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The Definitive Guide to Healthy Food Shopping | Balance

As a nutritionist, I understand that food shopping can be overwhelming and confusing, especially when it comes to choosing healthy foods. With so many options available, it's easy to get lost in the aisles and end up with a cart full of unhealthy choices.

But fear not! In this ultimate guide to healthy food shopping, I will walk you through the basics of creating a smart shopping list, navigating the store, and stocking your kitchen like a pro. With these tips, you'll be able to make informed choices and prioritize your health on every trip to the shops.

Before You Go: Creating a Healthy Shopping List

Before heading to the shop, it's essential to have a plan. Creating a healthy shopping list will not only help you stay on track but also ensure that you bring home nutritious foods. Studies have shown that having a shopping list can lead to healthier choices while food shopping.

But what exactly should you include on your healthy shopping list?

The key is to prioritize whole, nutrient-dense foods that form the foundation of a balanced diet.

Here are some categories to consider when creating your shopping list:

Fruits and Vegetables

Make sure to include a variety of fruits and vegetables in your cart. Opt for fresh produce whenever possible, but frozen options are also a great choice as they retain their nutrients and have a longer shelf life.

Include a mix of non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, spinach, and peppers, as well as starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and butternut squash. For fruits, consider options like apples, blueberries, and grapefruits.


Proteins are essential for building and repairing tissues in the body. Include a mix of animal and plant-based proteins on your shopping list.

Options like eggs, fish, chicken, and canned salmon are great choices. If you prefer plant-based proteins, consider adding items like beans, lentils, and pea protein powder to your list.

Grains and Legumes

Whole grains and legumes are excellent sources of fiber and provide sustained energy. Brown rice, quinoa, and chickpeas are some examples to consider. These items can be purchased in bulk and stored for a long time, reducing the frequency of grocery trips.

Dairy and Non-Dairy Substitutes

If you consume dairy products, include items like Greek yogurt and feta cheese on your list. For those who prefer non-dairy alternatives, options like cashew milk and coconut yogurt are worth considering.

Pantry Staples

Stock your pantry with items like nuts, seeds, oils, and spices. These ingredients can add flavor and nutrition to your meals. Keep roasted almonds, pumpkin seeds, and natural peanut butter on hand for healthy snacking. Olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil are some healthier options for cooking.

Miscellaneous Items

Don't forget to include drinks, condiments, and other miscellaneous items on your list. Unsweetened coconut water, sparkling water, olives, salad dressing, and ground coffee are some examples to consider.

By organizing your shopping list into sections, you can navigate the store more efficiently and ensure that you don't miss any essential items. Remember, this list is just a starting point, and you can customize it based on your dietary preferences and needs.

Planning a Weekly Menu

If you prefer a more structured approach to grocery shopping, consider planning a weekly menu. This involves deciding which meals you want to cook for the upcoming week and creating a shopping list based on the ingredients needed for those meals. It can be especially helpful for individuals who enjoy meal prepping.

Start by choosing two dishes you'd like to cook during the week. Write down the ingredients required for each recipe and add them to your shopping list. If you have the recipes printed out, bring them along to the store for reference. This method ensures that you have all the necessary ingredients on hand and helps you make smarter choices while shopping.

If you're new to meal prepping, don't overwhelm yourself by trying to prepare all your meals at once. Start slowly by preparing just a few meals the first week and gradually increase the number as it becomes a habit. Remember, it takes time to develop healthy habits, so be patient with yourself.

How to Stock Your Kitchen Like a Pro

Stocking your kitchen with nonperishable and frozen foods is key to ensuring that you always have nutritious options on hand, even when fresh foods run low. Before heading to the grocery store, it's important to take inventory of what you already have in your cabinets, pantry, fridge, and freezer. This helps reduce food waste and ensures that you're well-prepared to cook healthy meals.

When it comes to stocking your pantry, consider including items like nuts, seeds, oils, grains, dried fruit, and canned beans. These ingredients have a long shelf life and can be used in a variety of recipes. Keep in mind that some types of nut butter and nut-based flours may need to be refrigerated after opening. Storing nuts and nut-based flours in the freezer can help keep them fresh.

Here are some shopping staples to consider (please note that these aren't exhaustive):

Nuts, seeds, and nut butter

Oils: olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, spray oils

Grains: quinoa, brown rice, oats, buckwheat

Unsweetened dried fruit

Spices: garlic powder, turmeric, curry powder, cumin, paprika, cinnamon

Canned and dried beans

Canned tuna and salmon

Baking goods and sweeteners; stevia, wholegrain flour

Shelf-stable milk substitutes: almond milk, coconut milk, oat milk, hazelnut milk

Sauces, dressings, and condiments

Snack foods: cereal bars, fibre bars, protein bars

Long-lasting produce

Miscellaneous: dried coconut, dark chocolate chips, protein powder, coffee, broth, coconut water

While stocking your pantry with long-lasting items, it's also important to have a well-stocked freezer. Frozen foods like protein sources, fruits, vegetables, and bread are convenient and can be used in a pinch. Consider keeping items like chicken, mince varieties, frozen berries, and frozen kale in your freezer for easy meal preparation.

