How to Win the Grocery Shopping Game

Navigate any store’s aisles like a pro

Photo: Man looking at two bottles of olive oil in supermarket aisle

Going grocery shopping can go from easy to overwhelming faster than you can say “cleanup on aisle seven.” Even if you’ve made your list, endless aisles teeming with colorfully packaged choices can make picking mustard feel like a major decision.

Grocery stores and food manufacturers know how to get your attention, but “you can be a smart player of the grocery shopping game,” says Cassie Bjork, RD, founder of Healthy Simple Life in Shoreview, MN. Don’t let sneaky marketing strategies trick you into buying junk you don’t need. Use these tips to shop with confidence.

Before you hit the aisles, shop from the perimeter of the store. It’s where you’ll find produce, meat, seafood, and dairy. Try to fill at least half of your cart with fruits and vegetables. “It’s the one thing you can do to improve your overall health,” Bjork says. Ask about local seafood, and look for lean cuts of meat (cuts with “top” or “round” in the name are good choices). For dairy, choose low-fat versions with minimal artificial flavors or sugars.

Then, it’s time to hit the aisles:

Grains (bread, cereal, rice, and pasta): The front of the box may have boastful claims including “good source of fiber” or “whole grain,” but the best way to make sure you’re making the healthiest choice possible is to check the label. You want to pick the product with the least amount of sugar, Bjork says. To figure out how many teaspoons of sugar are in a serving, divide the amount of carbohydrates by four. “Most people don’t know what a gram means, but most of us know what a teaspoon of something looks like,” Bjork says.

Condiments (oil, dressing, and nut butter): Again, you want to check the label. Reading the nutrition facts shouldn’t require a dictionary. Look for labels with short ingredient lists, using ingredients you know. “It’s good if you can at least pronounce the words,” Bjork says. “Peanut butter should just be ‘peanuts,’ but people are shocked when they see the two-inch ingredient list.”

Baking products: This aisle is good for stocking up on nuts, seeds, and spices. But if being anywhere near the baking aisle is too tempting, try ordering off the Internet. “You can save a lot of money buying online, too,” says Bjork. Other items that can be found online and ship well are extra virgin olive oil, nut butters, coconut oil, canned coconut milk, and flaxseed.

Canned goods: Grab the canned beans, which are good sources of protein and fiber at a pretty low price. Low-sodium or no-sodium options are good. If you can’t find them, don’t stress. Just rinse them before you eat them to cut the salt content, Bjork says.