A Dietitian’s 10 Tips for Fast and Healthy Grocery Shopping

Let’s be honest: the grocery store can be a battlefield. People with carts hitting you, kids begging their parents to buy them candy, and a million different types of ice cream tempting you. The grocery store is not an easy place to navigate and it can be even harder to stick to healthy choices when under these conditions. With the proper guidance and preparation though, you could be in and out in no time and get everything you need for the week with no temptations.

1. Don’t go in hungry

Probably the worst thing to do when going grocery shopping is walking in super hungry. When your body is hungry, it is in a stressed state and craves sugar and fat for energy. So if you head into the grocery store famished, before you know it, you are adding cookies to your cart and opening them in your lap on the way home. One way to prevent this is to have a small snack or full meal at least 1-2 hours before you begin to shop to ensure there will be no hangry impulse purchases. To make sure your snack or meal is balanced, include some protein, fat and carbohydrates to help keep you full.

2. Make a list

Nothing is worse than getting home from the grocery store and missing a key ingredient for your meal prep. Making a list, a trick as old as time can help you out. Before you head to the store, make a list of all your necessary items. You can jot it down on a piece of paper or keep it on your phone. Delete them from the list when done putting into the cart and look at the list before you leave to make sure all the items were purchased. No headaches and no repeat trips to the grocery store.

3. Stick to the perimeter but drop into the aisles when necessary

This is an old tip but still seems to run true. The fresh produce, meat, fish, and dairy are all on the outside perimeter of most grocery stores and should be the main focus of your grocery purchases. By not going down all the aisles, you can avoid many of the temptations that can come with grocery shopping such as chips, cookies, ice cream cakes, crackers, etc. However, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, so head down the aisles when there is an item on the list you need.

4. Don’t go down aisles you don’t need

Most aisles are labeled very clearly with what they contain and can help you avoid aisles you do not need. This can help prevent any impulse purchases that are not on your grocery list. If the aisles are not labeled, scan the grocery store during your first visit and make a note of what each aisle contains before your next visit.

5. Make sure half of your cart is produce

We know we need between five and seven servings of fruits and vegetables every day yet many people can go their whole grocery shopping trip without one vegetable added to the cart. To ensure you are getting all your micronutrients, aim to have at least half your grocery cart filled with plant-based items.

6. Choose plain versus flavored whenever possible

Nowadays it is so hard to find simple, plain products yet those are some of the healthiest in the store. With companies adding more flavors and sweeteners to plain products, the products end up having more calories and sugar than they did before. When it comes to shopping for products such as nuts, yogurt, milk, and bread, opt for them plain. This will help keep shopping simple and also keep sugar intake down.

7. Make sure to look at the bottom and top of the shelves

Did you know that the way grocery stores stock their shelves is not just by random? There is a method to the madness and is something to think about on your next trip. The food items that are in the middle, or at kid eye level, are the products that are best-selling, most popular, or kid-friendly. Since the most popular products are sometimes not the most healthy products, we encourage you to look at the bottom and top for better options. Here you might find your high fiber cereal or canned beans, legumes, and vegetables. If you don’t look well enough, you might miss these from your list.

8. Read the ingredient list

One trick that can help you get-in and get-out while still picking healthy products is reading the ingredient list versus getting confused by a nutrition label. If there are too many ingredients you don’t recognize, don’t bother to buy it! If you see something that resembles sugar such as brown rice syrup or high fructose corn syrup, choose a different item. Don’t feel like you need to analyze every single food label when you may not understand what it means. Just look for ingredients you can recognize first.

9. Go early in the morning on the weekends or midday during the week

The best way to get in and out of the grocery store is going at non-peak hours. Check your local grocery store and see what time they open in the morning. Some grocery stores open as early at 7 a.m. and could be your first stop of the day. Not only will you beat the crowds, but you will have the chance to get all the fresh foods that haven’t been laying out all day.

10. Make friends with your butcher and fishmonger

Another perk of heading to the grocery store early is having enough time and space to speak with your butcher or fishmonger. They can give you insight on the meat or fish to help you pick the healthiest option. We encourage you to ask questions like which meat contains the least amount of fat? Or is this fish wild or frozen? These two people have all the answers and can help you out big time. They can even suggest methods of preparation if you are new to cooking.

Next time you make a trip to the grocery store, remember and implement these tips. If there is just one tip to try first, we recommend making a list. It will ensure you are sticking to your plan and you will get what you need versus what you may want at that time. After some time, you will be a grocery store guru.


Gabriella is a registered dietitian living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She currently works in corporate wellness as a dietitian and overall wellness coach. She also runs a food blog called Macrobalanced, where she shows people that healthy and balanced eating can be interesting and tasty! She enjoys all things fitness from lifting heavy weights in the gym to hitting the barre. Nothing is off limits as long as sweat is involved. When she is not cooking or sweating, she is playing with her dog Maui, a lively German Shepherd. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook.