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Navigating the Grocery Store: Expert Tips from Dietitians

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Navigating the Grocery Store: Expert Tips from Dietitians

Healthy eating starts with what you put in your cart. Cooper Clinic registered dietitian nutritionists weigh in on the best ways to buy what’s healthy without spending countless hours shopping and overspending your hard-earned dollars.

Top Five Tips to Shop Smart

  1. Shop the perimeter
  2. Plan ahead to save time and money
  3. Don't shop hungry
  4. Read labels
  5. Stock up on "convenience" health foods

Shop the Perimeter. Generally speaking, stick with the perimeter of the grocery store for fresh food options such as produce, seafood, meat and poultry and dairy. In a nutshell, buy a variety of seasonal produce and look for deeply colored fruits and vegetables to get the highest levels of nutrients. For example, go for spinach, red bell peppers, berries, carrots and kale. In the dairy section choose low-fat options such as fat-free (skim) milk or 1% milk, nonfat yogurt and low-fat cheese (2% reduced fat). In the seafood department buy fatty fish rich in heart-healthy omega-3s such as salmon, halibut and trout. In the meat section buy skinless chicken and turkey, sirloin steaks or 95 percent lean ground sirloin and pork tenderloin fillets.

Beware of some perimeter stops such as the bakery and prepared foods. Buy whole grain breads and tortillas and try to minimize your purchases of sweets. In general, avoid most center aisles of the grocery store where many processed, less healthy choices are available.

Plan Ahead to Save Time and Money. Plan meals for the week and make a shopping list based on what you’re preparing. Save money by looking at store advertisements before you leave home. Don’t buy what you don’t need! Download your favorite grocery store apps to receive store coupons based on your history of buying preferences.

Don’t Shop Hungry. To fight the temptation of impulse buying, eat a snack before you leave home, such as a handful of almonds, a cheese stick or an apple.

Read Labels. A simple rule of thumb for label reading is to scan the ingredient list and try to choose foods with fewer ingredients. Always note the serving size and the calories per serving. All the values listed refer to a single serving so if you eat two servings, double each number to get the accurate nutrient count. Another easy tip is to look for low numbers for saturated fats, sodium and added sugars and higher numbers for protein and fiber. See a registered dietitian nutritionist for more details on what you should look for specific to your nutrition needs and goals.

Dietitian’s Top 10 “Convenience” Health Foods. You can’t go wrong with keeping the following staples on your grocery list to make healthy eating convenient for your busy lifestyle.

  1. Fresh fruit. Fruit is the world’s “original” fast food. Pick a variety for meals and snacks.
  2. Bagged salad greens. Throw a salad together in a pinch. These pre-washed greens can be served as a side dish or main entrée with chopped chicken or canned tuna.
  3. Fish fillets. Individually frozen fish filets (salmon, cod, halibut, sole and tilapia) are lean proteins and take just a few minutes to broil.
  4. Whole grains. Frozen corn and 90-second brown rice are good sources of fiber, low sodium and healthy sides to compliment your meal.
  5. Yogurt. Select nonfat Greek yogurt for a high-protein snack or after-dinner treat with fresh fruit topping.
  6. Frozen vegetables. Pop these in the microwave for a quick side dish.
  7. Canned beans. Simply rinse to reduce sodium by 40% and add to salads, soups and stews.
  8. Canned tomatoes. Buy low-sodium tomatoes to add to pasta, soups, sauces and casseroles.
  9. Nuts. One small handful of nuts is a perfect snack to carry you to the next meal.
  10. Oatmeal. One of dietitians' top-pick cereals as a filling source of fiber and heart-healthy breakfast that takes only a few minutes to cook in the microwave.

Learn how to navigate the grocery store with a Cooper Clinic registered dietitian nutritionist as your personal guide to healthy shopping. Find out how to make better food choices based on your individual preferences to achieve your nutrition goals. For more information, visit or call 972.560.2655.

Article provided by Elana Paddock, RDN, LD, CDCES, and Cooper Clinic Nutrition.