Food & Fitness

The Living Healthy in the Real World Guide to Grocery Shopping, Part Six: Healthy Shopping Tips

This is the final installment of the Living Healthy in the Real World Guide to Grocery Shopping. I hope you have enjoyed! Be sure to check out the rest of this Grocery Shopping mini-series:

Part One: Preparation to Grocery Shopping

Part Two: Building the Basics

Part Three: Grocery Shopping for the Time-Restricted

Part Four: Where to Shop

Part Five: On a Budget

Advice for the Reluctant Shopper/Cook and Healthy Shopping Tips

Fun for some, a nightmare for others: shopping and cooking can be a pleasure or a hassle depending on the mindset with which we approach them. For this reason, I would advise that anyone who does not enjoy cooking or shopping should try to alter their attitude. Get to the bottom of it and figure out why you don’t like it. The more we know about ourselves, the better equipped we will be to overcoming those obstacles.

As I’ve said earlier, shopping and cooking go hand-in-hand when you’re living a healthy lifestyle. Using real, whole food means that you’re likely buying the majority of your food as single ingredients and compiling them together yourself, rather than buying pre-made food. Bearing that in mind, I’d like to address the obstacles that we might come up against in living healthy when it’s time for a grocery shopping trip:

– If you don’t enjoy shopping: Stick to the produce section. Know which aisles contain the dried/canned goods and only go to those aisles; walk right past the rest of the aisles at the store. Find a couple of good grocery stores nearby and stick with them; do your grocery shopping once a week so you can get it all over with in one go. Figure out ahead of time which brands and items contain healthy ingredients and write them down on a list to keep in your wallet so you don’t have to spend a lot of time comparing ingredient lists between different products.

– If you don’t enjoy cooking: Bypass the frozen meals! Instead choose a variety of fresh vegetables, a couple different kinds of dried beans, and perhaps some potatoes and meat, and make use of the crockpot: chop it all up and throw it into the crockpot to cook overnight. By morning, you’ll have a delicious stew, with little to no effort on your part. Also, buy pre-cut veggies so you don’t have to do the prep-work if you really hate doing it.

– If you don’t know how to shop for healthy items: Don’t believe it when an item is labelled as “good for you”. Most yogurts, for example, are just glorified candy bars (the same way cereal is). You really have to spend a long time at the store, at least at first, in order to understand the differences between brands. You can also check out some great websites like eBrandAid and Nutrition Action, where they have easy-to-understand guides and advice for how to read nutrition labels and navigate your way through the grocery store. As much as possible, choose “one-ingredient foods” (for example, dried beans- which you will then turn into a meal by adding other ingredients- rather than a can of Chef Boyardee).

– If you don’t know how to cook healthy items: Invest in a good cookbook (check out my list on my Healthy Recommendations page). Think about the kinds of food that you normally like to eat and break it down. For example, if you enjoy frozen meals which are some kind of pasta dish with chicken, make each of those things yourself! Boil the (whole wheat!) pasta, grill up the chicken on your George Foreman (or poach it in boiling water), steam a bag of mixed vegetables, and voila! Season the chicken when you put it on the grill to add flavour, and then make a quick pasta sauce. Pasta sauce is really easy to make. If you look on any can of pasta sauce, it will usually say that there is tomato, water, and some different spices. Heat up a can of diced tomatoes, experiment with adding honey or vinegar or oil or a variety of herbs and spices, and you’ll create your very own sauce. If you can’t be bothered to make a sauce, just top your pasta with grated cheese or a sprinkle of hot sauce or soy sauce. The important thing, if you don’t know how to cook healthy, is to just think about the kinds of meals that you like to eat and how you can re-create them using whole foods. Macaroni and cheese is a whole lot better for you if you use real cheese and real butter than if you take a box of Kraft Dinner and top it with powdered “cheese product”.

More Healthy Tips

Don’t be intimated by the grocery store. If you’re just starting out, it can seem like an overwhelming amount of information that you need to deal with, but once you’ve grasped the basics it’s really quite easy to make healthy options fast. These are the three top things to remember when you’re grocery shopping for your healthy lifestyle:

1. “Ignore” the front label, health claims, brand name, nutrition facts table, and any checks of approval (such as the Smart Spot or Health Check symbols). Okay, by this I don’t really mean to ignore it all- but what I do mean is to take it all with a grain of salt! You cannot trust any of these parts of the package. Food manufacturers will deceive you. Even if it says “100% natural”, or “organic”, or “trans fat free”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the product really is any of those things. Food manufacturers are deceptive. Don’t trust them.

