Complete guide to grocery shopping:
Find Healthy products
Learn to Plan
Now that you have learned all about healthy eating, it's time to focus on how to actually navigate the large, at times confusing and deceiving, grocery stores. The majority of stores dedicate most of their space to processed and unhealthy foods, with the produce section at one end, the meats (butcher) usually at the other end, and the dairy section hidden in between. So it is no surprise that even the most well-intentioned shoppers will be either confused, lost, or fall into the trap of buying all those colorful, on sale, and processed foods flashed before their eyes in every aisle.
So, how do you stay focused and avoid falling into the trap of spending a lot more money than you should on unhealthy food?
1) Plan your meals at home.
2) Look at your home food stock and make a list of ingredients you do not have.
3) Head to the store with your list.
4) Go to the produce section, meat section, and dairy section. Spend as much time as you want here and explore and look at items you may not be familiar with. Don't be shy to ask the staff any questions you have. In the dairy section, stay away from all those flavored options as they are full of sugar and only buy plain products.
5) Only go to the other aisles if there is something specific on your list that you need; otherwise, get out of there.
6) Allow yourself 1-2 unhealthy dessert items, whether it be ice cream, chocolate or whatever you like. But buy a small amount so you cannot overeat.
One of the common pitfalls in grocery shopping that leads to spending too much money on items you don't need is not having a plan of action; you enter the store and get carried away by all the promotions and colors. But if you stick to a routine path, where you know exactly the order of your shopping, then you are much less likely to be distracted. You can try the order in any way you want, as long as you leave the in between packaged/processed section to the end. To get you started, here is one suggestion of a path to take:
Spend as much time as you want in the produce and meat sections, explore and learn, but stay focused on your list in all other sections.
Shopping healthy on a budget:
Shopping healthy does not mean buying expensive products. Although we recommend that you buy as natural as you can, we also understand that not everyone has the financial resources to shop at the local farmers' market or buy organic. So, if you have the recourses to buy organic, farm-raised products, that is great and you should do it as it's an investment in your health. But if you are limited to more brick and mortar stores like Walmart, you can still buy much healthier products on a budget. For one thing, by buying less processed food and more raw ingredients, you have already improved your eating, even if the products are not organic or have any other designation. They are still significantly less processed than your prior products from a box or most restaurant food.
Another approach to shopping on a budget is to buy more selectively. Here are some suggestions that may help you use your limited budget in a more efficient way:
Organic: not all food products need to be organic. Fruits and vegetables that must be peeled (such as oranges) before consumption don't need to be organic, so keep your money for produce that you eat unpeeled (such as berries and apples). If organic is too expensive all together, then just buy regular fruit as it is still much better than buying juice or processed fruit products.
Buy seasonal fruits and vegetables. They have better taste and are cheaper.
Buy local: local products don't have the added cost of shipment and tend to be cheaper.
If there are certain items on sale, you can buy those instead of what is on your list (we always buy whatever berry is on sale: blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries). Apples are another great example; if you are not so picky with the type, buy those that are on sale.
For meat products, which tend to be the most expensive, be flexible. If there is something on sale you can always use it instead of what is on your list. Or even better, look up a new food recipe based on the meat that is on sale (this applies more when you have gained some experience and can make some cooking adjustments on the go). For example, Babak always goes to the meat section and buys what is on sale or has the best price. He then goes to the produce and buys vegetables based on the meat he has purchased.
Buy less red meat: red meat tends to be the most expensive type of meat, so try and eat more pork, chicken or vegetarian sources such as legumes and grains which are significantly less expensive.
Scout your local stores and compare prices. You will be surprised! Some stores have better deals on certain items (for example Coscto or Amazon are much cheaper places to buy bulk nuts than your grocery store).
Oh yeah, the new buzz in town: the farmers' market. What exactly is a farmers' market? In its original form a farmers' market is where local farmers and ranchers bring their produce, dairy and meat products to sell directly to the customers. These are usually smaller farms that depend on natural recourses and raise their plants and animals the way they were supposed to be raised: in nature and free roaming. So, as a result their products are much higher in quality than what you buy in the grocery store and slightly more expensive. If you can afford it, this is the place where you can purchase the healthiest, unprocessed food. But be sure to eat your purchases quickly because, unlike store products where most produce lasts days to weeks (thanks to preservatives), produce from the farmers' market goes bad quickly (no added preservatives).
Another hidden gem of the farmers' market is the expertise of the vendors on the products they sell: this is a great place to explore items you are not so familiar with. Ask how to prepare them, what to eat them with, when is the best season and any other questions you may have. Most vendors are very passionate about their products, so they love to talk and teach you everything they know.
However, not everything in a farmers' market is healthy. Due to their popularity many farmers' markets are now also populated by other vendors selling cookies, cakes, supplements, clothing and many other products. Feel free to explore and perhaps indulge in some unhealthy deliciousness, but be mindful of how much you are 1) eating and 2) spending. We recommend that you go to the farmers' market with a defined budget. First explore the produce, dairy and meat, and only after you are done there, peruse the other options if you want.
And one last word about farmers' markets: please don't ask the vendors if their product is organic. Most sellers are hard-working, small-time farmers and use healthy methods, but they may not necessarily have the financial ability to apply for the official "Organic" label (has specific and stringent requirements). Instead, you can ask them how they raise their products. And be ready to hear their story! While you are at it, never be shy to ask for a bite of the product. More likely than not, you will like it so much that you will end up buying it.