Freezer Staples

Protein sources: chicken, mince varieties, salmon

Frozen fruits and veggies

Bread: Ezekiel bread, sourdough

Nuts, flours, and grain-free flours

With a well-stocked kitchen, you'll have a solid foundation for preparing healthy meals and snacks. Just remember to check your inventory before each shopping trip to avoid purchasing items you already have.

Navigating the Supermarket

When you arrive at the shop, it's important to have a plan in mind to help you make healthy choices. Here are some tips for navigating the store:

Perimeter Shopping

One strategy for making healthier choices is to focus on shopping the perimeter of the store. This is where you'll find fresh produce, meats, dairy products, and other perishables.

These items tend to be less processed and more nutrient-dense.

Fill your trolley or basket with a variety of fruits, vegetables, proteins, and other perishable items from the outer edges of the store.

Inner Aisles

While the perimeter of the store is where you'll find the majority of your fresh and healthy options, don't neglect the inner aisles. Many healthy choices can be found in these sections as well. Look for bulk grains, nuts, seeds, nut butters, canned foods, condiments, and frozen foods. Aisles may contain a mix of nutritious and highly refined food choices, so it's important to read labels and make informed decisions.

Reading Labels

Reading food labels is crucial for making informed choices about the products you purchase. While not all packaged foods are unhealthy, it's important to check the ingredient lists and nutrition facts. Look for items with fewer added sugars, refined grains, and highly processed oils. Pay attention to the serving size and the amount of added sugar, as excessive consumption can have negative health effects.

When reading labels, focus on the first few ingredients listed. If you see a type of sweetener, refined grain, or highly processed oil as one of the main ingredients, it's best to avoid that product. Opt for items with simpler ingredient lists and minimize your intake of added sugars.

Building a Healthy Shopping Trolley / Basket

Now that you have a solid understanding of how to create a healthy shopping list and navigate the shop, let's talk about what a healthy shopping trolley / basket might look like.

Remember, everyone's dietary needs and preferences are different, so feel free to customize this list based on your individual requirements.

A healthy grocery cart should be filled with a variety of nutrient-dense foods. Here are some examples to consider:

Nonstarchy Vegetables

Cauliflower, asparagus, broccoli, sweet peppers, onions, garlic, bell peppers, greens, leeks, and mushrooms are all excellent choices. These vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fibre.


Oranges, bananas, apples, grapefruit, lemons, blueberries, pineapple, and avocados are some fruits to consider. They provide essential vitamins and antioxidants.


Include a mix of animal and plant-based proteins in your cart. Eggs, fish, chicken, mince varieties and tofu are all great options. These proteins are essential for muscle growth and repair.

Starchy Vegetables

Sweet potatoes, potatoes, and winter squash are nutritious options that provide carbohydrates and key nutrients.

Grains and Legumes

Quinoa, oats, brown rice, dried black beans, buckwheat, red lentils and barley are all excellent choices. These foods are rich in fibre, protein, and minerals.

Nuts, Seeds, and Nut Butter

Pumpkin seeds, macadamia nuts, almonds, and natural peanut butter are great sources of healthy fats and protein.

Canned Foods

Canned salmon, sardines, beans, pumpkin puree, diced tomatoes, and marinara sauce are convenient options that can be used in a variety of recipes.

Oils and Condiments

Olive oil, salad dressing, avocado oil, salsa, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, dried spices, honey, and maple syrup are some examples of healthier oils and condiments.

Dairy and Non-Dairy Products

Consider items like Greek yogurt, cheddar cheese, goat cheese, cashew milk, and coconut yogurt. Choose options that fit your dietary preferences and needs.

Snack Foods

Include some healthier snack options in your cart. Dark chocolate chips, trail mix, unsweetened dried fruit, and hummus are great choices.

Frozen Foods

Frozen raspberries, shrimp, kale, and Ezekiel bread are convenient options to have on hand.


Opt for unsweetened seltzer, herbal tea bags, and ground coffee to stay hydrated and satisfy your cravings.

Remember, this list is not exhaustive, and there is room for your favorite foods in a healthy, balanced diet. The goal is to prioritize nutrient-dense foods that nourish your body while still allowing room for enjoyment.

In Conclusion

Grocery shopping doesn't have to be a daunting task. By creating a healthy shopping list, planning your meals, stocking your kitchen with nutritious staples, and making informed choices at the store, you can prioritize your health and well-being.

Remember, healthy habits take time to develop, so be patient with yourself and celebrate small victories along the way. With these tips and strategies, you'll become a pro at healthy shopping in no time!

Try This Today: Plan your next shopping trip

Before your next trip to the grocery store, choose two dishes you'd like to cook during the upcoming week.

Write down a shopping list or print out the recipes' ingredient lists to bring with you. This simple step can help you make smarter choices and stay on track with your health goals.

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