1. Buy fresh food! There is no simpler, no easier, no plainer measure of the healthiness of your food than whether it comes in boxes and cans or is fresh from the farm or the fields. If more than half your groceries are prepared foods, then you need to evolve your cooking and eating habits back to the healthy side by picking up more fresh vegetables, fruits, seafood, juices, and dairy.
2. Shop the perimeter of the store. That’s where all the fresh foods are. The less you find yourself in the central aisles of the grocery store, the healthier your shopping trip will be. Make it a habit — work the perimeter of the store for the bulk of your groceries, then dip into the aisles for staples that you know you need.
3. Think of the departments (dairy, produce, meat, and so on) as separate stores within the supermarket. You wouldn’t shop at every store at a mall the same way, would you? You know better than to idly browse through a jewelry store, don’t you? So apply the same approach to the grocery store. Target the sections that are safe to browse through — the produce section, primarily — and steer clear of the dangerous sections (the candy, ice cream, and potato chip aisles).
4. Shop with a list. Organize your shopping list based on the tip above — that is, by the sections of the store. This will have you out of the supermarket at the speed of light. Shopping with a list has benefits beyond speed and spending. By keeping yourself to the discipline of a well-planned shopping list, you can resist the urge to head over to the of junk food aisle, thereby saving your home, your family, and yourself from an overload of empty calories.
5. Food-shop with a full stomach. Walking through the grocery store with your tummy growling can make you vulnerable to buying anything that you normally would not. If you can’t arrange to shop shortly after a meal, be sure to eat an apple and drink a large glass of water before heading into the store.
6. Buy a few days before ripe. There’s no point in trying to buy fresh vegetables and fruits for your family if the bananas turn brown and the peaches mushy two days after you get them home. Buy fruit that’s still a day or two behind ripeness. It will still be hard to the touch; bananas will be green. Feel carefully for bruises on apples, check expiration dates on bagged produce, and stay away from potatoes or onions that have started to sprout.
7. Buy in season. Sure, it’s tempting to buy strawberries in December, and once in a while that’s fine. But fresh fruit and vegetables are best when purchased in season, meaning they’ve come from relatively close to home. They often cost less, are tastier, and have less risk of pathogens such as E. coli.
8. Buy frozen. Frozen fruits and vegetables are often flash frozen at the source, locking in nutrients in a way fresh or canned can’t compete with. Stock your freezer with bags of frozen vegetables and fruits. You can toss the veggies into soups and stews, microwave them for a side dish with dinners, or thaw them at room temperature and dip them into hummus. Use the fruits for desserts, smoothies and as yogurt toppings.
9. Choose prepared foods with short ingredient lists. We don’t expect you to cut out prepared foods entirely. Just remember: The shorter the ingredient list, the healthier the food usually is. Of course, if the ingredients are sugar and butter, put the item back on the shelf.
10. Reject foods and drinks made with corn syrup. Corn syrup is a calorie-dense, nutritionally empty sweetener perhaps even worse than refined sugar. A shocking number of foods and drinks are thick with it, including such apparently healthy foods as fruit juices, premade spaghetti sauces, and even bread. Some experts argue that corn syrup is one of the main causes of America’s obesity problem. If a food has corn syrup in its first four ingredients, then it lacks the wholesomeness and healthiness you want.
11. Look for fiber. You want at least 1 to 2 grams of fiber for every 100 calories you consume.
12. If partially hydrogenated oil, or trans fats are listed on the label, step away from the box and nobody will get hurt.
13. Buy plain yogurt and flavor it at home. Pre-flavored yogurts have oodles of sugars that destroy any healthy benefits they once had. If you add a teaspoon of all-fruit jam, fresh or frozen fruit, it’ll still taste yummy, you’ll consume far fewer useless calories, and you’ll save lots of money.