Food Shopping to Stay Healthy

LAST UPDATED: May 31, 2023
Shopping List

​​​Prepare before you go to the grocery store 

1. Develop and organize your meals based on the week's schedule

Make it fun and involve your family or friends in helping you design a healthy menu. Review the week ahead. Is Tuesday night wide open? Is Wednesday night booked? If this is the case, plan to cook on Tuesday, and have leftovers on Wednesday. Checking the week's schedule and coming up with a workable plan will make weeknights and weekends less hectic.

2. Spend less time shopping if your grocery list matches the store's layout

Always make a list before you go shopping and stick to it! Try to make a list that corresponds to the aisles of your grocery store to save time shopping.

3. Plan ahead to cook what’s on sale

Check the newspaper, your local grocery store flyer, and/or view the on-line version of your favorite grocery store’s weekly specials. Then, plan your meals based on what’s on sale (especially useful for pre-packaged meat and fresh produce).

4. Double up your recipes and freeze for later

  • Make double portions of casseroles, stews, or soups. Refrigerate the extras and use later in the week or freeze them for use later in the month.
  • Try recipes with 5 ingredients or less to save time.
  • Examine your weekly schedule and look for days/times where you can devote more time to preparing healthy foods.
  • Make a grocery list that corresponds to your menu. Check what and how much you already have on ​hand, so you don’t duplicate or run low on required ingredients.
  • Build in leftovers so you don’t have to “cook” every day of the week. Stews, stir-fry, and pasta/rice/bean dishes can be made in larger batches and frozen or refrigerated for use later in the week.
  • Include healthier convenience-type foods in your menu like frozen meals, healthy soups, or already cooked and prepared whole chicken. Read the food label and the ingredient list to help you. Follow the suggestions on the next few pages.
  • Aim for at least one meatless meal/week. Shop the aisles with meatless alternatives like beans.

5. Keep food staples on-hand

  • Protein foods: Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, lean ground beef, frozen fish filets, low-sodium canned beans, eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese, canned chicken or fish
  • Grains: Brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, whole-grain breads, baked potatoes
  • Veggies: Frozen, canned, or fresh veggies, pre-packaged salad greens, Lower-sodium pasta sauce
  • Fruits: Fresh, frozen, or canned fruits in their own juice.
  • Miscellaneous: Low-fat dressings (or make your own to save money and store in the refrigerator), low-sodium soups (< 600 mg sodium).
  • Purchase time-saving ingredients. A few ideas include pre- washed salad mix, baby carrots, frozen vegetables/fruits, whole grain pasta/breads/brown rice, canned meats, canned/low-sodium beans, boneless/skinless poultry, low-sodium pasta sauce, chopped garlic (jar), minced ginger (jar) etc.

In the grocery store

1. Stick to your shopping list

It is easy to buy impulse items. Eat before you go shopping to help avoid purchasing impulse items.

2. Shop on a full stomach and chew mint gum while shopping

Studies show that chewing peppermint gum helps to satisfy hunger and to block out enticing scents found in the grocery store like the smell of fresh baked goods.

3. Choose items that are located above and below eye-level

Products located at eye level cost more because companies pay premium slotting fees to put their products where you will notice them first. Therefore, search high and low for better prices.

4. Use coupons and inserts

Clipping coupons or printing them from websites can save you 10–15% on your grocery bill. Consider joining your supermarket’s shoppers club to enjoy price specials or to receive additional coupons. If you shop at the Commissary, use your Commissary Rewards Card. You can redeem coupons electronically after you register it online.

5. Compare unit prices

Locate the unit price (price per ounce, pound, or pint) on the shelf tag directly below the product. Use it to compare different brands and different sizes of the same brand to help you decide which item is the best buy. The unit price makes it easy. You may find out that sometimes the bigger package isn't always the best bargain.

6. Shop seasonally

Buy fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season to help you get the freshest produce at the lowest cost. Visit your local farmer’s market. For produce that is not in season, frozen and/or canned fruits and vegetables (with little or no added salt or sugar) are a nutritious option.

7. Shop the perimeter

Stick to the outer edge of the supermarket where you will find fresh produce, meats, dairy products, and breads.

8. Choose healthy frozen meals

Stock up on your favorite frozen vegetables when they are on sale. Read the food label and choose a meal that meets the following criteria:

  1. 300–450 calories
  2. < 600 mg of sodium
  3. < 10 g of total fat

Shopping tips for each food group

Organic vs non-organic produce. Spend or save?

