A Health Nut's Grocery Store Survival Guide: The Ultimate Healthy Grocery List
Here's the thing. Going to the grocery store brings me down. I have really worked on this throughout the years, but even if you put a rollercoaster in there, I'd be high anxiety and stress, low fun.
Blame the cold climate. Blame the fact that I'm not a huge fan of cooking. Blame the fluorescent lights. Blame me and my own first world privileges.
I'm grateful for the grocery store and that I can buy things there, but that doesn't mean I have to love the experience. It means I have to accept the experience.
So to help with the fact that it lowers my vibe and it's something I can't get away from (just yet), I've been thinking about how to leave the grocery store in one piece, stay lifted and do the best I can not to buy crappy food.
Survive the Grocery Store with a Few of These Pointers:
Pointer #1: Make a plan, obviously.
I can't believe I'm saying this but try to premeditate your grocery trips. The reason I can't believe I'm saying this is because I consider it a success when I make a list. I'm mostly in denial about going to the grocery store until I'm in the parking lot and it dawns on me that I have to go in.
So you need to think about the days, week ahead. What are you planning to prepare for yourself? Consider all that you (and your family) are going to need. Think about the nights you might not feel like cooking (after the big days), or the nights you have plans. Perhaps you have a lunch meeting this week.
Think about what you are going to need for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks - try to plan these out as best as you can. Don't just write a list but plan a healthy meal plan for the week.
My motto is the simpler, the better. I like to have a pretty light but satisfying breakfast followed by a little bit heavier of a lunch and then my dinners are super light. Of course, I have growing boys and a big huge husband so I have to think about what they need too.
So I think all of this out (sometimes), and I think about what's in season, and I write it down. Then I take this meal plan and write out a list from there, adding to the list what I need more of in all departments (laundry rooms, bathrooms, pantry, etc.).
So a list is the end-result after the meal pondering.
Pointer #2: Stay along the periphery of the store, but keep an eye out for the bakery section.
Stay, as much as possible, outside of the middle of the store. Dive in and out of the aisles quickly if you absolutely must get a processed food.
Think of the aisles in the middle of the store as a collection of preservatives, BPA, BHA, shortening, trans fat (hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils), high fructose corn syrup, other artificial sweeteners and seasoning like MSG, refined grains, and food coloring.
The middle of the store has the most processed foods, and let's be honest: they're all delicious. They are. They are offenders of the natural, holistic, beautiful life we are aiming for, but they taste really good. They've been engineered that way!
Let's face it: I can't walk by a bag of cheese puffs or Oreos without my heart skipping a beat. Not to mention the cereal aisle. And because the grocery store is my unhappy place, I want a comfort food just to get through the process. I need that bag of chips just to walk through the damn store. My stress-eating tendency is high, so to speak. So I try not to touch it. I don't even go there.
If you need to dive in and out of middle part, do it quickly. Don't let those perfectly crunchy snacks, those delectably chewy sweets, stop you from your mission. Park your cart at the end of the aisle, have the item or items you need at the forefront of your mind so you can get in and get out before the other processed stuff sees you, starts talking about how they've been missing you, where have you been, and then screaming at you as you run for your cart.
Pointer #3: You should spend a lot of time in the produce section (which is usually at the very beginning of the walk-through).
Spend 60-70% of your time in the produce section. Because 60-70% of the foods you eat should be fruits and vegetables, nuts and herbs, should be unprocessed, straight-up plants. So spend your time here (even though it's freezing - bring a jacket if you're like me). Look at your produce, get the best, the most unspoiled, the freshest.
You want your grocery cart to look like a rainbow. Get different colors of everything. Try to get every color in there. We are going for aesthetic here. Lots of greens, reds, maybe some blues and purples, a few oranges (even if you know there's orange on the inside of the skin). Yellows like bananas and lemons and squashes. The things we've been naturally given to eat are miraculously colorful so taste the rainbow (but don't buy Skittles).
When it comes to produce, think about the seasons and try to look hard at where the produce comes from. Seasonal and local, as best you can.
While my fantasy is to buy some whole-grain bread from a baker, walk down to the farmer's market for my produce and stop off at a dairy farm for my dairies, stop and catch a fish from a cold-water river on the way home, I just don't live in a utopia so I know I have to buy stuff delivered from far away. That's okay.
But I can try to support local as best as I can. The closer the food was farmed, the better (less time in transport and less need to preserve). And staying within the seasons means buying food more organically.
