April 02, 2008

Fifteen Healthy Ideas for Grocery Shopping

This guest post was written by Lisa Newton, whom you may know from the great weight loss community site Iowa Avenue.

How many times have you gone to the grocery store with the intent to pick up “a couple things” only to leave the store with two or more full grocery bags?

When was the last time you saw a special food display at your local grocery store and bought something you really didn’t need, but purchased it anyway on impulse?

Did you buy things you normally wouldn’t, but did so anyway because you went grocery shopping while you were really hungry?

If you answered yes at least once, don’t worry--it happens everyday and to almost anyone.

Here are some helpful and 15 practical ideas that you can incorporate immediately to assist you make healthy decisions and improve the results of your shopping:

1. Plan ahead
Sit down and plan at least three days (a week is better) worth of meals. Although it might seem time consuming, proper meal planning in advance will make your life simpler and less expensive.

2. Look online for your favorite Grocery store’s Ads
Most of us go to a grocery chain store for the majority of our food. Perhaps we frequent a couple. Find their website and see what they have to offer week-to- week. Who subscribes to newspapers anymore? They are now online, so I use this resource all the time.

3. Make a List
Using the online advertisements and your recipe file, make a food shopping list. Don’t forget to include all of the ingredients that you need for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and a few healthy snacks.

4. If you have kids, don’t take them
Don’t take the kids – If at all possible, leave the kids at home. Hey, it’s Dad’s or maybe Aunt Laurie’s turn to watch them for an hour.

You need to go to the store without the kids because they won’t:
  • Run down the aisles
  • Put items in the cart that you don’t want
  • Nag you to buy things you know that nobody needs
Also, you get to:
  • Focus and finish quicker
  • Have a little down time

5. Eat before you shop

If you’re hungry, the chances of impulse buying skyrocket. To solve this problem, have a snack—preferable a piece of fruit—before you go to the store.

6. Wear your pedometer

You’d be surprised at how many steps you walk at the grocery store.

7. Park in a spot that’s not too close

With the addition of your pedometer, enjoy this time for walking, so walk a little more. This gives you some time for yourself, and provides some more activity while you shop.

8. Grab a cart

If you’re purchasing at least three days worth of food, you’re going to need a cart. A cart gives you the freedom to take your time to find what you need. It actually lowers stress. By getting a basket, you’re only going to buy a few items, and if you add more, the basket will get heavy. Believe me, I’ve been there, done that………………:)

9. Go to the produce section first

Many people are tempted to buy the first thing they see when they walk in or something that they want but don’t need. By going to the produce section first, you’ll buy more fruits and vegetables.

10. Don’t forget to check the higher and lower parts of the shelves

In order to increase sales, many name brands or more expensive foods are put at eye level. Typically they aren’t the healthiest. Often, you’ll find the least expensive and most nutritious products on the upper and lower shelves.

11. Stick with your plan

With practice, you’ll start to only buy what’s on your list. If you forget something chances are you won’t forget it the next time.

12. Read the Food Labels!

13. Don’t be tempted by store displays or what somebody else is buying

We’re all different; we are in our own pursuit of a healthy lifestyle. The things that distract you while you are shopping probably occur for a reason—they tempt you. Temptation is a human trait you’ll never lose but can learn to cope with. Therefore, those “buy one, get one free chips,” or “half-price cookies” are on display for a damn good reason. So you will buy them. By buying them, you’re falling right into the seller’s hands. Just remember this, if you are tempted to stray from the reservation, tell yourself: “I made this list and I’m going to stick to it!”

14. Skip the snack food aisle, or stroll down it to prove you won’t buy from it

The bottom line is to keep the healthy foods in your cart and the unhealthy foods out. Remember, the easiest way to avoid eating unhealthy foods is to just say no and not buy them.

15. Plan a “To Shop Time“

A good time for me to go to the store is right after breakfast or lunch. Those times are probably the least crowded making it more efficient for you.

This is my list to help you by providing you with ideas for a healthy grocery store adventure. Do you have any more? Feel free to add to the list, because...

After all, it’s about a healthy lifestyle!


  1. And don't make 11pm Ice Cream runs. A piece of advice I wish I would have followed last night...

    Great post!

  2. These are all good suggestions. The best part of the list is that after following these points for awhile, they'll become automatic. Or so I'm hoping!

