Healthy Shopping – Secrets for Navigating the Grocery Store

Erin Campbell helps you tackle your bad habits

Hi. I’m Erin, Lamprey Health Care’s Registered Dietitian. I’m also a working mom, which means making healthy living work in a busy house. A healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to be hard. Welcome to my Healthy Habits Corner.


Confession time… I consider myself one of the world’s worst grocery shoppers. It honestly is one of my least favorite chores but here are some of my secrets to making the task more manageable and emerging as a healthy shopper.


Healthy Shopping Tip #1 – Do Your Homework

My number one piece of advice is to take time to make a plan before going to the grocery store because, in the end, this will save you both time and money. The first task to consider is what you will be eating for the week or whatever time period you choose. At our house, I like to plan for dinners each night. Stay tuned for an upcoming article on healthy meal planning and portion sizes, but essentially you should try to include a grain, protein, and fruit or vegetable with each meal to start. Also, consider what your schedule for the week will be like. For example, if you know you will be home late a particular night then that is not a night to put a complex and time consuming meal on the menu.

After your menu is completed, the next step is to construct a shopping list based upon the menus you have created and general household items you might need, such as toothpaste. This step is extremely important. No one wants to start preparing a meal only to discover one of the key ingredients is missing. I personally find it helpful to divide my shopping list into categories:

  • Produce
  • Meats/Fish
  • Dairy
  • Other (cereals, cleaning products, etc.)

Some people like to compare the sales flyers to find the best price on particular items and might shop at several stores to get the best price. This can be a great strategy if you are sticking to a strict budget.

Now that you have finished your homework, it is time to shop.


Healthy Shopping Tip #2 – Consider a Local Farm Stand or Farmer’s Market

This is completely a personal preference but I enjoy visiting our local farm stand to purchase fresh produce and eggs. It is a great way to support local farmers and I like seeing where my food comes from and meeting the folks who grow it. As an added bonus, it can be less expensive than a traditional grocery store and taste better.


Healthy Shopping Tip #3 – It’s All About Timing

NEVER go to the grocery store hungry. Seriously, bad things will happen!

When it is finally time to get down to business and shop, I make a deal with myself; I will only purchase the items on the shopping list. If you have done a thorough job creating both the menu and shopping list, you will not need anything else. That means that no matter how good that box of cookies looks, it does not go into your shopping cart. You really do not need those extra items and they will just result in a higher grocery bill.

Another strategy to use at the grocery store to save money is to compare the unit price of similar products in different sized containers. This helps us assess if that bigger bag is really less expensive or a better deal than the smaller sized bag. Displayed on the shelf tag near the cost of the item, the unit price tells you the cost per unit of measurement (pound, quart, etc.).

Compare unit prices Compare unit prices

The 1 lb. bag of pistachios isn’t any cheaper per pound than the 1/2 lb. bag

 Once you have gathered all the items on your list, it is now time to check out. Don’t forget to hand the coupons you might have to the cashier and not leave them in your coat pocket. See, I really am a horrible shopper.


Healthy Shopping Tip #4 – Post Shopping

Once you are home from shopping, be sure to put all the perishables away first so they do not spoil. If you are purchasing something such as a melon, I find it helpful to wash, prep, and put the cut melon in a bowl in the refrigerator to allow for easy access. If I do not complete this final step, the melon sits on the counter, and usually goes bad before we eat it.

The secret to grocery shopping is to shop smarter and not harder. Do your homework first to save time and money in the end.