Think S-O-U-L: Seasonal, Organic, Unprocessed, Local.
But maybe we don't need to break the bank buying organically...
Pointer #4: In trying to save money, really think about which foods you need to buy organically.
Then mark it on your list when jotting down your items.
When it comes to trying to decide which organic produce to buy, anything that you eat the skin of is going to need to be organic. And there have been some studies that have shown the below produce, when conventional and not organic, to have a lot of different pesticide residues, more than others. Some examples to buy organic:
Greens like lettuce, kale, spinach
Peppers (hot, bell, etc.)
Tomatoes and other nightshades
Potatoes (if you eat the skin)
Peaches (not because you eat the skin but because they get a lot of pesticide action)
BUT you can save money by buying the following NOT organic, either because of non-edible skin or studies that show very little pesticide residues (bugs don't like them but we do):
When it comes to dairy and meat, realize that your dollars are consumer voting, every single time you go to the store. I strongly recommend watching Food, Inc. if you haven't already. It's a powerful documentary that reveals the truths about factory farming.
You can see where I stand on this, but do your best to buy everything free range and organic. Read the package carefully. Look at where the food is from. Is it a corporation? Or a small farmer a few counties away who is passionate about his work?
People often complain about the price of buying dairy and meat this way, but it's worth the heightened vibe it brings to your life. Play with your budget until you can afford to eat this way. Maybe put away a few of those items from the middle of the store. Maybe you don't need as much as you think you do.
Try to get hormone-free, antibiotic-free (your gut will thank you), free range and USDA stamped organic meat and dairy. Read labels and look at the pride that's put into the product, boasting from the farm that produced the meat, dairy or eggs. That's a good thing. You don't want sneakily quiet, meaning lack of soul.
Pointer #5: Pretend that the whole thing is a game.
Think of the grocery store as a game, and around every corner there are going to be things that pop out at you and try to take you down. Get your laser gun ready for the baked good section or deli which will have no end to delectable goods that you could eat right then and there.
Be ready for displays of chips and cheese dip. Know your weak spots and be vigilant. Like any game, you want to take on your grocery trips with a full, healthy stomach that you wouldn't dream of ruining.
But not TOO healthy. The meal before a grocery trip needs to have a little pleasure in it so you aren't thinking about how you should reward yourself with this candy bar because you just had a big salad. Or a big package of cookies would go nicely with the healthy soup you just had. You want to feel a little hangover guilt from your last meal.
But not too much so that you're thinking it's all over anyway might as well go all out and buy a bunch of junk food. OR so that your blood sugar has been on a high until it suddenly drops right in the middle of the cookie and baked goods section.
Have a good, satisfying meal if possible before the grocery store game, and then win the hell out of it.
But what does a health nut buy?
The Ultimate Health Nut's Grocery List:
Here we go, let's into categories:
As I said, most your time should be spent in this section. You should at least 5 different fruits and at least 5 different vegetables, as seasonal and local as possible, as many colors as possible. Follow my organic rules from above.
Don't forget beans and legumes that you can soak over night to cook for a meal the next day. Beans are really filling, with an abundance of protein and fiber. Think about hummus here (because I always do).
2. Nuts and seeds:
I like to buy this stuff bulk, and it's best to buy organic with these too. Both nuts and seeds contain essential fiber, wonderful fatty acids, protein galore, plus vitamins and minerals. These are for snacks and to adorn meals, salads, smoothies, etc.
Get a few of these:
Nut butters (if required by you or your family - might have to sneak into the aisles for this)
Look at your meal plan and see where you can stick these nuts and seeds into your meals. The best place is often snacks, salads and soups.
At this point, we're in still in the produce section. Haven't left yet but we're almost out of here. The most important thing to think about when thinking about seasoning food is herbage. Herbs are important and can add a world of taste to any dish, PLUS they are good for you.
Think about your own meal plan and how you can dress it up with these herbs.
Other healthy seasonings:
Sea salt (Celtic or pink)
Peppercorns (better to have a grinder so that pepper is freshly cracked)
Extra virgin olive oil
Extra virgin coconut oil
Liquid Aminos (Soy sauce alternative)
Nutritional Yeast (B vitamin abundant)
Apple Cider Vinegar (to mix with olive oil to dress salads)
Local, organic honey
4. Cooking oils:
As you can see, I did not mention olive oil in this section, and that's because olive oil has a high smoke point and when exposed to heat and light, it oxidizes and this creates free radicals in your body.
