Remember when you were a little kid and you’d walk into a theme park and everything seemed so big? There were so many rides, so many games and so much to explore that you didn’t even know where to start.
If you were to go back to that same theme park today, it may seem small and much easier to navigate.
This is what walking into a grocery store may feel like for many of us. There are so many products, shelves, colors, packages and terminologies that it can feel overwhelming to find healthier items for you and your family. But, with the right tools and a little knowledge on what to look for, what to avoid and how to read food labels, you’ll be able to hack the grocery store (in a healthy way) too.
Here are our 10 of our favourite grocery shopping hacks for eating healthy.
1) Don’t Fall for Marketing Tactics
One thing that we all do is fall for label claims, and it’s not our fault. Marketing firms design packages to have enticing imagery, use trendy words that reel us in, and pinpoint that exact ‘problem’ that we didn’t even know we needed to solve (how could these chips get crispier???!!!)
The good news is that we can rewire our brain to spot the claims and choose packages that actually live up to the hype.
So, how do we do that?
We question trendy claims and buzz words on the front of the package, so if it says ‘natural’, ‘gluten-free’, ‘free from’, ‘hidden veggies’ and even ‘sugar-free’, flip to the back and read the full ingredient list. Does it correspond to the claim made? Check out point #2 as it digs a little deeper into this topic.
2) Read Labels and Look at the Full Ingredient List
We’ve been told for YEARS now that the important parts of labels are calorie and fat content, however, we’d like to point out that one of the most important parts of a label is what’s EXACTLY is going into that product.
The ingredient list is the first place you should guide your eyes. If the product contains too many ingredients, if you can’t understand what that food is, or if the ingredients sound like something found in a science experiment then question that product.
Highly processed foods contain artificial colors, shelf stabilizers and preservatives that can be damaging to our bodies. Try to purchase packaged foods made with real food and food-based ingredients!
Also, you want to make sure that the sugar and sodium content is on the lower end, that there are no trans fats or hydrogenated oils, and that you are mindful of portion sizes. For example, understand whether or not that nutritional label information is for 1 cracker or 1/2 cup of crackers.
Last, don’t focus on the calories. Many of us often gravitate toward low-calorie foods to stay slim. While calorie deficit has a place in weight loss, we like to remind people that many healthy foods have a higher caloric count and that a lot of these foods are used to fuel and nourish the body.
3) Plan Your Meals and Have a Shopping List
Two of our favourite grocery shopping hacks are actually tools rather than hacks, but all in all they have helped us reduce waste in our households and helped eliminate buying foods that aren’t needed (which also helps with budgeting).
First, we like to map out a plan. This can be done on a whiteboard weekly planner, or there are plenty of beneficial apps that help with this. We write down our meal ideas throughout the week, and then from there create ingredient lists that we can add to this grocery list Out of Milk app (traditional pen and paperwork nicely too).
These two tools have made meal planning and prepping so easy, doesn’t take a lot of time and helps you avoid buying things you don’t need. It takes 15 minutes and helps keep things organized, easy and healthy.
4) Don’t Shop Hungry
This is such an underrated grocery shopping hack, but in all honesty, when we are famished, we will reach for anything. When you have a world of choices at your fingertips in the grocery store, it’s really easy to pick up a croissant, or a bag of chips instead of an apple or banana.
We like to make sure we do our grocery shop after a snack, or on a full stomach so we’re not enticed to grab whatever we can to feed our hunger.
We also know that sometimes it just happens that we end up in the grocery store hungry, so if that does happen, grab something healthy to snack on. Here’s our top favorite healthy snack bars that we usually grab and eat in the car, post-grocery shop (who are we kidding, we eat them while we’re shopping).
5) Visit the Health Food Sections
You don’t need to give up all packaged food to be healthy, there are so many awesome healthy packaged foods and snack options just hanging out in the health food section of your local grocers.
One of our favorite grocery shopping hacks is to grab an easy, and healthy, frozen dinner for those nights that we can’t be bothered to cook. Using your knowledge from tip 1 & 2, you now know how to find those healthier brands.
6) Buy Ready Veggies
If prepping veggies is what’s stopping you from eating healthy, then buy pre-cut, pre-washed or frozen veggies. From spiralized zucchini, carrots and beets to cauliflower rice, coleslaw and pre-washed greens, there are so many options to get your veggies in without the extra prep time.
7) Buy a Variety of Foods
Health food doesn’t just come in the form of kale and chicken, there is a world of food, from so many different regions of the globe, that are just waiting for you to experiment with!
Try to expand your palette and test out some fruits, veggies or cuisines that you’ve never had before like this Tahini Whitefish, or these Jicama Fries. It will not only add some fun new flavours in your diet, but will also provide you with a variety of nutrients from different foods.
8) Have a Balance of Packaged Foods vs Whole Foods
We’re all for healthier packaged foods, but we also need to let you know that unprocessed foods in their whole state, is the best way to get nutrition into your body. So, there needs to be a balance between the unprocessed foods (with a higher ratio) to the processed foods, even those healthy frozen meals.
Try to aim for most of your week healthy, whole foods, emphasis on veggies and fruit, and those days that you really can’t be bothered, reserved for those healthy frozen dinners or canned soups.
9) Beware the Checkout Counter
Those foods at the checkout counter are strategically placed there to entice you to grab for a snack or magazine when you feel bored waiting in line.
Be tempted not. It’s an impulse buy that just costs you extra dough that could be saved and puts a chocolate bar in your hand when you most likely would have done without. We suggest grabbing one of those snack bars from tip #4 and eating it while you’re waiting in line instead.
10) Choose Organic Where It Matters
We are definitely advocates of organic foods, but not even our budgets allow for it ALL of the time. We also believe that eating your veggies and focusing on simple wholesome meals matters more than whether or not every single product you buy is organic.
With that in mind, if you are looking for ways to buy more organic products but don’t know where to start then you can refer to EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in produce.
The dirty dozen are most highly sprayed foods that you can opt for buying organic first, and the clean 15 is produce you can safely purchase conventional without worry. We also like to hunt for organic produce that’s on discount, or head on down to our local farmer’s market where the farms are much smaller and not as heavily sprayed.
There are plenty of other grocery shopping hacks that make for a healthier lifestyle, but these are where we started when we made the switch to healthier living.
Do you have a favorite healthy shopping hack? We’d love to hear in the comments below.