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Healthy Grocery Shopping 101: Tips for Sustainable Choices

Before I started my wellness journey, going to the grocery store felt like a big puzzle. There were so many choices, and I didn't know where to start. The fancy packaging and labels sometimes confused me, and I wasn't sure which foods were actually good for me. Budget was tight, and I thought healthy eating was too expensive. Plus, cooking seemed like a hassle, so I often went for quick and not-so-healthy options. It felt like I needed a secret code to understand food labels! Am I alone here? Once I learned some simple tips, like reading labels, planning meals, and finding budget-friendly options, everything changed. Eating healthy became way less confusing and a lot more doable. Now, I want to share these tips with you to make your grocery store journey a whole lot easier!

two hands holding a phone checking the nutritional information of an avocado.

Once you learn the tricks behind decoding food labels, making smart choices on a budget, and navigating the aisles with confidence, you might even find yourself actually excited to go shopping. Keep reading if you want to feel confident that you're buying foods that are healthy for you and work for your budget.


Cracking the Code: Decoding Food Labels

1. Ingredients List: The ingredients list on a food label is your map to what's inside the product. The golden rule is simplicity. The shorter and more recognizable the list, the better. Often you'll hear people say if you can't pronounce the ingredients, you might not want to be eating it! Here's what to look for:

  • Whole Foods First: The best products boast whole, minimally processed foods at the beginning of the list. If the first few ingredients are unpronounceable or sound like chemicals, it might be best to reconsider.

  • Watch for Hidden Sugars: Sugar goes by many names - sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, and more. Look out for these, especially if they appear near the top of the list.

  • Mindful of Additives: Avoid products loaded with additives, preservatives, and artificial flavors. These can contribute to health issues and may not align with your goal of consuming whole, nutritious foods.

  • Allergen Awareness: If you have allergies or intolerances, the ingredients list is your lifeline. Ensure you scan for potential allergens, even in products you wouldn't expect them.

2. Nutritional Information: Nutritional information on a product provides key details about its composition and nutrient content. It includes the serving size, calorie count, and breakdown of macronutrients like proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals may be listed with their respective daily values. The percentage of daily value (%DV) indicates how much a nutrient contributes to a daily diet. Here's what to focus on:

  • Calories: While not the sole indicator of a food's healthiness, understanding the calorie content helps maintain a balanced diet. Be conscious of portion sizes and adjust accordingly.

  • Saturated and Trans Fats: Keep an eye on these fats, as they can contribute to heart disease. Opt for products with lower levels and choose healthier fat sources like those found in avocados or nuts.

  • Sugar Content: Sugar is pervasive, and excessive consumption is linked to various health issues. Be wary of added sugars; aim for products where sugars are naturally occurring or minimal.

  • Sodium Levels: Excess sodium can lead to high blood pressure. Choose products with lower sodium content, and consider alternatives with herbs and spices for flavor.

c. Serving Size: Individual eating habits and preferences can vary, impacting the applicability of these serving sizes. Manufacturers may adjust serving sizes based on packaging or product type, influencing the perceived nutritional content per serving. While serving sizes are valuable for comparing products, consumers should be mindful of their personal dietary needs and adjust portions accordingly. Here's how to navigate them:

  • Portion Awareness: The serving size indicates the amount the nutrition facts are based on. Compare this with your typical portion to avoid underestimating the actual nutritional intake.

  • Multiply Effect: If you consume more or less than the stated serving size (which is often the case), adjust the nutritional values accordingly. If a package contains two servings, and you eat the whole thing, you're doubling the nutritional intake.

  • Caloric Awareness: Pay attention to the total calories in the serving size. If you're watching your calorie intake, be cautious not to exceed your daily goals.


Healthy Grocery Shopping: Smart Choices for a Healthier You

1. Fresh Produce Section: The fresh produce section offers a wide variety of health benefits, thanks to foods filled with a spectrum of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. But how to choose the right foods?

  • Colorful Variety: Aim for a rainbow on your plate. Different colors in fruits and vegetables signify diverse nutrients. For instance, dark leafy greens provide iron and calcium, while vibrant berries offer antioxidants.

  • In-Season Selections: Opt for fruits and vegetables that are in-season. They're not only fresher and more flavorful but may also be more affordable. Local and in-season produce can be found at its nutritional peak.

  • Organic Options: If feasible, consider organic produce to reduce exposure to pesticides. While it might be pricier, the potential health benefits and environmental impact could make it a worthwhile investment.

  • Frozen Convenience: Don't overlook the frozen aisle. Frozen fruits and vegetables are often flash-frozen at their peak, locking in nutrients. They're convenient, have a longer shelf life, and can be more budget-friendly.

b. Lean Proteins: Proteins serve as the fundamental building blocks for a healthy body, and opting for lean sources ensures reaping the benefits without an excess of saturated fat. Delve into the intricacies of making intelligent protein choices, with a particular emphasis on plant-based alternatives:

  • Plant-Powered Options: When it comes to plant-based protein options, beans, lentils, and tofu stand out as versatile and nutrient-rich choices. Beyond being low in saturated fat, these alternatives boast high fiber content, supporting digestion and fostering a satisfying sense of satiety.

