As a simultaneous health nut and cheapskate, I love some good grocery store hacks. It might sound easier and cheaper to opt for a Lean Cuisine or Hot Pocket instead of filling your grocery cart with fresh produce. However, giving your body the nutrients it needs doesn’t have to be expensive. To get you particularly excited about healthy grocery shopping, 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!)
read this if you're in your saving era this summer
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. The outside perimeter is where all the fresh, unpackaged foods are. Start with the produce. Then, make your way around to the dairy (vegan alternatives included) and meats (ditto on the vegan). If your store has a fresh bakery, it will be on the outside perimeter as well. After you finish the perimeter, only go to the inner aisles for the foods you know you need—spices, sauces, or grains like quinoa. This will help keep costs low and make sure you’re buying the freshest possible whole foods.
2. Shop seasonally
Even though you might be craving strawberries in the winter, focus 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. When food is imported, it’s often picked earlier in its ripening process so that it doesn’t go bad by the time it arrives at its destination. Local foods that are in season near you are able to grow until they reach their peak ripeness since they do not need to last through travel. This results in better taste and more nutrients. Everyone knows a tomato tastes better in the summer, and squash is just 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. 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 are more than a couple of ingredients you don’t recognize, consider an alternative product. Get in the habit of reading nutrition labels and taking the time to compare prices to get the healthier options without feeling like you’re breaking the bank.
4. Bring reusable grocery bags
I’ll be honest: I care very deeply about the environment, but I can 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. Additionally, 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 great for my health or budget), the one part of it 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 to 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 grocery store hack has not only changed my cooking, but it has changed my diet. To get in as much variety of nutrients as possible, I challenge myself to pick up one fruit I’ve never tried or one vegetable I’ve never cooked with each week. It’s a fun challenge, and 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.
By challenging myself to get one 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 variety of 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 deals on its 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. (Although, they do not typically offer coupons for private-label goods.)
However, don’t purchase items just because you get them for a discount. You might be spending more money buying items you wouldn’t have bought otherwise. Coupons and reward programs are for saving on items you would be purchasing anyway.
8. 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 more than you need, take a quick picture of your freezer, fridge, and pantry before leaving so you can check if you’re unsure of what you have.
9. 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 fewer 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.