It’s often said that abs are made in the kitchen. Well, what’s made in the kitchen is bought from the grocery store. Shopping for healthy food can be overwhelming, especially if you’re new to it. As someone who is on a first-name basis at H-E-B, I think I’m qualified to give you some advice on how to shop smarter. Follow these tips and I guarantee your body (and bank account) will thank you.
Before you even get to the grocery store, make a list of all the items you need. This sounds trivial, but it will make your trip so much easier.
Plan your meals for the week. Take inventory of your fridge and pantry. If there’s a specific recipe you want to try, look up all the ingredients. As you get more accustomed to preparing your own meals, note the quantities of food you need to make it through a week. This will prevent you from buying too much and throwing it away or buying too little and having to make a second trip.
So often, people show up to the grocery store and mindlessly wander through the aisles, impulsively picking out items that look good at the time or look “healthy.” This leads to a lot of wasted food and money. Also, nothing makes you feel more defeated than coming home excited to cook a new meal, only to realize you forgot the one key ingredient.
Making a grocery list is as simple as writing a note on your phone. Stick to the list and save yourself the headaches.
Shop the Perimeter of the Store
Lots of dietitians/nutritionists/coaches have differing views on the specifics of a healthy diet, but they typically always agree on one thing: EAT REAL FOOD.
No matter what nutrition plan you follow, it should be primarily comprised of foods that are whole, unprocessed, and unrefined. That includes fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, poultry, nuts, and seeds. Coincidentally, almost all of these products are found on the perimeter of the grocery store.
Avoid the inner aisles which are stocked with artificial, ultra-processed junk. There are some exceptions, such as the aforementioned nuts and seeds, but for the most part, you’re much better off sticking to the edges of the store.
Start with the produce section and load up on veggies. You and I both know you’re not eating enough of them. Next, fill your basket with high-quality protein such as chicken, turkey, lean beef, and eggs. At this point, your shopping list should be nearly complete. Throw in a few essentials (PEANUT BUTTER) and you should be good to go.
Don’t tempt yourself by perusing the rest of the store. Head straight to the checkout line and get out of there.
Read the Label
As Biggie once said, “Mo ingredients, mo problems.” Or something like that.
As a general rule of thumb, the fewer the ingredients the better.
A lot of you might be shocked to find that some of the foods you considered healthy are actually loaded with chemicals, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners. Frequent offenders include cereal, lunch meats, sports drinks, and frozen dinners. This leads me to my next point: Don’t buy into buzzwords.
When you see “fat-free” or “reduced sugar” or “low calorie” on a food label it often leads you to believe it’s better for you. IT'S NOT.
There are three ingredients that companies use to make food taste good: salt, sugar, and fat. When you take one of those out, it’s often replaced by the others. Don’t buy into the hype. Items such as peanut butter, yogurt, and salad dressing are much healthier in their full-fat form. Get in the habit of checking ingredients before you automatically assume a food is healthy.
Don’t Buy Cheat Foods
I may get some backlash on this one, but hear me out. I eat healthy most of the time. Like, 90% of the time. But occasionally I love to indulge in a nice cheat meal. YOLO, right?
However, I never buy unhealthy food from the store when shopping for the week. No ice cream, no cookies, no chips, and no alcohol. By doing so, I’d only be setting myself up for failure. My philosophy is out of sight, out of mind.
It’s much easier to avoid temptation for 30 minutes at the store than 6 days at home. If you have a bag of chips in the pantry at all times, you’re way more likely to snack on that than a handful of almonds.
I much prefer to plan my cheat meals. For example, if I know I’m going to a barbecue on Saturday, I’ll stick to my routine throughout the week so I can enjoy a few beers and some good food while I’m there.
For the average person, one or two cheat meals a week isn’t going to derail your progress. Notice I said meals not days. A couple Oreo's every day might seem innocent enough, but compounded over time it creates a real problem. Plus, if you’re anything like me you’re probably going to knock down an entire sleeve in one sitting.
By avoiding cheat foods at the grocery store, you’ll develop much healthier and sustainable eating habits at home and give yourself the opportunity to indulge if an occasion arises.
Here are some tips that will help you shop smarter, from my grocery list to yours.
Pay for Convenience
- Frozen steamable veggies are easy to pop in the microwave if you don’t have time to cook a bunch of fresh ones.
- Spray olive oil is easier than bottled.
- Rather than lugging around whole melons, cantaloupe, pineapples, etc. just buy the cut-up versions.
Stock Up on Canned Meat
- Canned tuna, salmon, chicken, or turkey make for an easy meal in a pinch.
- Always opt for in water vs. in oil and keep an eye on the sodium.
Nuts in Bulk
- Get a huge bag of mixed nuts and put a handful in a plastic bag for a quick snack.
- Always go for the option with no salt (no fruit or M&M’s either, sorry).
Put Spinach in Everything
- Like I said before, you’re not getting enough veggies. Throw spinach in the blender with a protein shake (can’t even taste it) or sauté it and pair with any meal.
Eat Whole Eggs
- Egg whites have their place, but the yolks in whole eggs are a great source of essential vitamins and minerals and healthy saturated fat.
Loins and Rounds
- When buying steak, opt for loins and rounds which have a higher protein-to-fat ratio than t-bone, rib-eye, or porterhouse.
Plain Greek Yogurt
- Fruit-flavored yogurts are often loaded with added sugars. Opt for plain and add your own fresh fruit.
Organic Peanut Butter
- The real stuff makes JIF taste like plastic.
- Find a no mixing, no stirring variety to avoid a thick layer of oil on top.
- It’s important to have some go-to meals and staples of your diet, but switch it up from time to time.
- Ex: Lean ground beef instead of ground turkey, fish instead of chicken, etc.
- Keep it interesting!