I LOVE the grocery store. It’s one of my favorite places. I love looking at all the food and picking out things I want to try. It all started with the big trips my mom and I used to make to the commissary to stock up on groceries. The best trips were when we drove all the way out to Wegmans and made a day out of it. What a treat! I know that this love of the grocery store does not translate to many people. Grocery shopping can be a chore or overwhelming. Just one more thing on the ever growing to-do list. Not only can it be difficult to find the time to get to the store, but once you’re there, what do you buy? How do you know if something is healthy and nutritious?
That’s where dietitians come in to make it simple for you! We want you to feel confident in your choices at the grocery store and understand all those numbers on the nutrition labels.
We’re going to go on a virtual tour right now and discuss the ins and outs of navigating the grocery store.
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Tips for Navigating the Grocery Store
Let’s start the grocery store tour with the produce section. When you first walk in to a store, you will typically find yourself amongst the produce. Now this is my favorite section and a time when you can get a little creative with your shopping list. I mostly purchase fruits and vegetables based on what looks (and smells) good. If you planned to have broccoli one night, but that purple cauliflower is catching your eye, go for it! Have you ever tried purple cauliflower??
When it comes to many fruits, smell is key. I want to be able to smell the berries, peaches, and melons. That’s how you know they’re ripe! Now we’re staring at all the piles of fruit and I know what you’re thinking…”but Kaitlin, what fruit should I NOT eat? Aren’t some fruits too high in sugar?” No fruit is off limits! Fruit is a great source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants…so many good things! Yes, if you have blood sugar concerns like diabetes, some fruits may have smaller serving sizes than we would think (bananas and grapes, for example), but that doesn’t mean you can’t have them!
Don’t miss the small refrigerated area in the produce section that holds all your soy products. Make sure to stop here if you want to add silken tofu to your smoothie (or create a high protein chocolate peanut butter mousse) or get extra firm tofu for your next stir fry or tofu scramble.
The next section at my grocery store is the natural foods section. Now this is definitely not a requirement, but I like to peruse it for some unusual items. Like roasted bean snacks (like Biena* or Bada Bean*), ground flaxseed, alternative pastas and grains (like Banza*), and my favorite Ezekiel English muffins*.
On to the dairy aisle. The wall of yogurt is a wonderful thing. I can’t say that I have a favorite. Greek yogurt is going to have more protein, so I usually go with the Greek. No matter what yogurt you choose, try to get one that’s lower in added sugar. Yogurt is typically going to have about 7-10 grams of natural sugar, so choosing one closer to that number (rather than like 19 grams of sugar) is going to be best. Some of my favorites are Chobani Lower Sugar*, Fage*, and Siggi’s*. Other great options in the dairy aisle include cheese, milk, cottage cheese, and kefir! Have you ever tried kefir? It’s like a drinkable yogurt that is a great source of probiotics.
Somewhere around here, you’ll probably find some eggs as well. Don’t be afraid of those yolks though! They’re chock full of vitamins and minerals, and actually not bad for cholesterol (contrary to popular belief).
Next up is the bread. I love bread. But there are just so many choices! How do you decide?? My number one rule is to check the fiber content. I’m looking for more whole grains! That fiber will keep you satisfied for longer, and is great for heart health as well! One of my favorites is Dave’s Killer Bread*.
Now we’ve made our way to the deli. Here, you can grab some sliced lunch meat or cheese, but be careful if you’re watching your salt intake! Most deli products tend to be quite high in sodium. If you need a quick dinner option, grab a rotisserie chicken! You can also use the leftovers for chicken salad.
Don’t forget the hummus and fancy cheeses! If you’ve never tried hummus, it’s a great dip for raw veggies and a good source of protein and fiber! Sabra* is a brand that you can find pretty much anywhere and they have a ton of different flavors. For a little different hummus option, I like Ithaca Cold Crafted (a little different from traditional hummus but I like the bright, fresh flavors). I also hit up the fancy cheese section for some goat cheese, Parmesan, feta, or blue cheese. These cheeses pack a punch of flavor and you don’t need to use a whole lot of it!
Next stop on our grocery store tour is the meat department. The meat section can seem pricey, so buy in bulk to save money, and put half of it in the freezer for another time! When you’re buying meats, try to choose more lean meats like chicken, turkey, pork chops, tenderloin or sirloin steaks. Right next door, you’ll see the fish counter. Pick up some heart healthy fish like salmon and tuna!
What about the frozen foods? Don’t be afraid to stock up on frozen fruits and veggies. They’re just as nutritious as fresh! When purchasing frozen meals, make sure you’re looking at the label for sodium if you’re watching your salt intake! Aim for meals that have less than 600 mg of sodium per serving. Some favorites include Healthy Choice Power Bowls, Evol*, and Amy’s meals.
Now we’re ready for the center aisles. While I do a decent about of “shopping the perimeter,” (meaning I like to fill up a decent amount of my cart with the fresh foods available in the sections discussed above), that doesn’t mean the shelf stable items are off limits! In fact there are so many nutritious items in the center aisles, and often times they are more budget friendly!
I do like to pay attention to the ingredients and the nutrition facts label. For example, I try to increase fiber and watch salt content. But the center aisles are great to stock up on pantry staples. Beans, both dried and canned, are a great source of fiber and protein. Nuts and seeds, including almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds, are good sources of protein and healthy fat, and can be a great snack or topping for things like oatmeal or salads. Cooking oils can be a little overwhelming. I often recommend olive oil for cold or low heat cooking, and avocado oil for high heat cooking. High fiber cereals and oatmeal are great for cholesterol management and gut health. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as there are so many options in these aisles! Comment below or ask your dietitian for more recommendations!
And that brings us to the end of the grocery store tour! Any questions?
We are here to help! If you need help navigating the countless items at the grocery store, please call 301-474-2499 or click here to make an appointment with a registered dietitian today! We want to make the grocery shopping a simple and enjoyable experience!
Updated March 2020
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