Monthly Health Message:

Planning Makes Shopping for Healthy Foods Easy

November 2008

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS
Family and Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Planning is the key to food shopping and feeding your family healthier meals. Take simple, small steps to make sure you have nutritious foods on your shelf and in your refrigerator. To eat healthy meals, follow these five steps:

Step 1: Plan ahead
Decide how many major meals you will be shopping for. Then, consider the number of food items you will need for breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks. Take an inventory of your staples, such as low-fat milk, whole grains (brown rice, cereals and pasta), fresh fruit, vegetables, salad greens and veggies for a salad, whole grains (brown rice, cereals, and pasta), healthy beverages, and any ingredients needed during the week for planned main dishes such as soups, stews, casseroles, and one-dish meals.

Step 2: Make a shopping list
A shopping list makes your trip faster and will help you avoid impulse purchases. Try to buy only what is on your list. If you see new healthy foods, don't be afraid to try them. Keep your list flexible, but make sure you buy healthy foods for the next week.

When making your shopping list, make sure it includes food items you'll need to follow the menus you set up for the week. Also, be sure your list includes healthy and convenient snack foods. Suggestions include:

  • Baby carrots
  • Celery sticks
  • Broccoli florets
  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Pears
  • Fresh berries
  • Grapes
  • Whole-grain bread, pasta, rice
  • Pretzels
  • Salsa and baked tortilla chips
  • Low-fat cottage cheese
  • Low fat cheese
  • Tuna
  • Whole-grain snack crackers
  • Reduced-calorie, fat-free yogurt

Step 3: Shop the perimeter of the store for fresh foods
Picture your grocery store in your mind. Chances are the fresh produce section, meat and seafood departments, and dairy are all located on the outside walls of the store. This is where to concentrate your shopping when using MyPyramid guidance system. Fresh foods are generally a better choice than ready-to-eat foods because you can control the extra ingredients you add. Go to the website for meal planning ideas and recipes along with nutrition information.

Step 4: Shop after a good meal
It can be hard to resist buying high-fat, high-calorie snack items, especially when you're hungry. Make sure you set yourself up for success and shop after you have eaten a good meal. If you do find yourself shopping on an empty stomach, drink some water or buy a piece of fruit to munch on.

Step 5: Read food labels
Since May 1994, packaged goods sold in the United States have carried the Nutrition Facts label. This panel allows the consumer to know how a food fits into a typical meal plan. Each label contains information pertaining to serving size, calories, nutrients, and the percentage of Daily Values for various food components such as fats, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. This information can help you choose healthier foods. By routinely checking food labels, they will help you compare the nutritional qualities of similar products.


  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences