As a simultaneous health nut and self-titled cheapskate, I love a good grocery store hack. I love them so much, in fact, that I’ve already dedicated an entire article to Trader Joe’s hacks (AKA the Anna Kendrick of grocery stores: relatable, lovable, and you never can guess what they’ll do next). But no matter what grocery store or diet lifestyle you prefer, you can shop for the healthiest foods while saving money.
It might sound easier and cheaper to opt for a Lean Cuisine or Hot Pocket instead of filling your grocery cart with fresh produce, but giving your body the nutrients it needs doesn’t have to be unattainable or expensive. To get you particularly excited about healthy grocery shopping (as everyone should be), here’s a little present of Justin Timberlake excited about his healthy grocery shopping, from me to you (I mean, check out that array of fruit!):
Now that we got that out of the way (though JT, if you’re reading this as I know you probably are, you’re invited to grocery shop with me anytime), here are 10 grocery store hacks I use every single week for the healthiest and most cost-effective kitchen.
1. Keep to the outside perimeter of the store
The middle aisles are more processed and are typically costly or unhealthy, whereas the outside perimeter is where all the fresh, unpackaged foods are. Start with the produce and make your way around to the dairy (vegan alternatives included), meats (ditto on the vegan), and if your store has a fresh bakery, it will be on the outside perimeter as well. After you finish the outside, only go to the inner aisles for the foods you know you need off the top of your head, like spices or sauces.
2. Shop seasonally
Even though you might be craving strawberries in the winter, think about focusing on fruits and vegetables that are in-season. Not only does seasonal produce taste better, but it usually gives you the most bang for your buck too. (Everyone knows a tomato tastes better in the summer, and a squash is meant for a chilly winter day!).
3. Think of grocery shopping as a learning experience
When I grocery shop, I make sure it’s not a rushed, in-and-out trip. I like to take my sweet time (pun intended) when I go to the grocery store, because spending extra time checking labels, reading ingredients, and comparing prices have saved me lots of time, money, and health perks in the long run. Compare prices with other brands, check for organic labels, and read ingredient lists (if there’s more than a couple of ingredients you don’t recognize, consider an alternative product).
4. Bring reusable grocery bags
I’ll be honest: I care very deeply about the environment, but I could never remember to bring reusable grocery bags. Once I moved to Los Angeles and was charged for grocery bags wherever I went, I knew I had to get into the habit of bringing reusable bags for the sake of both the environment and my wallet. Even 10 cents for a grocery bag can add up when you’re shopping every week. Besides just saving money and being good for the planet, bigger reusable bags often fit more items, AKA no more second (or third) trip from the car to bring in all your groceries.
5. Don’t skip the frozen produce
While most of the frozen aisle could be avoided (I love French toast sticks and frozen pizzas as much as the next girl, but they’re not good for my health or budget), the one part of the frozen aisle I always check out is the fruits and vegetables. Frozen produce is good to have on hand when you’re running low on fresh produce later in the week, or if you want an easy way to add more fruits and vegetables in your diet. Try frozen berries to add to a breakfast smoothie, frozen cauliflower rice to make a quick stir fry, or any other vegetable you want to have on hand for cooking.
6. Buy one produce item you’ve never cooked with before
My favorite hack I’ve recently added to my grocery store routine has not only changed my cooking, but it has changed my diet. To get as much variety of nutrients as possible, I challenged myself to pick up one fruit I’ve never tried or one vegetable I’ve never cooked with each week. Besides just a fun challenge, I was tired of the same fruit and vegetable routine. I would stick to the same ones every single week: spinach, kale, avocados, blueberries, apples, rinse and repeat. Therefore, I was cooking and eating the same things.
Since trying a new fruit or vegetable every week, I’ve discovered new favorite dishes like collard green wraps (much more delicious than the spinach salads I was used to), and roasted delicata squash (when cooked in coconut oil, it tastes like candy). I’m getting more nutrients in my body while building confidence in the kitchen (and having much more fun).
7. Don’t underestimate the power of coupons and rewards programs
Your local grocery chain likely has a loyalty program that includes discounts or exclusive coupons, as well as offering deals on their website. If you’re a Whole Foods shopper, connect your Amazon account with the Whole Foods app to save on dozens of new items each week. If TJ’s is more your style, Trader Joe’s accepts coupons from brand name cereals and basic products they sell (though they do not typically offer coupons for private-label goods).
However, don’t purchase items just because you get them on a discount (it can be addicting!). You might be spending more money by buying items you wouldn’t have bought otherwise. Coupons and reward programs are for saving on items you would be purchasing anyways.
8. Check out the sections dedicated to other cultures
I’ve always loved trying different foods, and my favorite part of traveling is eating the local food (duh!). Why stick to foods you know when you can expand your food palette and cooking skills using recipes and ingredients from other cultures? One of my favorite cookbooks is The Blue Zones Cookbook, which includes recipes and lifestyles from the happiest and healthiest cultures around the world.
Whether it’s nori seaweed or turmeric and cumin, I love to experiment with ingredients and recipes from around the world. The best option for ingredients would be to go to local stores in your area from specific countries (like Korean or Italian grocery stores) to find authentic ingredients and ask for cooking tips, but most major grocery stores have sections dedicated to various regions of the world.
9. Take pictures of your fridge and pantry beforehand
Even if you optimistically head to the store with a well-intentioned grocery list, you’ll likely find yourself in the middle of Whole Foods, trying to remember if you have gluten-free bread crumbs for the recipe you want to make for dinner. It’s easy to remember the items we regularly purchase, but we can sometimes forget about the long-lasting or less-used items. To avoid buying doubles or more than you need, take a quick picture of your freezer, fridge, and pantry before leaving so you can check in case you’re unsure of what you have.
10. Don’t go grocery shopping on an empty stomach
Not only am I strategic about how I grocery shop, but I’m strategic about when I grocery shop. I know that if I were to go shopping on an empty stomach, a lot more items would call my name and I’d end up spending more money (and buying less healthy options). I like to go after I’ve had a full meal and can think clearly about what I actually want to feed my body throughout the week.