The typical American consumer hits the grocery store at least twice a week. Why, then, does it feel like we never have anything to eat at home? Follow the advice below to make sure you not only have a well-stocked pantry for healthful eating, but are buying the right products at the right time in the right way.
You’ll notice that many of the tips below have you looking at a food product’s nutrition label and ingredients list for information. If you haven’t become expert at this, time to study up. Visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a guide to understanding food-labeling information.
1. Rule number one: Buy fresh food! There is no simpler, no easier, no plainer measure of the healthiness of your food than whether it comes in boxes and cans or is fresh from the farm or the fields. If more than half your groceries are prepared foods, then you need to evolve your cooking and eating habits back to the healthy side by picking up more fresh vegetables, fruits, seafood, juices, and dairy.
2. Shop the perimeter of the store. That’s where all the fresh foods are. The less you find yourself in the central aisles of the grocery store, the healthier your shopping trip will be. Make it a habit — work the perimeter of the store for the bulk of your groceries, then dip into the aisles for staples that you know you need.
3. Think of the departments (dairy, produce, meat, and so on) as separate stores within the supermarket. You wouldn’t shop at every store at a mall the same way, would you? You know better than to idly browse through a jewelry store, don’t you? So apply the same approach to the grocery store. Target the sections that are safe to browse through — the produce section, primarily — and steer clear of the dangerous sections (the candy, ice cream, and potato chip aisles).
4. Shop with a list. Organize your shopping list based on the tip above — that is, by the sections of the store. This will have you out of the supermarket at the speed of light. If you’re a woman, consider getting your husband or son to do the food shopping, says Joan Salge Blake, R.D., clinical assistant professor of nutrition at Boston University’s Sargent College. The latest survey from the Food Marketing Institute shows that compared to women, men are more likely to buy only what’s on the grocery list. But shopping with a list has benefits beyond speed and spending. By lashing yourself to the discipline of a well-planned shopping list, you can resist the seductive call of aisle upon aisle of junk food, thereby saving your home, your family, and yourself from an overload of empty calories.
5. Food-shop with a full stomach. We’re sure you’ve heard this one before, but it’s worth repeating. Walking through the grocery store with your tummy growling can make you vulnerable to buying anything that isn’t moving, says Blake. If you can’t arrange to shop shortly after a meal, be sure to eat an apple and drink a large glass of water before heading into the store.