Grocery shopping can either be a task you want to avoid or peace and quiet “me” time you look forward to. Whether you enjoy it or not it is necessary to make sure we are fueling our bodies-our wallets and waistlines can’t always survive on fast food and eating out. With the vast space of grocery stores these days it is so easy to get sidetracked, from clothing departments to the candy bar aisles we forget the most important task at hand: filling a healthy grocery cart.

Some of us always strive to make healthy choices for ourselves and our families but it can be really hard with all the temptation that is present. So many processed foods have appealing packagings that lure you in and make it hard to say no. I know it isn’t always practicable to only buy fruits and vegetables and lean meats but it is more about balance. We have discovered 12 ways to help you stay on track and build a healthy grocery cart. You’ll want to review these before your next shopping trip!

1. Make A List

One of the easiest ways to make sure you stay on track when going grocery shopping is to make a list. If you write ahead of time your meal plans for the entire week then you are going to have a good idea of what you are going to need. Following, knowing what ingredients you need for your meals will help you not to buy any unnecessary foods. This will help you save money and not let unnecessary food go to waste.

Creating a list will help you stay on track when shopping the grocery aisles because you already know on hand what you need. It will also help you save money so that you don’t buy un-needed grocery items.

2. Don’t Go Hungry

Going to the grocery store on an empty stomach may be the biggest crime you can make when wanting to build a healthy grocery cart. When you are hungry and in a store that contains everything that can solve that, we are bound to make poor decisions. Some of the unhealthiest foods have the prettiest packagings which will obviously guide our eyes right to it.

Generally, when we get home and stuff our faces with any food we have insight, usually immediately afterward we have regret. When you go to the grocery store on a full or satisfied stomach you can let your brain do the shopping instead of your hunger and in turn make smarter choices.

3. Shop The Outer Aisles

The outer aisles contain some of the freshest and nutritionally dense foods. Some of these foods include fresh produce, lean meats, seafood, dairy, baked goods, and nuts in bulk quantities. Generally, the middle aisles contain all the processed foods that contain high contents of sugar, bad fats, sodium, and other poor nutritional values.

When you stick to the outer aisles and adapt to these options you will feel more comfortable buying fresh foods and will in result be less tempted to buy the foods that are bad for you.

4. Shop After Your Workout

Whether your workout is at home or at a gym, whether you like to lift weights or love cardio, working out makes you feel good. There is actual science to back up the feeling you get during and after a workout. When you begin an exercise your body recognizes it as a moment of stress. However, as your heat pressure starts to rise the brain believes you are either fighting or fleeing the enemy (a.k.a the stress). To protect yourself and your brain from stress you release a protein called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, also known as BDNF. This has a reparative and protective element for your memory neurons which basically acts as a reset switch. All the while this is happening you are also releasing endorphins, another chemical used to fight stress. This is why after a workout you feel at ease and eventually happy.

When you shop after working out or performing some form of exercise you can now see why it would be a smart choice. Your mind is clearer and you’re in a good, calm mood ready to tackle the task at hand. If you’re anything like me after a workout I feel on top of the world, and I want to fuel my body that way too. I tend to crave healthy lean and wholesome foods to help make my body feel strong and refueled, and I definitely don’t want to sacrifice all the hard work I just did.

5. Read Labels

Sometimes it is necessary to venture into the middle aisles, maybe you need a bag of oatmeal or crackers for your next dinner party. When you do decide to head into those aisles it’s important to read the labels if you want to stay on track for a healthier grocery cart.

Many boxed and bagged items contain a high volume of sugar, sodium and other unwanted ingredients. It is worth it for you and your family to take the few extra minutes it will take to read the labels. As a general rule of thumb the smaller list of ingredients the better. If it contains ingredients you can’t pronounce, usually, you don’t want to consume them either. However, on occasion, some of the fancy sounding ingredients may be a harmless preservative. When in doubt use your phone and look it up.

6. Create A Rainbow Cart

When you want to create a healthy grocery cart a good rule is to make your cart look like a rainbow. You know, make sure it’s exploding with color. Not only will your grocery cart be beautiful to look at but it will be good for you too. And no that does not mean you can put in a bag of blue Oreos and a package of bright yellow Peeps, those do not count.

If you find your cart is looking dull in color, generally that means you are lacking nutrient dense foods. I say generally because your bag of quinoa doesn’t always look bright and beautiful but is still really good for you. Try and make sure that you have at least 4-6 colors in your cart to ensure you are picking up enough fresh produce to sustain you for the week.

7. Pick The Appropriate Grocery Carrier

When you set out to go grocery shopping you have three options, grab a cart, grab a basket, or don’t grab anything at all. This step is crucial especially if you took the time to make a list prior to visiting the grocery store. If you set out to pick up and buy a week’s worth of groceries for you and your family then a grocery cart will be best for you. You have tons of space and won’t be stressing your arms by trying to juggle everything in a basket.

If you are picking up supplies for one recipe or a meal it is probably best to use a shopping basket. You will have just enough space for those ingredients but not enough room for anything extra. Lastly, if you set out to pick up a bag of milk, a loaf of bread or any single or few items walking into the grocery store solo and using your arms and hands will be best. Picking an appropriate grocery carrier can be crucial to help you stay on track to make healthy choices. If you go in for one item without anything to assist you in carrying your groceries, most likely you will be less tempted to buy 10 bags of chips that are on sale, we weren’t born with more than two arms you know!