While organic foods are pesticide-free and all natural, they are usually more expensive. Instead of busting your budget when purchasing organic produce, choose organic fresh fruits and vegetables that you eat the most often. For instance, if you eat apples by the bushel, then purchase organically grown to help reduce your intake of unwanted pesticides. To save money on organic produce:

  • Purchase organic produce that is in-season and on-sale.
  • Check the frozen and canned section for organic fruits and veggies
  • Use the handy chart below from the United States Department of Agriculture to help you decide:
Deciding to buy organic foods
* May be worth buying organic as these are more likely to contain pesticide residue even after washing.
** Not necessary to buy organic as these are less likely to contain pesticide residue.
"Dirty Dozen"* “Clean Fifteen" **
Celery Onions
Peaches Avocados
Strawberries Sweet corn
Apples Pineapples
Domestic blueberries Mango
Nectarines Sweet peas
Sweet bell peppers Asparagus
Spinach, kale, collard greens Kiwi fruit
Cherries Cabbage
Potatoes Eggplant
Imported grapes Cantaloupe
Lettuce Watermelon
  Sweet potatoes
  Sweet onions

Fruits and vegetables

  1. Buy a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
  2. When fresh foods are not available, choose frozen or canned vegetables and fruits in water without added sugars, saturated and trans-​​fat, or salt.
  3. Buy fruits and vegetables that are good sources of fiber, such as beans, peas, oranges, bananas, strawberries and apples.
  4. Buy more vegetables to snack on including carrot and celery sticks, broccoli, cherry tomatoes and cauliflower.
  5. For desserts, buy fresh or canned fruits (in water without added sugars), dried fruit (without added sugars), and gelatin that contains fruit, instead of baked goods and sweets.
  6. Avoid buying a lot of fruit juice. It doesn’t provide the fiber whole fruit does and it’s not as good at satisfying hunger.

Milk, cheese, butter and eggs

  1. Select fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk.
  2. Choose fat-free, low-fat or reduced-fat chesses.
  3. Use egg white or egg substitutes instead of egg yolks. (Substitute two egg whites for each egg yolk in recipes that call for eggs.
  4. Instead of buying butter, choose margarines that contain “O grams trans-fat” (these usually come in in tubs).
  5. Stay away from buying butter, cream, and ice cream. Save it for special occasions and, even then, limit how much you consume. These items contain more saturated fat than whole milk.
  6. Watch out for the saturated and/or partially hydrogenated fats hidden in casseroles, bakery goods, desserts and other foods.

Meat, poultry, fish and nuts

  1. Buy and prepare more fish. You should eat one serving of grilled or baked fish at least twice a week. Avoid fried fish.
  2. Instead of using cream sauce with fish, use lemon juice and spices to add flavor.
  3. Buy “choice” or “select” grades of beef rather than “prime,” and be sure to trim off the fat before cooking.
  4. When buying or eating poultry, choose the leaner light meat (breasts) rather than the fattier dark meat (legs and thighs). Try the skinless version or remove the skin yourself.
  5. Choose substitutes for red meat such as dried beans, peas, lentils, or tofu and use them as entrees or in salads and soups. A one-cup serving of cooked beans, peas, lentils or tofu can replace a two-ounce serving of meat, poultry or fish.

Bread and baked goods

  1. Choose whole-grain, high-fiber breads, such as those containing whole wheat, oats, oatmeal, whole rye, whole grain corn and buckwheat. Choose breads and other foods that list whole grains as the first item in the ingredient list.
  2. Limit the amount of bakery products you purchase, including doughnuts, pies, cakes and cookies. Look instead for fat-free or low-fat and low-sodium varieties of crackers, snack chips, cookies and cakes.
  3. Check for store-baked goods that are made with polyunsaturated or monounsaturated oils, skim or reduced-fat milk, and egg whites.
  4. Instead of buying a raisin bran muffin, buy a loaf of raisin bread and enjoy a slice for breakfast or lunch.

Oils, dressings and shortenings

  1. Buy and use fats and oils in limited amounts.
  2. When buying oils for cooking, baking or in dressings or spreads, choose the ones that have lowest saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol – including canola oil, corn oil, olive oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, soybean oil and sunflower oil.
  3. Stay away from buying palm oil, palm kernel oil, coconut oil and cocoa butter—these are high in saturated fats.
  4. Buy a nonstick vegetable spray or nonstick pan.
  5. Choose reduced-fat, low-fat, light or fat-free salad dressings (if you need to limit your calories) to use with salads, for dips or as marinades.
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