Advise Me

A Dietitian’s Guide to Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping. It may not be as exciting as shopping for shoes or clothes, but it’s one of those inescapable tasks we have to face on a regular basis as adults. It can be a real chore.

Most of us want to get in and out but shopping quickly and efficiently can be an impossible mission—even for someone like Tom Cruise. On top of that, if you don’t restock the kitchen often enough, you’ll find it difficult to make and prepare food. And if that happens, you may end up resorting to food delivery, a much less nutritious and expensive option.

While grocery shopping can be a pretty lame adulting task we all have to do on a regular basis, there are ways to make it more stress-free. Start shopping smarter with these great tips that dietitians use themselves to leave the store with wholesome food and without breaking the bank.

Nine grocery shopping tips dietitians swear by

1. Make and keep a running grocery list

The best way to keep from forgetting something or what you may be low on is to make and keep a running list. Create a shared list via an app on your phone, so family members can change as needed.

“If there is a plan, you’re less likely to overbuy and have excess spoilage before use,” said Nicole Hahn, a clinical dietitian at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix. “This also helps with menu planning for the week and sticking to your monthly budget as well.”

2. Shop for in-season local produce

When produce is in season, it is more plentiful and often lower in price. “These are the freshest options,” said Samantha Flatland, a dietetic intern at Banner Health. “Seasonal produce can help you change up a recipe every season, and it can even introduce new foods to you as well.”

3. Read the back of food labels

Steer clear from the marketing jargon or buzz words on the front of food packaging. The nutrition facts label is where you’ll find what is really in the product.

4. Shop off-peak hours

This helps you avoid crowds and usually gives you a better selection of foods—no slim pickings. Peak hours for business at grocery stores are typically 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and afternoons on weekends.

5. Ask store employees for help

“Employees are often aware of specials, new shipments and helpful tips,” Flatland said. “Some stores will even be able to order a certain product in for you if it’s not regularly stocked.”

6. Utilize curbside pick-up or delivery options

If you’re sick, social distancing due to a global pandemic or simply don’t want the headache of shopping in-store, then grocery shopping services are a great option. You can navigate the grocery app instead of the aisles and avoid long lines at the store. It also helps you avoid impulse buying.

7. Don’t fear the middle aisles of the grocery store

“There is a persistent and popular myth that we should only shop the perimeter of the store, and that simply isn’t true,” Hahn said. “There are many healthy options within the center of the grocery store.” The middle aisles have great items, such as canned beans and fish, oatmeal and whole grain pasta. There are also many staple items in the frozen section, such as fruits and vegetables—which are less perishable. “Remember, all foods fit in a healthy diet and variety is key,” Hahn added. “It’s OK to enjoy foods that are conventionally thought of as ‘bad’ or ‘unhealthy’ in moderation.”

8. Buy foods with a stable shelf life in bulk

When you buy food in quantity, you can save some serious money and it enables you to shop less often. Foods with a stable shelf life that can support a healthy, varied diet include dried beans and lentils, frozen fruits and vegetables, canned fruits, vegetables and meats, grains (pasta, rice, quinoa, oats), spices and frozen meats.

9. Limit the purchase of ready-made meals

No one wants to have to cook every single night, so sometimes you want to reach for a ready-made meal. This convenience is great but at a cost, so make sure you factor this into your food budget and don’t make it a daily habit.

“You’ll also want to make sure to read food labels, so you know what you're consuming,” Hahn said. “Many stores are aware of the public’s desire for healthy options and have lower fat, salt and sugar meals to choose from. If you’re unsure what has gone into the preparation of the items, ask.”

Interested in other dietary tips and tricks? You may also want to check out these quick reads:

Nutrition Wellness