Some might think it's weird, but grocery shopping is one of my favourite things to do in the world. Drop me off at a market or grocers and I could spend hours there, strolling down the isles and reading labels or choosing my produce. Do you share a similar enthusiasm? If you do, you probably have your own habits and strategies when it comes to buying foods, but for those who might need an extra nudge in the right direction, we've got you covered with 10 of our top strategies to shop smarter and make healthier choices at the store.
1.Use (and Adapt) our Grocery List!
You've likely heard about creating a list before you shop to keep yourself organized and prepared so that you leave with what you intended to buy and not with impulsive purchases. And it's true. We like to keep a running list on the fridge to write as we go when ingredients are getting low. We've created a Jumpstart Guide that includes nutrition tips, conversions, substitutes and 3 different grocery lists. Sign up for our newsletter and have the PDF guide sent straight to your e-mail.
Pro tip: get your family involved! Sometimes the planning and shopping falls on one member of the household. But when you include your roommate, family, partner and/or children, their voices and preferences are heard which makes them more likely to try new foods and enjoy eating home-cooked meals.
page 1/8 of what you can find in the guide. Sign up here to receive yours!
2.Shop Around the Perimeter Before Working Your Way In
There isn't really an exact science to navigating your way around the store. Starting at the produce section works for us since it's at the front, and we like to stock up our cart with fruits and veggies before moving along. Our main tip is to start with the outer perimeter of the store first, before working your way in. This is because many of the fresh and nutritious whole foods can be found on the perimeter since they usually require refrigeration are not packaged; this includes produce, and meat alternatives and dairy alternatives. Usually the items down the aisles are more processed, however there are some exceptions such as canned veggies, bulk foods and frozen foods - which you can hit up after shopping the perimeter.
3.Frozen + Canned Options Are great Choices
While fresh is generally best, buying frozen or canned is still remarkable in terms of nutritional value. Plus, we can all appreciate the convenience of being able to store these foods for longer periods of time, making it easy to whip together a nourishing meal when we have little else on hand to work with.
Fun fact: many frozen fruits and veggies are picked at peak ripeness and therefore have maximum nutrition and flavour - which means you're not necessarily losing out on nutrients by purchasing frozen.
When it comes to canned foods, this can be a good option to store in your pantry for days where you want something quick. Stock up on ingredients such as canned chickpeas, lentils, or other beans - especially if they're on sale. Just be sure to find options with little to no added salt and give them a good rinse under water after opening.
3 FROZEN FOOD RECIPE IDEAS:
1. vibrant blueberry vanilla smoothie » using frozen bananas and/or blueberries
2. hummus » using canned chickpeas to save time
3. spicy garlic wok noodles with stir-fried veg and tofu » made with any frozen vegetables on hand
4.Seek Out Reduced-Price Produce Bins
Depending on where you shop for produce, you may find bins filled with "over ripe" produce at a marked down prices (I most often spot them at smaller produce shops as opposed to large grocers). And ain't nothin' wrong with those fruits and veggies! If anything, they're extra sweet & ripe and perfect to eat within a day or freeze for future use. There have been some golden occasions where I've scored ten juicy mangoes for just $0.99!
5.Compare Nutrition between Brands
This goes hand in hand with reading nutritional labels and ingredient lists. Take your time to do this at the store if possible because sometimes you'll find that the most popular health brands aren't always the most nutritious. Compare items like cereals, granolas, and sauces, checking for the amount of sugar, sodium, saturated fat and fibre per serving.
Pro tip: take breads for example, aim to find one that provides at least 4g of fibre per slice. And be weary of ingredient names - look for "100% whole grain flour" as opposed to "enriched" "multigrain" or "stoneground" since these do not guarantee the entire grain kernel was used. The same goes for crackers!