8. Frozen Food Over Canned Food

Sometimes there are fresh foods that are not in season, harder to find or maybe they just aren’t financially feasible for you at that time. When that happens we turn to canned or frozen food choices. But it can be hard to know which is the healthier choice. Although both choices offer convenience, they’re readily chopped and ready to use when you have a choice between both always choose frozen.

Frozen vegetables and fruits are the next best choice for fresh when seeking high nutritional value. You only lose about 20% of the nutritional value when purchasing frozen fruits and vegetables. This happens because frozen produce uses fruits and vegetables when they are at their peak, at this stage, they hold the most nutritional value. They are then blanched and then flash frozen. It is best to steam your frozen vegetables as a lot of nutrients will leach into the water, minimal water means fewer nutrients lost. You can also consider drinking the water they were cooked in to obtain optimal nutrients. In contrast, there are times canned vegetables are the only available choice. It is better to choose canned vegetables than to seek other processed foods in their place. When choosing canned vegetables make sure to choose cans that are low in sodium or better yet, sodium-free.

9. Frozen Vegetables, Not Frozen Meals

The convenience of a frozen dinner will probably lure you in especially if you live a busy lifestyle. They attract you with words like healthy, quick and easy, ready-made that all sound attractive but dig deeper and you’ll find what it actually contains might not be the healthiest choice.

A lot of frozen dinners contain high contents of sodium and saturated fats. The convenience just isn’t worth the poor nutrition you may be putting into your body. If your lifestyle needs ready-made meals like waffles in the morning or easy throw in the oven or microwave dinners, then consider meal prepping. Fill your cart with healthy choices and spend an afternoon making meals for the entire week that you can take out of the freezer, pop in the oven and enjoy. You will have the satisfaction and peace of mind knowing exactly what ingredients went into that meal. Make sure to pick up frozen vegetables but leave the frozen meals on the shelves where they belong.

10. Purchase Pre-Cut, Pre-washed Produce

If convenience is what is stopping you from eating fresh fruits or vegetables then you no longer have any excuses. Many grocery stores now offer pre-cut fruits and vegetables. You can even purchase pre-washed lettuce to make salads. If that isn’t convenience then I don’t know what is.

You may have to spend a few extra dollars to purchase pre-cut and ready to eat produce but if that is what encourages you to eat them then it will be well worth the money. If you don’t have the extra funds to purchases pre-cut but still feel like you’re in a rut when it comes to consuming fresh produce then consider prepping it yourself. You can purchase bulk fruits and vegetables and then when you get home to spend some time washing and cutting the produce, place into airtight containers and store in your fridge so they are ready and available to you.

11. Make It Fun

If you regularly shop with children then you can know sometimes shopping has a short time span before you have a screaming child on your hands. To ensure you can stay on track when filling a healthy grocery store try making it fun for them too.

If you have come to the grocery store prepared with a list try making it a scavenger hunt. Give them their own list so they can search for the foods with you, by making it a game they will see the task as more enjoyable. Some grocery stores even offer child-sized grocery carts that your child can push around, they will love that. If you have younger ones come prepared with snacks and or small toys for them that they can play with to help keep them occupied.

12. Don’t Go At Rush Hour

When trying to build a healthy grocery cart it is probably best to avoid the grocery store at its peak times. Wandering the grocery aisles when it is very busy can be frustrating and may make your shopping trip even longer. You should feel at ease and relaxed when grocery shopping so you can use your brain power to make smart food choices.

You should also avoid the grocery store at busy hours because we all know they place these impulse racks in the cash area for a reason. There is also a reason why they are filled with ready-to-eat snacks, because they offer convenience and are generally a low-cost item, no harm right? Wrong. These snacks are usually always processed and high in sugar, like candy bars. Try and get your groceries and make waiting in line a minimal time for less temptation.

Clarissa Vanner

Clarissa loves experimenting with food of all cultures to make unique healthy dishes. When she’s not browsing Pinterest for new recipe inspiration she likes to pick up a DIY project and use her creative hands to make art or crafts. In her down time you can find her watching the latest documentaries on Netflix or going for nature walks.

Salads aren't just for those on a diet anymore. Properly made, they can be a filling and delicious meal.
A new year is beginning and, like millions of other people around the world, you've probably vowed to make this year healthier and...
Start your day off right with a great breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day but it's easy to pick unhealthy...
Zucchini has quickly become a very popular vegetable (although, botanically, it is an immature fruit, according to Wikipedia).
Do you love mangos? You're definitely not alone. This fruit has become one of the most popular ingredients for many main dishes,...
Avocados have become one of the trendiest foods of the past few years.
Anytime you’re invited to a potluck or hosting a dinner, you don’t just go with the norm.
Spirulina is an up and comer on the healthy food trend charts, yet it’s one of the oldest and most nutritious foods in history.
Ah, avocados. Nature’s butter. They're much loved for their soft, creamy texture, blendability, good fats and oils, not to...
You go to the market and see these big beautiful greens and decide to buy some, with eyes bigger than your refrigerator.
Watermelon might just be the most refreshing summer fruit out there.
Food Diaries: Mediterranean Health Bowl