Don't shop for groceries if you're hungry. Most of us have heard this advice before. It's good advice, a way to avoid purchasing unhealthy snack foods and impulse items. Smart shopping, however, extends far beyond this simple aphorism. From parking lot to checkout, this weekly chore is full of opportunities to improve your health, save money, and make the right decisions for your diet.
Before You Go
1. Plan your meals.
A weekly meal plan will keep your grocery shopping on track. This will save money, since you're less likely to buy food you don't need. Menu planning also helps you maintain a habit of eating healthy meals and saves you the hassle of figuring out what to cook every night.
2. Make a shopping list.
List everything you need to make the meals on your menu, then check your fridge and pantry and cross off the items you have in stock. Avoid listing items in alphabetical order or by what meals they belong to. Instead, group them according to where they're located in the store. Spreadsheet programs like Excel are great for this purpose.
At the Store
3. Park at the far end of the lot.
The brisk walk to and from your car gives you a short workout, which is good for your weight, cardiovascular endurance, and stress levels. It also usually takes less time than searching for a spot closer to the door.
4. Stick to your list.
As you roll through aisles of potato chips, cookies, and frozen treats, you may be tempted to pick up a few things that weren't on your list. Resist this temptation. Remember: if it's not on your list, you don't need it.
5. Buy simple.
Whenever possible, avoid foods with more than five ingredients, and foods with any ingredients you can't pronounce or identify. The more wholesome the food, the healthier!
6. Shop the perimeter.
Most grocery stores are laid out the same way: the freshest foods--dairy, seafood, and produce--are located along the perimeter of the store. If you stick to the edges, you're likely to come away with the healthiest choices. Steer clear of those middle isles, where the temptation of chips and just-add-water meals lurch.
7. Stock up.
This is the only exception to the "stick to your list" rule. Staple foods you use every week, either because they're common ingredients or because they're in dishes your family eats frequently, should be bought in bulk when possible. Be alert for sales and specials that will let you buy these at a savings.
8. Check out wisely.
Smart people design grocery store layouts. They put attractive impulse buys next to the checkout stand that you can stare at while you wait. Remain strong in the face of candy bars and bottles of soda. Distract yourself by looking through the lifestyle and cooking magazines. You might get inspired for next week's menu.
9. Care for perishables.
Keep a freezer bag in your trunk during your shopping expeditions. Place frozen foods and perishables inside to keep them cool and safe. Once you get home, put these items away first.
10. Rotate your stock.
Store new food behind old items in your pantry and refrigerator. You'll waste less by using up food that's nearing its expiration date. This will save you both money and stress in the long run.
11. Bonus habit: keep shopping fun.
Grocery shopping can get tedious. If you have children, bring them along and teach them about smart nutrition. If you shop alone, plug into a podcast and turn the trip into a chance to learn or catch up on news.