, coleslaw, and pre-washed greens, there are so many options to get your veggies in without the extra prep time.
Choose a variety of foods
There’s more to healthy meals than just good old greens! In fact, there’s a world of foods to choose from. So, why not keep things fresh by experimenting with some different recipes. We despise the idea that healthy has to be bland and boring.
Try to expand your palette and test out some fruits, veggies or cuisines that you’ve never had before like this Tahini Whitefish or these Jicama Fries. Being adventurous in the kitchen will not only add some fun new flavours to your diet but will also provide you with a variety of nutrients from different foods.
Balance packaged foods with whole foods
We’re all for healthier packaged foods, but we also need to remind you that eating unprocessed foods, in their whole state, is the best way to get nutrition into your body. So, there needs to be a healthy balance (in favour of whole foods) between the processed, convenience foods and unprocessed, whole foods.
Try to aim for whole foods with an emphasis on veggies and fruit most of your week and save those healthy frozen dinners or jarred soups for those days that you can’t be bothered.
Beware of the checkout counter
Those foods at the checkout counter are strategically placed there to entice you to grab for a snack when you feel bored waiting in line.
Be tempted not. It’s an impulse buy that just costs you extra moola and puts a chocolate bar in your hand when you, most likely, would have done without. When in doubt, always have some nuts, seeds or a banana stashed in your bag for when snack attacks…well,…attack.
Choose organic where it matters
We are definitely advocates of organic foods, but our budgets don’t allow for it ALL of the time. We also believe that eating your veggies and focusing on simple, wholesome meals matters more than whether or not every single product you buy is organic.
With that in mind, if you are looking for ways to buy more organic products but don’t know where to start, we always recommend referring to EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in produce.
While not perfect, this guide outlines the dirty dozen products that are the most highly-sprayed foods, making them easy to identify so that you can opt for buying organic varieties first. Where their clean 15 list outlines the produce you can safely purchase conventional without worry. But, always remember eating your veggies is priority #1 – organic or not.
We also like to hunt for organic produce that’s on discount, or heading down to our local farmer’s market where the farms are much smaller than huge, conventional farms and, therefore, not as heavily sprayed.
There are plenty of other grocery shopping tips that make for a healthier lifestyle, but these are where we started when we made the switch to healthier living and they have each served us well. We hope it’s a great starting point or reminder for you too.