Shopping smart makes for eating smart


The key to healthy eating is to cook a lot of your own food at home and bypass takeout/home delivery.

This necessitates that you have a well-stocked fridge and pantry in your kitchen, so making the most of your grocery store purchases is a must. But let’s face it, while it’s easy to head to the store with a shopping list of nutrition staples, sometimes the outing goes awry and we end up with more processed food than vegetables in our carts. Cravings, habits and grocery store science all play a role in what you purchase.

How to navigate the aisles for your best shop


Shopping smart – forget the perimeter advice

For many years, we’ve been advised to “shop the perimeter” of the grocery store, because that’s where staples like vegetables, fruit, meat, milk and bread are kept. And the aisles? We were told to skip those because that’s where soda-pop and candy was lurking.

Fast-forward to present day, and while the model of a typical grocery store remains somewhat consistent, the advice has changed. The aisles are vital for picking up healthy staples, such as lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains like quinoa and oats. You can’t find those foods on the perimeter, so if you are interested in a more plant-based diet, you need to head down the aisles!

And have you noticed that junk food seems to be seeping outside the aisles and into the perimeter? Oh yes, those treats are everywhere. In my local grocery stores, the produce section also houses bulk bins of chocolate and jelly beans, and bags of upscale gourmet treats like fancy pretzels and artisan chocolate.

The solution

Shop anywhere in the store, but use a grocery list to outline the staples that you are looking for.

It’s fine to add in a treat or two, as long as the majority of your cart is filled with nourishing options. Remember, you are the gatekeeper of your kitchen, and whatever you bring home, you will likely eat.

Shopping smart – skip the tricks

Grocery store science is no joke. There are dozens of tricks that are designed to get you the consumer to spend more money and buy less-healthy items without you realizing it. Here are some traps to watch out for:

  • Special vs. sale: Foods that are on “sale” will have a lower price than usual. Foods that are on “special” get a highly visible location in the store (like the front end of the shelf), but cost the same as they always do. So then, what’s so “special” about them? Their manufacturer has paid a premium to make them more visible. But you save no money, and may buy a processed food you don’t really need.
  • Impulse areas: Dubbed “golden zones,” the area near the checkout is often filled with grab-and-go items that feed your sugar and salt cravings, and the mere sight of them drives impulse purchases. They exist for one reason: profit. Stay strong my friends, and resist temptation.
  • Scan high and low: Companies pay a premium to get their products placed on the shelf at your eye level. You see it, you buy it. But if you take a few moments to scan the shelves above and below eye level, you are likely to find similar brands at lower prices, or no-name brands at a fraction of name-brand prices. It pays to look up and down.
  • Stick to the list: Many shoppers head to the store for just a few items, such as milk or bread. The dairy case is very strategically placed at the furthest corner away from the entrance, making it necessary for you to walk all of the way through the store to get the one item you need. Of course, along the way, you are bound to pick up a few things… Suddenly your list of three items has become a much more expensive shop for 25 items. Use your list to buy only what you need.

Shopping smart – new tricks to promote real food?

It’s clear that in-store placement and marketing of processed foods influences our spending habits. So, what if all of this grocery store science was used to get us to buy more vegetables, instead of more ice cream?

Intriguing research out of New Mexico State University is looking at innovative ways to get shoppers to buy more vegetables. Researchers divided grocery carts, with more space ‘dedicated’ for fruit and vegetables, adding placards with a message like “choose 5 vegetables or fruits today,”. They added vibrant green arrows to the floor (pointing towards the produce section), with messages like “this way to health.”

These subtle cues worked, causing shoppers to double their vegetable and fruit purchases. And bonus: filling carts with vegetables and fruit leaves less room for buying the usual staples of processed food.

It may not be at your grocery store yet, but it’s the wave of the future.


Shopping smart the Just Routine way


In Just Routine it’s easy to create shopping lists of recipe ingredients or from the browsable real food database. Then shop with ease, defying grocery store science as you slide the items into your virtual basket as you fill your real one.

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Cara Rosenbloom is a Registered Dietician, celebrated author and international columnist, active as a food blogger, recipe developer and nutrition educator.

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