Grocery Shopping Habits: How to Decide What Goes In (and stays out) of Your Cart Featured

Authors: Registered Dietitians

Grocery Shopping Habits: How to Decide What Goes In (and stays out) of Your Cart

(  It’s March and that means it’s Nutrition Month!  An entire month dedicated to celebrate  something that is ties all of us together – food and eating.  A change in season - from winter to spring – signals the possibility for new, fresh life. The coming of spring invites us to think about our food and eating habits, planting new seeds that will grow renewed life.  The timing of Nutrition Month is brilliant. 

This year’s Nutrition Month theme is about helping Canadians make informed food choices to best support their health, starting with the foods bought at the grocery store.  The foods you have in your home are your toolbox for a healthy lifestyle.  Grocery shopping fills your toolbox to help you live the life you want to live.  Here are 3 questions to get you thinking about your grocery shopping habits.

1) How do you decide what foods to add in your grocery cart? 

An Ipsos Reid poll found that 63% of Canadians struggle with making healthier food choices in the grocery store at least half the time they shop.  This is not surprising when there are over 30,000 to 40,000 food products available for purchase.  It is no wonder people hate grocery shopping!

When you grocery shop, do you wing-it and just browse up and down the aisles, selecting what you think you need?  Or, are you one of the 67% of Canadians who prepare a grocery list before shopping?  Shopping with a list is a great way to save time – with your list you can breeze through the store.  A list also helps to save money. 

Have a standing grocery list of the things you always want to have in your house, and add on any other foods that you need to make meals for the week. 

Keep a Variety of Foods in your Kitchen:

In my house, we have a variety of foods that we like to keep on hand.  Some examples are:

  • Grains – whole grain cereals, whole grain breads and naan bread (for DIY pizza), whole grain pasta.
  • Vegetables – spinach (for instant salads), baby carrots, celery, onions, potatoes, peppers, cucumber, frozen peas and carrots (great especially at the end of the week), canned tomatoes, apple juice (for smoothies).
  • Fruits – bananas, apples, oranges, berries (if reasonably priced), frozen fruit.
  • Milk & Alternatives – low fat milk, lower fat yogurt, both plain and flavoured, cheese. If I have a really busy week, I will invest in pre-shredded cheese.
  • Meat  & Alternatives – salmon, chicken, ground beef, canned legumes, lentils, eggs.
  • Miscellaneous – vinegars, oil, soy sauce, fish sauce, honey, butter, tomato pesto, reduced sodium soups.

Make sure to do an inventory check before shopping.  Use what you have on hand before further stock-piling your kitchen with more food, which can add stress. 

2) Do you buy enough of a food you want to eat more of?

What foods are you trying to eat more of?  To eat more of any food, be sure to have it on hand, which starts with buying more at the grocery store. Did you know, a family of four needs to eat 84 cups of vegetables and fruits in a week if they are to meet national nutrition guidelines? The only way to do that is to have more on-hand in your kitchen toolbox. 

Buy more variety

  • Also, make sure you buy a variety of the kind of food you want to eat more of.  If half of your plate is to be vegetables, put a few different kinds of vegetables on your plate.  Maybe some carrots with a honey-mustard glaze and a spinach salad.  Or stir-fried vegetables and butternut squash. 

Buy ingredients that allow you to put together good-tasting food. 

  • Taste is still the #1 reason when deciding on what foods to buy at the grocery store.  And why shouldn’t it be?  Foods should be enjoyed.  And there are infinite combinations for culinary adventures.

Personally, I consciously try to eat more vegetables throughout the day.  If I do that, everything else in my diet seems to fall into place.  To do this, I buy a variety of vegetables so I don’t get bored with the same old baby carrots and cucumbers.  Some examples are under tip 1. 

3) Do you buy too much quantity and variety of a food you want or need to eat less of? 

Food is powerful in our society – it connects us during good times, bad times.  The best way to a person’s heart is through their stomach still holds true.  Food should be enjoyed - it is more than just a nutrient-vehicle. Everyone has foods that they enjoy, including the more indulgent kinds of foods.  We need to find ways to enjoy the foods that nourish our bodies while still being able to enjoy foods that nourish our soul. 

Some of us may have foods that, for health reasons, we especially need to pay attention to when it comes to our health.  Identify these foods and buy less when shopping.

Use the 80:20 guideline 

  • 80% of foods that we eat should be nutritious while still allowing flexibility to include the more indulgent kinds of foods 20% of the time. 
  • Apply the 80-20 rule to your grocery cart as well - the majority of your grocery purchases (80%) should be foods that nourish – and 20% can be the foods that are more indulgent. 
  • Pick which foods you think you’d like to indulge in, buy those (or buy the ingredients to make them), and leave the other foods behind on the shelf for another trip. 
  • Buying less quantity and less variety of foods that fit in the 20% category, will usually result in eating less of these foods overall.   

As we move to spring, think about the new seeds you want to plant, and what new life you would like to grow.  The foods you have in your home are your toolbox for your healthy lifestyle.


Written by Calgary Dietitian, Kristyn Hall MSc, RD, Director and Dietitian with HealthCastle Calgary

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