Try to look at your meals and see which of these oils would go best with the flavor of what you're making:
Remember what I said earlier about how we use our dollars is the strongest vote we can have about how this world runs. Try not to support factory farming and low vibration activities. Let's give our money back to the little man.
I'm semi-vegetarian. My husband is a hunter so we eat a lot of animals that he killed from his hunts on the land. But this is not available to everyone, and so I completely stay away from the meat section, venture into the dairy section for eggs, whole milk, cheese, yogurt and butter because my boys need the protein.
Look at everything carefully. I keep saying that, but know what your ballot says at the cash register.
The meat you buy is up to you, obviously.
Free-range, organic, hormone-free, antibiotic-free chicken
Free-range, antibiotic-free beef
Wild-caught, cold-water salmon or other fish (frozen or not, but trust me, unless you are very close to the sea or water-source, it's already been frozen - they thaw it and lay it out to look more enticing)
No deli meat please - the preservatives and stuff are out of this world
Whatever else you want that's been sustainably produced
Free-range, organic eggs
Dairy products (depending on the needs of your family):
Whole, free-range, organic, hormone-free, antibiotic-free milk (I don't know why people drink skim, why not just not have it? Even good brands put some sugar in the milk to make up for any lack of fat so know this going into it)
Unsweetened almond, coconut, rice or oat milk (no carrageenan to avoid gastro issues)
Free-range, organic cheese (according to your needs)
Free-range, organic butter (or good substitute - look at ingredients)
Free-range, organic probiotic yogurt
Of course, this all depends on your family. Who wants what. My boys want dairy. We have eggs all the time because I'm obsessed with the fact that they are growing, needing fat and protein.
Otherwise, that stuff wouldn't be on my list. I think about whether I need to remove the dairy all the time though. I think I would be dethroned.
Eggs would be on my list no matter what. But I don't think that dairy would, and I want to sneakily turn it all around and try to keep dairy out of the house, but many of those substitute cheeses and butters are not that good, and highly processed to boot. We went that route for a while, and it was tricky.
You've got to go with whole grains. Never refined. Except for white rice. It's okay every once and a while because it's filling and easy on the digestive system. But white bread is a big, fat no-no.
Get an assortment of grains, gluten-free or not.
When we're talking about grains, we could also be talking about lightly processed foods most likely, like bread, tortillas or tacos. So we'll be slipping in and out of the aisles here a little bit. Also consider what you want to cook your grains in: sometimes I like to cook my rice, quinoa or whatever in some vegetable broth.
Also take into account gluten. If no one i sensitive, you don't have to watch this so much. But you don't want to overdo gluten because that's why people get sensitive.
I tend to lean toward gluten-free because why the hell not if it's available? Better to play it a little safe.
Oats or oatmeal (gluten-free)
Sprouted wheat, gluten-free or some type of bread
Whole wheat pasta
Any type of flour or gluten-free baking mix you might need
Anything according to your meals: corn tacos? sprouted wraps?
Pick wisely according to your needs.
Get your organic teas, unsweetened juices, organic coffee, and coconut water.
Drink mostly water though.
8. Frozen foods:
I buy frozen foods, but I buy one or two organic brands, and that's it. Every now and then, we have a pizza night so I search for the healthiest, most delicious damn pizza I can find.
I also get a lot of frozen vegetables to make for my kids or to put in soups. Amy's makes the best TV dinner type of frozen meal that my busy family may eat once a week.
9. Other stuff you can't do without:
I don't know your life, but in my life, I love soup. I don't always want to make it by scratch. My favorite brand is Amy's (same as above), and they come in cans. But I don't care. I love them. They are fast and easy and delicious, and I trust the company.
Also I love hummus. I eat veggies or crackers dipped in hummus as one of my favorite snacks besides nuts. I also have my specific detergents that I have investigated and tested out in my life. So hummus is always on my list.
You don't have to drive everyone crazy by being a health nut. If you or your family like a little dessert, maybe some gluten-free ginger cookies won't hurt.
But we will get through the grocery store with victory: we will make great choices, come back and be happy with our choices for the rest of the week or whatever, only to return to another victory the next week.
Good luck to you!
Comment below if you hate going to grocery stores like I do or if you want to fight about how going to grocery stores is so much fun.
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