Photo: Shutterstock / Nestor Rizhniak
Grocery stores can be a minefield when it comes to choosing the right items for a healthy lifestyle. We not only want to buy well, but we also want to avoid spending a fortune on overpriced options that aren’t all that healthy in the end. How do we avoid running into bad buying habits? Well, the solutions are a lot simpler than you might think.
1. Bring a list
Planning your meals and snacks for the week is a great way of not only curbing future hunger pangs but also a terrific way to stay healthy. It will save you from unhealthy impulse buys and keep that all-important shopping bill to a minimum.
2. Scan the labels
First, be sure you know how to read a label so you’re getting exactly what you expect. Ingredient labels shouldn’t be long. The longer the list, the more artificial ingredients and the smaller the nutritional value. Fewer ingredients are a good sign that the product is closer to its less processed form–and better for you.
Many products such as cereals are fortified with added nutrients that were never in the food in its natural state, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a good choice for a healthy shopping list. It’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security when we read “fortified” on packaging. Read through the label to discover why it’s fortified in the first place. If the food has a high sugar or sodium content, adding extra vitamins or minerals could be the company’s way of softening the blow.
3. Hang out in the produce section
This is where you can go crazy and load your shopping cart with anything that takes your fancy, or maybe try new-to-you seasonal produce. Stockpiling fruits and veggies is a brilliant way to evolve your palate, break away from your recipe routine and add variety to a healthy menu. Not only are these foods packed with health benefits, but what you see is what you get. No hidden ingredients.
4. Buy in bulk
You might be surprised to find that healthy food doesn’t need to cost a fortune. In fact, it could be the cheapest stuff in your cart! Bulk prices tend to be lower, and buying quinoa or lentils in bulk can keep you well-stocked for months. Lots of healthier snacks, like dried fruit, are available in bulk, too.
5. Buy frozen
There was a time when I thought the best produce had to be fresh, but that’s not the case. Think about it: When fruit and vegetables are harvested and frozen quickly, the nutritional value stays locked in until the day they’re served. Not only that, but sometimes frozen produce costs less than fresh, saving you money and reducing the waste of produce that may expire in the refrigerator. That said, frozen foods don’t last forever, either. This is how long you can stash your food in the freezer.
6. Reach for whole grains
Whole grains are packed with goodness, so be sure to these are on your healthy shopping list. You can load your favorite recipes with nutrients by swapping in whole-grain bread, tortillas and pasta for the more processed stuff. Whole grains are packed with fiber, vitamin B, iron and magnesium, and they keep you feeling fuller longer. (And when you’re reading labels, remember that “whole grain” is different from “multigrain”—you want the former, because multigrain just means more than one type of flour, and the flours might be refined, not whole grain.)
7. Stick to lean meats
If you’re an omnivore, chicken and fish are great additions to your healthy shopping list. So are cuts of meat that end with “loin,” like tenderloin and sirloin. And guess what: It’s not so bad to eat crispy-crunchy chicken skin now and then.
8. Shop at the right time
To avoid making unhealthy impulse buys, don’t shop when you’re hungry. There’s nothing worse than walking down the grocery aisles craving everything you see. When you’re hungry, all you can think about is getting something fast. Hello, giant barrel of cheese balls! So even if it’s between meals, grab a quick snack at home before shopping so you’re not caught off guard when you get to the store.
Next time you’re ready to stock up on food, remember these tips. They’ll help keep your body and bank account in healthy balance.