Grocery shopping trips are where it all starts. Each visit is a brand new chance to play offense and re-up on the things that are going to nourish your body and mind.
Unless you have a garden, a local hook up with an urban farmer (thankfully, I do…shout out to Urban Greens!), or frequent a farmer’s market regularly, the majority of your food is probably going to be from a mainstream grocery store, which means that 80% of your options are going to be junk (yes, even Whole Foods is full of junk).
That’s okay, though. Don’t let the health purists fool you. You can still get a body and life you love shopping at mainstream grocery stores. You just have to learn to navigate them with confidence.
Here are 10 beginner tips for you to start crushing every grocery shopping trip.
Grocery Shopping Tip #1 – Don’t Go Hungry
If you go to the grocery store hungry, you are likely to make different decisions than if you have recently eaten a well-balanced meal. If you don’t have time to eat a legit meal within a few hours of your trip, eat a handful of nuts before you walk in or a high quality jerky and drink a glass of water ahead of time. It sounds trivial, but it works.
It’s obvious that when you’re hungry, you’ll buy more food. And the extra is unlikely to be of the nutritious variety. You’ll be more prone to purchase and consume processed hyper-palatable foods.
What’s even more surprising is that you’ll buy more, in general, when you’re hungry (even non-food items). So, if you care about your budget, don’t shop anywhere when you’re hungry.
Grocery Shopping Tip #2 – Have A List
Failing to plan is planning to fail. You are infinitely more likely to buy the right foods if you have the right foods on your list.
“But, I don’t do lists, Zach.”
Then you are walking to the jungle without your machete, my friend. Good luck.
If you’re a seasoned expert who has a functional relationship with food, body, and Self and the day-to-day consistency of a Rolex watch, you might be able to get away with shopping on the fly. If that’s not you, make a list.
Grocery Shopping Tip #3 – Stick to The Outside of the Store
The fresh produce, fish, and meats (i.e. real foods) are all around the perimeter of the store. The only reasons you should be venturing anywhere else is for toilet paper, condiments, healthy oils, or for the general organic section! 😉
Note: Just because something is on the perimeter of the store, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. While the majority of the real food is found on the perimeter, it doesn’t mean it’s all healthy.
Grocery Shopping Tip #4 – No Fake, Added Sugars
If you follow rule #3, this one should be a breeze. However, you still may encounter some packaged foods that you want to purchase. If that’s the case, read the nutrition facts label on the back. Don’t worry about the calories/fat/etc. part. Skip to the ingredients.
The foods you want contain minimal ingredients, preferably ones you can pronounce, with no fake added sugars or sugar-substitutes (such as high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, sucralose, aspartame, etc.). If you see those listed on the ingredients panel, find an alternative.
We’re not anti-sugar, so you may end up purchasing things that include real sugars. However, this is assuming you understand the healthy context of sugar consumption.
Grocery Shopping Tip #5 – No Partially-Hydrogenated Oils
Partially hydrogenated oils are oils typically liquid at room temperature (like cottonseed and soybean) that have been bombarded with hydrogen atoms to the point where they change their chemical structure–weird right!
While this process is a dream for a company’s looking to extend the shelf life and use cheap oils in their products, is also a nightmare for your health. The science is super clear on the extremely harmful effects of trans-fats and vegetable/seed oils. If you see these oils on the label, find an alternative.
Grocery Shopping Tip #6 – Buy In Bulk
Buy in bulk! Why? So you can cook in bulk! If you can save money too, great, but it is very hard to make enough real food for the week if you don’t bring enough home.
This may sound like common sense but you’d be amazed at how many people buy enough food for just one meal, spend an hour cooking it, and then are super frustrated when they don’t have any leftovers.
You don’t have to full on “meal prep” (although this is a great practice to get into), but at least buy enough food that you can “cook once, and eat twice.”
Grocery Shopping Tip #7 – Buy Frozen Veggies
Health doesn’t have to be hard friends. If you don’t have time to cut up fresh veggies or your veggies keep dying before you eat them, buy frozen! Often times they are flash-frozen fresh and if you buy organic, they can still be more nutrient dense than the fresh ones on the produce counter.
Hit them up and use them for easy access when needed for stir fries, roasts, crock potting, and omelettes. Just cook them separately for a couple minutes as needed and throw them in!
Grocery Shopping Tip #8 – Observe Others People’s Carts
This one I tell my clients to do all the time. Look in other people’s carts!
If you need motivation, inspiration, and clarity on why you are leaving the junk behind and bringing home real food, just take a look at the correlation between what people have in their carts and how their body and health appear to be trending.
This doesn’t have anything to do with judging people. It’s just a simple observation exercise. Everyone is a product of the environment they create for themselves and this exercise helps keep that correlation in mind. It’s not just about weight, either. It can be about skin quality, how mobile someone is, how comfortable they look, and so on.
What have I noticed after doing this for 10 years? The healthiest looking people in the grocery have the healthiest stuff in their carts! No clearer real world data on “you are what you eat” has proved more accurate for me than occasionally remembering to observe those around me.
Grocery Shopping Tip #9 – Mentally Prepare Your Meals
Before you check out next time, look at what is in your cart and make sure you have enough of what you need to get you through until your next trip!
Don’t just buy a bunch of “heathy stuff” without knowing how you are going to cook it and when. You don’t have to plan out every meal, but it’s best to have a general idea of what pairings are going with what or you will get home and realize you are missing something.
What inevitably happens next? “Honey, do you want to order a pizza?”
That’s not a good look.
Grocery Shopping Tip #10 – Put It Back
And one last tip, always leave any choices you know are not aligned with your goals with the attendant. Just because it’s in your cart doesn’t mean you have to purchase it. You can hand it back to the attendant and they’ll put it back for you.
This is an especially good tip when first starting out. It’s okay, we’ve all been there. Better to just hand items back rather than take them home and feel like you need to “start for real next week.”
So those are my 10 tips for beginners. If you want even more tips and education on this topic, Kevin did a great podcast episode with Jayson & Mira Calton, authors of “Rich Food, Poor Food,” on smart grocery shopping.
Also check out, 15 Tips For Eating Healthy While Slashing Your Grocery Bill.
Have any tips of your own? Use the comments section to share any tips you use at the grocery store to ensure a successful trip!