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How to Shop for Healthy Food Options

Have you ever unloaded your groceries after a trip to the store, only to find you have nothing to prepare for dinner? NARMC Dietitian Debi Arnold gives us tips on how to plan your shopping trip and what to look for to ensure you walk away with nourishing food items for satisfying meals.

According to Debi, focusing on the perimeter of the store can help you become a smart shopper.

“This is where you will find fresh foods such as fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products,” Debi said. “Processed foods are typically in the center aisles. If you stay on the perimeter of the store, you will find fresh, nutrient-packed options.”

Debi added the following tips to help you shop efficiently:

  • Plan ahead. Plan your meals for the week. This also helps you plan how you can use leftovers.

  • Eat before you shop. Hungry shoppers tend to buy more.

  • Check store tags for the unit price to compare sizes and brands of similar products.

  • Store food right away once you get home in order to preserve freshness.

  • If you buy food in bulk, divide into single servings before putting food away.

  • Wash and chop vegetables before putting away. Having them ready to eat makes produce more enticing when it comes to snack time!

When it comes to specific food items, Debi offers the following tips:


  • Look for:

  • Fruits canned in natural juice, water, or light syrup

  • No salt added, low sodium, or reduced sodium vegetables and vegetable juices

  • Choose a variety of colors

  • Color = phytochemicals

  • Provide health benefits beyond essential nutrients


  • Look for:

  • Lean beef (flank, sirloin, tenderloin, round, rump roast chuck)

  • Lean pork (ham, Canadian bacon, pork tenderloin, loin chops, roasts)

  • Wild game

  • “Select” or “Choice” grades have less fat than “Prime”

  • White breast meat from chicken and turkey has less fat, but also less flavor, moisture, and iron than dark meat thighs and legs.


  • Look for:

  • Fish should be moist and firm with bright eyes and red gills

  • Fish high in omega-3s (salmon, tuna, mackerel, rainbow trout, anchovies, sardines, herring)

  • Pouches or cans of tuna or salmon packed in water

  • Recommendation: 8-12 oz. of seafood each week

  • Store fresh fish in the coldest part of your fridge. Use within 1 to 2 days


  • Look for:

  • Cereals with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving

  • Quick-cooking, old-fashioned, and steel-cut oatmeal

  • Crunchy granola bars with at least 5 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber

  • Tips:

  • Instant hot cereals (plain or flavored) are often higher in sodium and lower in fiber

  • A serving of dry cereal can range from ¼ cup to 1 ½ cups—be a good label reader!


  • Look for:

  • Whole grain or multigrain

  • Whole grains provide fiber, B vitamins, and minerals

  • Examples: whole wheat, barley, buckwheat, oats, quinoa, brown rice

  • Products labeled “High in fiber” or “Good source of fiber”

  • Some brands of white bread contain the same amount of fiber as whole wheat bread, but have a softer texture

Fats and oils

  • Look for heart healthy oils

  • Olive, canola, safflower, sunflower, corn, sesame, cottonseed, walnut, grapeseed, and soybean oils are all heart-healthy!

  • Avoid products with the word “hydrogenated” on the ingredient list

  • Margarines or spreads that have a liquid vegetable oil as the first ingredient are good choices

  • Replace solid fats with oils when possible and use oils in moderation

  • Extra virgin olive oil but has a bit more flavor than other olive oils. Cheaper olive oils are fine for most cooking purposes.


  • Look for:

  • Whole grain options

  • Cookies and crackers made with whole wheat flour and other whole grains

  • Single-serving bags or container

  • Or save money by purchasing in bulk and portioning into small zip-top bags

  • High protein snack foods, such as string cheese, cheese sticks, jerky

  • Tips:

  • Try graham crackers to satisfy a desire for something sweet—they’re cheap and have a pretty good nutrition profile

  • Dip makes fruits and veggies more exciting

  • Sugar-free pudding makes a great fruit dip!


  • Look for:

  • Pasteurized milk

  • Raw milk is prone to Listeria, Salmonella, and E.coli. You cannot tell that raw milk is contaminated by smelling, drinking or sipping.

  • Fat-free and low-fat dairy products

  • Yogurts, milk, cottage cheese, cream cheese

  • Neufchatel is a great tasting alternative to regular cream cheese

  • Look for cheese with 5 grams of fat or less per serving

  • Note: They do not melt like full-fat cheeses

  • Fermented dairy products (yogurt, buttermilk, and kefir)

  • Greek yogurt works great for making dips and salad dressings

  • You can use low-fat yogurt, light sour cream, or low fat whipped cottage cheese instead of sour cream in recipes

Frozen foods

  • Look for:

  • Packaged meals labeled “healthy”

  • Frozen/boxed meals that have a protein, grain, and vegetables

  • Frozen entrees with 350 calories or less and 10 grams of fat or less

  • Frozen or ready-to-bake pizza with thin whole grain crust and veggie toppings

  • Frozen veggies with cream or cheese sauce usually pack in extra sodium and saturated fat

  • Most frozen meals don’t contain a full serving of veggies. Add a green salad, steamed vegetable, or whole grain bread to boost the nutrition.

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No information or content on this website is to be taken as implicit or explicit advice. Please contact a medical professional for guidance.

Photos on this website are provided by Vowell Publishing, Inc. and NARMC.

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