We all know we’re supposed to eat fruits and vegetables, but we also need more satiating foods with protein, fats and complex carbohydrates. So how do we make sure we’re not setting ourselves up for disaster by choosing the wrong foods each trip? Here are 7 tried-and-true tips for making sure every grocery shopping trip is a successful one.
1. Shop the Perimeter
Now not everything along the perimeter of the store is healthy, but most of your fresh meats, veggies, fruits and other products will be found along the walls of the store. The aisles are filled almost nothing but processed foods that have been stuffed with preservatives, artificial ingredients, sugars and/or fats to make them explode with flavor once they hit your tongue. While tasty foods are fun and trigger a dopamine response in our brains to keep us coming back for me, avoiding these fake foods will help prevent your taste buds from becoming numb to the tastes of real foods, helping you appreciate not only the healthy benefits but the actual, natural flavors of real, fresh food.
Aim for lean cuts of real meat (fish, beef, chicken, turkey, seafood, etc.), a colorful array of fruits and vegetables, dense breads filled with whole grains and fiber (usually the shorter, wider, heavier loafs), as well as eggs, low fat milk and a butter spread (not margarine). Stay away from cheap deli meats, fake cheeses, sugary yogurts, desserts, fluffy breads, and pre-prepared frozen foods (frozen fruits or vegetables being an exception).
2. Start with Produce
Starting out by immediately putting in some fresh fruits and veggies builds momentum towards making healthy choices as you make your way through the maze of tasty, flashy fun foods (which honestly shouldn’t be called foods). Much the same as starting out your day with a healthy breakfast will influence you to also choose a healthy lunch and dinner (and doing the opposite will influence the opposite), so will getting your grocery shopping off to a smart start.
3. Shop for the Season
Ever notice how those large bins in the center of the produce aisles seem to constantly rotate what foods are featured? That’s because they contain the current crops of the season and they need to be sold ASAP so they don’t spoil. These are often the freshest, tastiest and most money-saving produce options available.
While we could get into which fruits or vegetables are healthier than others, the most important thing is to eat REAL food. Even if you choose fruits with more sugars than others, or vegetables that are more water than nutrients, you’re still getting some natural fiber with either and making a healthier choice than eating something artificial, processed, or calorie-dense.
4. Go with a Gameplan
Every goal is best achieved with a plan of action. Grocery shopping is no different. Whether you’re trying to build muscle or lose fat, you need a plan of attack, and that plan needs to include the grocery store. Eating boxed dinners or restaurant food takes control out of your hands, and almost always puts counterproductive calories in your body. Writing down what you’re going to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in between will help you pick out all the condiments necessary to prepare those meals until the next time you plan to restock. Failing to get all the ingredients necessary to make those meals may result in a visit to your favorite cheat meal rather than the grocery store.
Make a comprehensive list of everything needed to make your meals, and plan when you will make them. Some meals may need to be prepared the day before so they’ll be ready when you need them.
5. Never Shop Hungry
Who hasn’t made this mistake? Science has actually shown that people are almost twice as likely to buy high-calorie foods when they’re hungry than if they eat before grocery shopping, but did we really need scientists to tell us that?
Eating a complete meal within 3-4 hours of grocery shopping will keep those hunger cravings at bay so you can shop with a clear head. Remember why you’re there: to set yourself up for success by selecting foods that are going to fuel your body’s journey to a new and better you. Keep that angry ogre that lives in your empty stomach in his cage, even if it means getting a protein bar before before you start your shopping.
6. Don’t Fear the Carbs
Potatoes, dense breads (not fluffy ones), beans, lentils, quinoa, dark rice…these are all fantastic carbohydrates to keep on hand. Carbs have gotten a bad reputation and avoiding healthy ones from the grocery store will likely result in hard-to-handle cravings for bad ones afterwards. Our brains run off glucose, our muscles do too, and there is no better source of glucose than carbohydrates.
Avoid boxed, wrapped and bottled carbs and opt for foods in their raw form. This will ensure that fiber comes along with your sugars and starches to regulate digestion and provide your body with a steady source of energy for hours.
7. Read the Nutrition Label of EVERYTHING
If you don’t already know how to read a nutrition label, learn! Sometimes your favorite brand will be out of stock or you will want to try something new and to make sure what you choose is a healthy option it is vital that you know how to verify the nutritional value of the product via its label. Pay special attention to serving size, fat content (and type of fat), fiber, sugar (keep it low), and the ingredients list (listed from highest to lowest quantities). If the list of ingredients seems longer than the Old Testament…it’s probably a bad choice.