Eat Better

5 Simple Rules to Master the Art of Grocery Shopping

The grocery store. Is it a food paradise or a trap? It can truly be an art to successfully find your way through the maze of processed and packaged foods and get to the REAL stuff. There are so many choices, and with fancy packaging, advertisements, and clever marketing, it can be difficult to figure out what’s good for you and what you should stay away from.

But it doesn’t have to be so hard. With a few simple rules, you can become a master at navigating the grocery store! 

1. Make a grocery list

The first thing you should do before stepping foot into the store is make a list. Pick a day of the week when you have a little extra time and use that time to create a menu for the week. Then make your grocery list according to your menu. If you have a list and only go into the aisles that contain the products on your list, you are less likely to buy more than you need, or buy “junk” food. The only trick is that you have to stay out of the aisles that don’t contain products on your list! 

2. Don’t go to the grocery store when you’re hungry! 

This is a very important rule. If you go to the store when you’re hungry, you’re more likely to buy food that isn’t on your list (which will cost you more), and give into temptation and purchase items that are less than ideal (think chips, cookies, and other sugary and/or processed foods).

Look familiar?

3. Shop on the periphery of the store

If you choose to follow only one rule, make it this one! This is where you find the real food like fruits, vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy. These foods generally have less chemicals (especially organic products), and fewer, if any, preservatives. They are generally higher quality than packaged foods because they have been minimally processed and contain more nutrients like vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein.

If you must go down the aisles, try to stick to the ones that are absolutely necessary, like the aisle with toilet paper 🙂 Some other great items you’ll find within the aisles include dried herbs and spices, dried or canned beans, nut or seed butters, good quality oils like extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil, vinegar, and whole grains like brown rice and oats.

A peek at the periphery of the store.

4. Read labels

In the event that you find yourself in some of the inner aisles of the grocery store for some pasta sauce or other convenience foods, don’t panic! It’s best to stay on the periphery of the store, but it would be completely ridiculous to stay out of the middle aisles altogether. We all need convenience foods from time to time! Just be mindful of the products you choose by reading the labels.

The first part of a food label I check is the ingredient list. Try to choose items that have five ingredients or less, if possible. Also, if the label has ingredients you can’t pronounce, or have no clue what they are (polysorbate 60, maltodextrin, carageenan), steer clear! Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT), a common preservative, sounds horrifying! Butylated sounds too close to mutilated. No thank you!

Next check the fat, sodium, and sugar content of packaged foods. Processed and packaged foods are often high in these three areas because they add back the flavor that was removed during processing, and also aid in preserving these items longer. Another thing to remember when reading ingredient lists is that items are listed in descending order. The higher it is on the list (like the first or second item), the more of it that is in that food. For example, if sugar (or high fructose corn syrup) is listed as the first or second item, you can bet that product has a LOT of sugar in it.

5. Buy frozen fruits and vegetables

If fresh fruits and vegetables are too expensive, which happens when they are out of season, you can opt for frozen varieties. They are usually picked at their peak and then frozen immediately to preserve their quality. They are quite comparable to fresh fruits and vegetables as far as nutrient value, and are sometimes even better for you if the fresh ones have been shipped thousands of miles to get to your store. Plus they are great for quick weekday meals and snacks. They save you time and money without sacrificing quality!

These are just examples of some of the rules I follow when I head to the grocery store. I also try to shop at farmer’s markets whenever possible, I grow some of my own fruits and veggies, and I’m a member of a CSA.* By shopping at farmer’s markets you not only help your local economy by giving your money directly to farmers in your area, you also get products that are at their peak because most items in the market have been picked that day or the day before. There are other benefits to shopping for local food, but I’ll spare you the lesson until a later date. For now, focus on mastering the art of grocery shopping!

What other tips do you have that are helpful when grocery shopping? Leave a comment below!

*CSA: Community-Supported or Community-Shared Agriculture. Farmers sell shares of their harvest (produce or meat) before the season begins. Then the buyers get a weekly or monthly delivery of their share of the harvest for the season.


About Author

My name is Jenn. I’m a wife, boy mom (and dog mom), newish gardener, wannabe homesteader, and a lover of fresh, healthy food. I love to cook, stay active, be outside, and to help people.

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