    My best idea was to bicycle to the store... and better still, to bicycle to work. That way, I /had/ to plan ahead and couldn't make last-minute stops at the store on my way home. I couldn't buy chocolate eclairs /and/ apple turnovers both, since there wasn't enough room :)

  3. Re: meal plans, I would add please don't kid yourself that you'll suddenly cook twenty-one meals a week from scratch. Salad in a bag can be part of the plan.

    I like #8 Grab a Cart... I'm the person you always see sheepishly getting one halfway through the trip and dumping my overloaded baskets into it.

  4. grrlpup, that's a good point.
    The wonderful Kathryn at Limes & Lycopene just finished up a series of healthy foods to eat when you're super-busy:

  5. Let's try that link again!

  6. Yeah, I need to apply the snack food rule to the ice cream aisle as well. It's sad when you realize you've tried ALL the existing flavors of Stoneyfeild frozen yogurt. Really good suggestions.... does anybody have any tips for meal planning/shopping for single people? I can't seem to buy stuff in quantities that is reasonable for one person, which means I waste a lot of food, which I hate for economic and environmental reasons.

  7. Wow, I'm excited........this is my first time guest blogging anywhere, and it couldn't have been on a better site, or to a greater group of readers.

    Thank you Crabby and Merry..........:)

  8. Merry? I aspire to be you.
    Ive always wanted to be:

    Hey, did you see MizFit on that bike. AGAIN? Does sisterfriend even own a car?!

    but Im not :)

    cool idea turning the grocery shopping trip into a chance to put your new habits/healthy habits into practice!

    and wondered if the 'leave child at home' tip was a babysitting offer?!



  9. I usually walk to my local grocery store, so I can only buy what I can carry home :-).
    Or maybe I should get one of those old fashioned wheeled carts? Do they even make those anymore? Or will I look OLD??


  10. I would add try not to go shopping when you're stressed out and have very little time -- not always possible, I know.

    But the lure of the cookies and chips and easily grabbable foods when I'm stressed is almost overwhelming.

  11. Great post. The Bag Lady already does most of these things because, apparently, as you age, you gain wisdom.

  12. Excellent list. Grocery stores really are sneaky when it comes to pushing products.

  13. Once again, allergies rule. I've been meal-planning since college, when I had to live off campus (in 1971 that was not allowed for freshmen) because I couldn't eat in the cafeteria. I stopped making written meal plans after a year or two, but I always have a grocery list on the refrigerator. My impulse purchases would be when I see something and think "Oops! I never did write that down." My allergies pretty much rule out snack food, too (and I never did like eating between meals) and of course I'm a fanatical label reader.

    I'm not a cart user, though. My shoulders don't like pushing a cart. I can carry a loaded basket in one hand and two gallons of milk hanging from the other hand all around the store and my shoulders are fine, but steer an empty cart for a while and my shoulders will be aching for hours afterward. As a single person for most of my shopping life, and even since my father moved in with me, I don't really need to buy a lot at once. I need to get perishables often enough to pick up the other things a bit at a time.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  14. Thanks for the great list of ideas. I've found the shop without the kids tip to be one of the best ways to knock out shopping in a short amount of time. It is nice not to have anyone whining when I trek across the store a few times to get the things I forgot (ie, I forgot to LOOK at the list I have with me - duh!).
    It is nice to see that grocery shopping is a skill that others have to sharpen, too and that it isn't just me!
    And kudos to Merry for bicycling to the store - wow!

  15. Actually I get a lot of "you poor thing" reactions from people when I bicycle to the store. The only reason to ride a bicycle is if you can't afford a car?

    Now that I think of it, the local grocery store does have a child care center so that parents can take their child to the store but not have them with them in the aisles. Maybe this is an idea that could become a trend?

  16. This was a very good post. I have been using lists and label reading for a number of years now. Of course I know what brands to buy for my allergies, but now I have to read labels to cut out bad-for-you things.

    Ashley, the things that can be frozen, buy in bulk and freeze them in one portion sizes, if you have company simply take out more portions. A lot of grocers now have the fruits cut & portioned into various size mixed trays/cups. Look for those and for bagged salads, or loose veggies. I know they are more expensive, but in the long run, isn't it better than throwing away food?

  17. Perhaps I'm in the minority here...

    but #4 is a double-edged sword. Sure, you can get your shopping done at uber-speed, and you won't get distracted, and you get downtime...

    However, how else are the kids going to learn certain things? What things? Well, like...