  • Mindful Cooking Methods: In the realm of plant-based protein, thoughtful preparation methods can enhance both flavor and nutritional value. Whether grilling, baking, or steaming, these techniques help preserve the inherent nutrients without introducing unnecessary fats. Opting for healthier oils in lieu of frying further elevates the nutritional profile of your plant-powered protein sources. By embracing these mindful cooking practices, you not only enhance the taste but also maximize the health benefits of your plant-based protein choices.

c. Whole Grains: Carbohydrates are a crucial energy source, and choosing whole grains ensures you get not only energy but also essential nutrients and fiber. Here's how to make the most of this food group:

  • Brown Rice and Quinoa: Replace white rice with brown rice or experiment with quinoa for a nutrient boost. These grains are rich in fiber, keeping you fuller for longer and promoting digestive health.

  • Whole Wheat Bread and Pasta: When it comes to bread and pasta, opt for whole wheat or whole grain varieties. They contain more fiber, vitamins, and minerals compared to their refined counterparts.

  • Oatmeal and Barley: Breakfast is an excellent opportunity to incorporate whole grains. Choose oats or barley for a hearty and heart-healthy start to your day. Add fruits and nuts for extra flavor and nutritional benefits.

  • Reading Labels: When buying packaged grain products, read labels to ensure they truly are whole grain. Phrases like "whole grain" or "100% whole wheat" indicate a healthier choice.

d. Plant-Powered Dairy Alternatives: When eating a plant-based diet, fostering bone health through calcium and vitamin D becomes paramount. Luckily there's so many options in this category that align with plant-based dietary or lactose intolerant preferences and restrictions:

  • Low-Fat or Fat-Free Dairy: Opt for low-fat or fat-free alternatives for traditional dairy products like plant-based milk, yogurt, and cheese. These alternatives mirror the nutrient profile of their dairy counterparts but with reduced saturated fat content, aligning seamlessly with a plant-based lifestyle.

  • Plant-Based Milk: For those embracing a dairy-free lifestyle or dealing with lactose intolerance, plant-based milk alternatives such as almond, soy, or oat milk provide a nutritious solution. Ensure they are fortified with calcium and vitamin D to match the essential nutrients found in dairy milk.

e. Healthy Fats: Healthy fats are essential for brain function, hormone production, and overall well-being. Here's how to incorporate them wisely into your diet:

  • Avocado: Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fats, which are heart-healthy fats. Spread avocado on whole grain toast, add it to salads, or make a delicious guacamole.

  • Nuts: Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds, are packed with healthy fats, protein, and essential nutrients. Sprinkle them on salads, yogurt, or enjoy them as a snack.

  • Olive Oil: Use olive oil for cooking and dressing salads. It's a source of monounsaturated fats and adds a delightful flavor to your dishes.


Smart and Savvy: Budget-Friendly Strategies for Informed Shopping

a. Plan Ahead: Planning ahead is the cornerstone of a successful and health-conscious grocery shopping trip. By creating a shopping list based on your weekly meal plan, you not only save time but also reduce the likelihood of impulse purchases. This intentional approach keeps you focused on your health goals and ensures your cart is filled with purposeful, nutritious choices.

  • Meal Planning: Take a few moments each week to plan your meals. This not only streamlines your shopping but also supports balanced and varied nutrition throughout the week.

  • Healthy Snacking: Consider including healthy snacks on your list to curb cravings and keep you fueled between meals. Opt for options like fresh fruit, nuts, or Greek yogurt.

b. Shop the Perimeter: The perimeter of the store is a savvy move for health-conscious shoppers. Typically, this outer realm is where you'll find most of the fresh produce and plant-based options, filling your cart with whole food options.

  • Colorful Abundance: Look for the vibrant colors of the fresh produce section and aim to incorporate a variety of fruits, nuts, and vegetables into your diet.

  • Protein Powerhouse: Also around the perimeter you'll usually find plant-based alternatives that contribute not only to muscle health but also to your overall well-being: legumes, tofu, and of course whole-food fruits and vegetables.

c. Compare Prices: Being a savvy shopper involves more than just choosing healthy options – it's about finding the best value for your money. Look for store brands and compare prices per unit to identify budget-friendly choices without compromising quality.

  • Store Brand Savvy: Store brands often provide comparable quality at a lower cost. Give them a try and discover potential savings without sacrificing nutritional value.

  • Quality vs. Quantity: Consider the nutritional value when comparing prices. Sometimes paying a bit more for nutrient-dense items is a wise investment in your health.

d. Buy in Bulk: When it comes to non-perishable items, buying in bulk can be a game-changer for your budget. This approach is particularly beneficial for staples like rice, pasta, and canned goods, offering long-term savings.

  • Stocking Up on Staples: Identify pantry essentials that have a longer shelf life and purchase them in larger quantities. This not only saves money but also reduces the frequency of shopping trips.

e. Use Loyalty Programs: Loyalty programs and discounts provided by the store are valuable tools for maximizing savings on your favorite items. Take advantage of these programs to make every shopping trip a budget-friendly endeavor.

  • Digital Deals: Explore digital coupons and discounts offered through loyalty programs. Many stores provide apps that make it easy to access these savings with a simple scan at checkout.

  • Rewarding Loyalty: Some loyalty programs offer points or rewards for frequent shoppers. These perks can translate into additional savings or free products, enhancing the overall value of your shopping experience.


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