2. Read the ingredients list. This is something that you can trust. Food manufacturers can’t trick you by leaving out ingredients that they use! Always read the ingredients list. If you recognize all of the ingredients, that’s usually a good sign. As a general rule, the shorter the ingredient list, the better (but this isn’t always the case). Avoid anything that has the ingredients “high fructose corn syrup”, “hydrogenated oil”, “partially hydrogenated oil”, “sugar glucose-fructose”, “artificial colour” or “artificial flavour”. Likewise, any colours followed by a number (such as “Red 30”) should also definitely be avoided. If you’re unsure about an ingredient, do some research to find out what it is before you buy the food. Or ask me about it and I’ll do the research for you! I’d be only too happy to do so 🙂

3. Have a few fall-backs. It’s nice to have some cooked meals that you throw in the freezer for emergencies, but sometimes even the best of intentions fall by the wayside and we find that there is nothing to eat in the house. It’s good to have a few go-to meals that you can fall back on when you need to make a quick trip to the grocery store. They should include a fairly balanced protein-carb-fat ratio so that you are getting all of the macronutrients. A few of my favourite in-a-hurry meals when I want to run in and out of the store really quick are:

– Carton of eggs and a loaf of bread (to make poached eggs on toast)

– Apples or bananas, a carton of milk, and a container of nut butter (slice up the fruit and smear them with the nut butter; eat alongside a glass of milk)

– Frozen mixed vegetables, a can of chickpeas and a box of rice (boil the rice, steam the veggies, and add the rinsed chickpeas to the mix: toss on some soy sauce, hot sauce, or herbs/spices and you’re good to go)

If you have a few go-to meals, you won’t even have to “think” when you go to the grocery store. Run in, grab your couple of items, and then run right back out again. Even just picking up some carrots and a package of hummus, or a chicken breast to grill on the George Foreman, are quick and healthy ways to satisfy a growling stomach.

I hope you’ve all enjoyed this mini-series as much as I have! If there’s anything I’ve forgotten, or if you have anything that you’d like to add yourself, or if you have any questions at all, please leave them in the comments.


  1. Holly

    I have really enjoyed all of your tips, Sagan! I absolutely love to grocery shop, but I love all of the tips I can get.

    A few years ago, I never – EVER – read the ingredients list of hardly anything I ate. I still need some improvement, but I’m much better! For example, there are a lot of soy burgers and products that taste amazing, but the ingredients list is a mile long for some of them. So even though I love them, I try to stay away.

  2. Monica

    Amen to the poached eggs on toast! Fabulous tips. Here’s another one: keep a couple high quality condiments around like dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar and tomato chutney. And of course, good extra virgin olive oil. Any of these (or a combination) can turn anything – canned beans, steamed veggies, cooked potato – into something interesting.

  3. Diane Fit to the Finish

    Great tips – especially for those who really are new to this whole concept of healthy shopping. One thing I recommend to people also is occasionally buying those already cooked rotisserie chickens. They make great sandwiches, just eaten plain, and then the leftovers can be frozen for another day.

    As always – great tips and strategies!

  4. Lance

    This has been great, Sagan!

    I personally love the produce section at the grocery store. And I pretty much avoid most of the aisles of food (except for that special spot where they keep the all natural peanut butter…that pulls me in every time).

  5. Sagan Morrow

    Holly- I’ve been frustrated about the same thing with the “fake meat” products. BUT I’ve found a few really good looking recipes on Vegan Dad’s blog for making your own fake meat. So I’m definitely going to try to make that for myself… the ingredient lists on those products make me squirm.

    Monica- For sure! I like making my own condiments as much as possible but it’s good to have a few things to have in the fridge. I always like to have homemade vegan cheezy sauce, hot sauce, Bragg’s soy sauce, and whole grain mustard in my house. They just add a nice kick to a lot of food. And when in doubt, add crushed red pepper flakes 😀

    Diane- YES for sure. Those things make the perfect quick meal, and then you can use the leftover chicken for sandwiches or soups and such.

    Westwood- Well, that depends. What’s your definition of “minimally processed”? 😉 I think that that’s fine (the above mentioned rotisserie chicken, I THINK, doesn’t have a FANTASTIC ingredient list), as long as it’s not a daily thing. It’s better to just choose as much whole foods as often as possible. But obviously we’re not going to do that 100% of the time, or even necessarily 90% of the time. Having a couple “minimally processed foods” to fall back on is a good idea.

    Cammy- Great idea! The roommate bought this AWESOME roasted red pepper dip (only ingredients are roasted red pepper, eggplant, salt, vinegar, and oil), and I have been using it as a salad topping and as a dip for sugar snap peas. Those kinds of condiments are useful because they perform double-duty!

    Miz- *lightbulb turns on* Oooh. Oooooh. That could be FUN 😀

    Lance- I’m the same way about the all-natural PB. I keep hoping we’ll get some of the American brands because it sounds like there is way more variety in the States. No such luck yet.

  6. Pingback: Living Healthy in the Real World » Blog Archive » The Living Healthy in the Real World Guide to Budgeting

  7. Gwen Moye

    WOW. The title is catchy, the article is so hard to do with all the temptation out there fast food that is is the food of choice for busy people on the go. But I guess with will power, persistance, and determination you can make it work.

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