6.Take Advantage of Bulk Foods (when it's worth it)
When following a plant-based diet, whole grains are a staple and a half - so purchasing these in bulk makes sense. And because it involves less packaging, you can often save money on purchasing bulk foods (especially if you spot a sale). These foods tend to last a long time too, so if it's something you use often and in large quantities buying in bulk is a great strategy. For us that's: beans, lentils, chickpeas, rice and some nuts and seeds. These keep well and are a wonderful to have on hand when you're wondering what to make for dinner.
But! It's not always worth it if it doesn't get used up or is forgotten in the depths of the pantry (guilty). Our tip is to store nuts and seeds in the freezer or in airtight containers to keep fresh for longer and focus on purchasing foods you know you'll use continually.
Pro tip: limit the pre-packaged instant foods such as instant rice or oatmeals with added sugars, flavourings and excess sodium and instead grab these ingredients from the bulk section to cook and flavour yourself. They don't take all that much longer to prepare and will save you money too.
Read more about pantry essentials to stock up on in this article or video
7.Avoid Food Wastage
+ take inventory: of what you already have before you go shopping. Then make a list of what you need to buy, so that you aren't doubling up and wasting food.
+ be strategic with picking produce: if you know you go through bananas slowly, purchase them on the greener side, or if you know you won't need an avocado until the end of the week, go for a slightly under ripe one. Other items such as potatoes, onions, apples, carrots tend to last longer and don't need as much pre-planning.
+ use the fridge wisely: before filling the fridge up with the fresh goodies from the grocery store, designate a level (ideally closer to the top) with the older ingredients that need be finished up first. This way, you'll use the "first in, first out" method and avoid food wastage. Side note: have a snack before heading out to the store - it's true that shopping on an empty stomach leads to impulse purchases.
Have extra veggies that need to be used up quickly? Combine them into a mixed veggie soup, add them to a smoothie, or chop them up and add them to a pasta sauce, like the one below.
This Pasta with Vegan Bolognese Sauce welcomes all kinds of left over veggies
8.Purchase Produce in Season When Possible
Purchasing seasonal produce has many benefits:
+ it can be cheaper at times, meaning you can buy more for less.
+ it tends to be more fresh and picked at peak ripeness, meaning more nutritious
+ the changing seasonal foods means a wider variety in your diet - and a chance to try new foods!
+ you can also freeze the extras to be used throughout the year and to avoid over paying the rest of the year.
+ it flat out tastes better!
Tip: scope out local farmer's markets or visit independent grocers or speciality ethnic stores for great seasonal and local deals + it's a fantastic way to support small businesses within your community.
9. Reduce Plastic Usage
Consider purchasing reusable grocery bags. Most grocery stores sell them, or buy them online with various designs. Take the extra step and consider reusable bulk or produce bags. Plus reusable bags are usually bigger and sturdier than plastic bags, meaning you won't need as many and they'll live a long happy life.
Another way to reduce plastic usage AND save money is to purchase greens whole - meaning not pre-chopped or pre-packaged, which can sometimes be more than double the cost.
Suggestion: it's tempting to put each and every produce item its own bag, but things like apples, oranges, avocados, potatoes, bananas, etc. - the dry stuff - they don't really need it!
10.If Available, Go on a Grocery Tour
If your local grocery store hosts grocery tours led by a dietitian or nutritionist, take advantage of this and consider signing up! You'd be surprised at how much you can learn, and it will really increase your grocery shopping game. Grocery tours often teach you how to: make more nutritious choices, shop on a budget, know which products to use and why, and they might even give pointers on how to use certain ingredients in wholesome recipes.
We hope these tips help you tackling the grocery store like a pro. And you'll only improve with time, so implement each strategy at your own pace and watch it get easier with time!
Want To Learn More?
Read this previous article called ORGANIC vs. CONVENTIONAL » what's the best choice?
What About You?
Got any more tips you want to share? Let us know in the comment below or share your tips with us (and the rest of the community) on Instagram with the hashtag #pickuplimes.
❤ Written by: Mitra (PUL Executive Assistant and Dietetics Student) & Sadia