    *Grocery Store Manners. My kids were taught that tantrums meant we would leave the store immediately-- even if it meant leaving a cart full of groceries. You can usually ask a checker to put it aside and then come back for it or send someone to get it for you. Whining? Was an automatic no to whatever it was the kid wanted. There was NO running down the aisle-- if they even tried, we either left the store, or they were put in the cart. Will it take you longer to go through the store? Probably, especially in the beginning. But kids don't magically learn to be better at some set age, it's up to you to teach them how to behave in a social setting-- and a grocery store is one.
    *Label/price checking. A very good way to show the kids why you won't buy Sugar-Blasted Corn Bombs or Lunchables or any of the crap that gets advertised/brought to school by all their friends. Have them read the labels themselves, show them the portions contained in the pretty products versus getting the cold cuts from the deli. Gawd knows we didn't become better consumers overnight; this is something the kids need to learn, the sooner the better.
    *Practise. You have a ton of real-life situations for mathmatics, English, Science, History... everything the kids are learning in school. Show them why it's necessary to learn division (portions per package, unit pricing), english (reading the ingredient list), et cetra. This is one major teachable moment that will help the kids understand why they have those really boring drills in school.
    *Quality time. Yes, I know people need downtime. Personal preference here, but I'd rather spend those hours where I can get the kids watched doing something I like to do like knitting or reading in the tub then something that can be a chore like grocery shopping. Plus the kids can be a help when it comes to planning meals (give them specific choices: "Hey, broccoli and cauliflower are on sale this week. Which would you like to have on Tuesday?""Hm, what about drumsticks for Thursday?" not to mention that their helping making a decision would also combat finiky eating).

    Look, I can understand why people shudder when they see kids tagging along a cart. I have three. And have my kids been angels? Not always (hence why I know you can get your cart set aside). But they need to learn, and if you don't teach them about healthy eating and shopping, who will?

  18. Great post...

    StarcrossedLady, if only most people would teach their children to act like that in a grocery store. I've worked in the grocery business for the last eight-ish years, and my biggest problem with it is people who let their kids run around. I used to merchandise for a soda company, and I can't tell you how many times I've had to stop a full pallet suddenly for children running around, or even adults not paying attention. Stopping 2000+ lbs like that isn't safe(I was seriously hurt once), but hey at least I got a good workout.

    That said, if you want to grocery shop on a downtime, Tuesday is always the slowest day of the week, as is Wednesday. I wish I could stay away from the snack aisle, but it's across from the dairy section at my store, which I just can't avoid.

  19. Good ideas...I went shopping when I was hungry this week.
    All healthy, but man...too much :)
    I agree about teaching kids to behave in grocery stores. I recall being taken out at any whine or complaint, and learned how to act in public. We lived outside the city so we came in just for groceries, and my Mum would have *none* of that whining business...

  20. great list! I have one to add:

    don't let husband do the shopping because he always comes home with bags of CRAP!

    :) Lisa

  21. i love to shop at www.wholeandnatural.com. they have all kinds of healthy and natural kosher food and snacks. the stuff is fresh and low prices.
    seeya, debby
    btw i used a coupon bldc08 try it

  22. Thanks for this. The grocery store shopping is like a rehersal for what you will be eating. It helps to lock in your commitment to eat healthy. If you want a treat, plan it and enjoy it and then move on. I never tell clients that can't have something ever again, just that they need to plan treats or more extravagant meals.

  23. Great post--lots of good suggestions. I totally suck at meal planning but really should get better about it. I tend to do a lot more shopping because I can't think ahead.

    And sorry to check in so late--what awesome comments! Thanks, everyone, for a great discussion.

  24. I know planning is not everyone's favourite thing, but I always choose the week's meals ahead of time and write a shopping list to go with it. This way:
    - i get to check that we are eating some fish meals, some meat meals, and some legumes/bean meals
    - you check what you already have in the cupboard/fridge so nothing goes to waste and you don't buy stuff you don't need
    - you avoid the whole "What can we have for dinner" dilemma because there's already a list!

  25. Yes, great post! I thought all these were good strategies. I wrote a similar article a little while back on my blog called 7 strategies for shopping survival.

    One thing I do is remind myself of both my shopping and health and fitness goals right before entering the store.

    And in the store, I have little "mantras" I use. Statements I tell myself like "I don't eat that anymore." or "My body doesn't need that." or "I want to nourish my body and this won't do it." It's funny, but you start telling yourself stuff like this, and soon, you can resist nearly any temptation because you come to believe what you've been telling yourself!


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