Eating healthy starts in the grocery store. To cook healthy meals you need the right ingredients, but it can be easy to hit the store and end up with a bunch of food that isn't actually that nutritious. That's why we've listed some strategies for healthy grocery shopping - everything from looking at food labels to considering your emotions.
Use this guide to help you shop better and healthier at the grocery store.
1. Do some healthy meal planning and make a list.
Without a list, grocery shopping can turn into a free-for-all of grabbing anything that strikes you and tossing it in the cart, only to wind up at home with nothing particularly nutritious or useful for creating a balanced meal. So having a list is a must. But good grocery list making starts even before you sit down to write. The first step in making a list of what you need is deciding what meals you're going to make before you head to the store again.
A good place to start is on a weekly basis. Create a meal plan for each day and each person in your family, taking into account schedules and preferences for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And don't forget snacks! Consult healthy recipes that include plenty of fresh, seasonable produce and lean protein, and be sure to check what you have already have on hand. Now plan your shopping list for the week, making sure to put as close to exact amounts as you can for the ingredients and foods you'll need for the week. This will help keep you from wasting food that goes bad before you can eat it. And it will ensure you have enough, which keeps you from having to resort to take-out, fast food or processed, pre-packaged alternatives to healthy meals and snacks.
2. Plan your route.
Supermarkets are designed in such a way that the aisles are often full of foods that are processed, preserved and full of carbs and sugar. So...stay out of the interior of the store as much as possible! Spend most of your shopping time around the perimeter, shopping for things like vegetables, fresh meat and fruits. If you need to shop for anything else such as canned food and necessities in other aisles, leave it to the last few minutes of your shopping when you'll be less tempted by an empty cart.
3. Know what to look for.
When shopping for produce, focus on variety - different foods have different health benefits - as well as what's in season. Try to keep things as colorful as possible, with different tastes and textures. When you get to the cereals, breads and pasta section, grab 100 percent whole grain options and avoid white bread and high-sugar cereals. For the meat, poultry and seafood section, choose lean cuts. Fish is a great source of many nutrients, so try to buy enough fish for the recommended two servings weekly. As for dairy, you have the option of either no fat, low fat or full fat. Consider your goals and those of your family when selecting dairy. Often younger kids benefit from higher fat dairy, yet the lower fat or no fat dairy options may fit in parents' diets better.
4. Read food labels.
Being responsible for your and your family's nutrition starts with the foods you buy. Do some research on some of your favorite foods and ingredients to make sure that you're choosing healthful, nutrient-rich options. Before you place anything in your cart, examine the food label. A good rule of thumb is that if you cannot pronounce an ingredient, be wary of buying it. Many, many foods in the interior of aisles of the grocery store are full of preservatives, sugars and other ingredients that are harmful to your health.
5. Don't go when you're hungry.
Shopping when hungry is just a bad idea. You have a greater chance of buying unhealthy foods or over-shopping when fighting hunger. Your brain knows that you need to eat something that will fill you up quickly and give you an energy boost - this corresponds to high-sugar, processed foods. If you don't have time to eat a meal before shopping, grab a quick healthy snack on your way out the door, like an apple, or have a bag of nuts and dried fruit stashed in the car to munch on before you walk in the store.
6. Be aware of your emotions.
It may not seem important, but how you are feeling as you shop greatly determines how you do it. Being stressed out or sad or depressed can result in the same situation as when you are hungry - you over-shop and make impulse buys on foods that are best left to the very occasional treat. Unfortunately, this can very easily grow into a unhealthy habit if you use food to make yourself feel better when you're emotional. Eating may feel like it will make you feel better, but the emotions you are trying to deal with will remain even after that bowl of ice cream. Try to stick to the list no matter what.
Armed with these healthy strategies for grocery shopping, you'll be buying and eating better in no time. Remember to make a plan, bring a list, have a route, know what you're buying, have a full stomach and be mindful of your emotions.