Ask any health buff the secret to maintaining a healthy diet and they’ll put it simply: When food cravings hit, don’t make it easy to give in. Your number one weapon may, in fact, simply be learning how to grocery shop smarter. We caught up with a few of these “health gurus” to create an easy-to-follow rulebook of sorts to promote smarter, healthier habits.
Before you go to the store, have a shopping list ready. “This way you will get exactly what you need and lesson the risk of random purchases that you don’t need,” says nutritionist Marci Clow, MS, RDN at Rainbow Light, a natural vitamin brand. You’ll walk through the store with purpose, oftentimes skipping aisles stocked with unnecessary junk food. “Planning ahead,” Clow says, “will also save you time and money.”
“Pick two vegetables that you can make multiple meals with,” says New York-based nutritionist Barbara M. Mendez. “[For example], get spinach that you can make a salad with or add to your morning egg scramble.” This way, you keep your meals varied so they don’t get boring and you don’t waste produce.
Shop by the Season
“Make a point to try and incorporate foods that are fresh and in season, and perhaps that you have not tried before,” says Clow. “Most people tend to eat the same foods over and over again, but the wider the variety, the wider the array of nutrients.” New options also add excitement back into eating at home, making you less likely to snack or order take-out.
Shop Like You Eat
“Fill your cart like you should fill your plate—50-percent fruits and veggies, the rest protein and grains,” Clow says. The closer you shop to your optimal eating habits, the less likely you’ll be hungry post-meal and reach for the bad stuff.
Plan Healthy Snacks
Chips and salsa may be convenient, but so are plenty of other, healthier options. The trick is to plan these out before you get to the store. “Buy some great apples—honey crisps are particularly sweet—and a natural peanut butter for a quick and healthy snack,” says Mendez.
Prepare a Night Snack
“Half the time when we eat at night it’s out of boredom and needing to satisfy hand-to-mouth action, so having something small that will help you achieve that without too many calories is helpful,” says Mendez. She recommends blueberries or sunflower seeds.
Check for Sugar
“Look at the sugar content of boxed food,” says Mendez. “Oftentimes [it] is in not-so-obvious foods so it’s important to check the label. If something says it has 5 grams of sugar per serving, understand that is 1 teaspoon of sugar.” Don’t let them try to fool you.
Above all else—don’t shop on an empty stomach. “This practice often results in unhealthy impulse purchases,” says Clow. We think we can all attest to that.