Creating a healthy grocery list


From the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

No matter how you shop — in the store or online — the basics of healthful eating remain the same. At the supermarket, shop for healthful ingredients based on foods from the 5 food groups: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat or fat-free dairy foods.

Use the tips below to maximize nutrition and trim saturated fat, sodium and added sugars in your diet.

Fruits and Vegetables

  • Choose multiple colors of fresh produce to get a variety of nutrients.
  • Tip: Produce is perishable, so don’t buy more than you need for the week.
  • Tip: When buying fresh produce, fruits and vegetables that are in season tend to sell at lower prices.
    • Here’s what’s in season for spring: apples, apricots, asparagus, avocados, bananas, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, celery, collard greens, garlic, kale, kiwi, lemons, lettuce, limes, mushrooms, onions, peas, pineapples, radishes, rhubarb, spinach, strawberries, swiss chard, turnips.
    • Here’s what’s in season for summer: watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches, strawberries, honeydew melon, peaches, nectarine, beets, bell peppers, cucumbers, green beans, lima beans, okra, peas, zucchini, summer squash, opo squash, bok choy, spinach, Asian pear, durian, jackfruit, longan, lychee, figs, passion fruit, sugar apple, chayote, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, key limes, radishes, sweet corn, cactus (nopales), apricots, cherries, plums, raspberries.
    • Here’s what’s in season for fall: grapes, persimmon, pomegranate, cactus pear, olives, cauliflower, garlic, artichokes, pumpkin, turnips, acorn squash, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, spinach, pineapple, sweet potato, swiss chard, turnip greens, butternut squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, gooseberries, guava, jujube, passion fruit, sapote, bittermelon, purple sweet potato, yamaimo.
    • Here’s what’s in season for winter: leeks, clementine, dates, oranges, pomegranate, cactus pear, sweet potato, butternut squash, Boston marrows, cherimoya fruit, acerola cherry, kumquat, maqui berry, medlar, star apple, purple sweet potato, yamaimo, kiwi, persimmons, pummelo, papaya, collard greens, kale, tangerine, pear. 
  • Pick up time savers such as prewashed lettuce and greens and precut fruits and vegetables.
  • Stock up on frozen, canned, jarred and dried options. Choose plain frozen vegetables and reduced-sodium or no-added-salt versions of canned vegetables. Look for unsweetened canned and jarred fruits, or types packed in their own juice or water. Choose dried fruits without added sugars.
  • Select 100% fruit juices — they don’t contain added sugars. Choose reduced-sodium versions of vegetable juices.

Grain-Based Foods

  • Choose mostly whole-grain versions of foods like bread, cereal, rice and pasta. Examples are 100% whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, shredded wheat, brown rice and whole-wheat spaghetti.
  • Enjoy “ancient grains” like quinoa, amaranth and millet. These examples are whole grains, too.
  • Tip: Save time with quick-cook grains like quinoa or rice.


  • Select low-fat and fat-free versions of milk, yogurt and cheese.
  • Compare added sugar levels in yogurt products and choose those with lower amounts of added sugars most often.
  • Look for calcium-fortified soy milk, if you choose not to drink milk. It contains a similar amount of protein, whereas other plant-based beverages can vary in their protein, vitamin, mineral and added sugar content, so carefully compare labels.
  • Shelf-stable or powdered milk are also options.

Protein Foods

  • Choose lean meats — look for cuts with “loin” or “round” in the name to minimize saturated fat.
  • Buy skinless poultry or remove the skin before or after cooking.
  • Choose fatty fish such salmon, Atlantic or Pacific mackerel, tuna and sardines for their heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Find them fresh, frozen, canned or in pouches.
  • Try plant proteins like nuts and seeds, peanut butter, almond butter, beans (kidney, black, pinto, garbanzo, and more), peas and lentils.
  • Buy economical bags of dry beans to make from scratch. For convenience, stock up on reduced-sodium canned beans, or rinse regular beans under cold water to reduce sodium.
  • Experiment with soy proteins like edamame (green soybeans), tofu (soybean cake) and tempeh (fermented soybean cake that may also contain grains).

Oils and Spreads

  • For cooking and baking, choose a liquid vegetable oil like olive, canola, corn, cottonseed safflower, soybean or sunflower oil. Oils contain less saturated fat than solid fats like butter and lard.
  • For spreads, buy soft tub, liquid or spray margarines for less saturated fat than butter or stick margarine. Look for products with no trans fat by checking the Nutrition Facts label and in the ingredients for words like “partially hydrogenated.”

Strategic Shopping Tips

Staying organized is key to grocery shopping. Use these tips:

  • Create a “master” list of frequently purchased items. That way, you can quickly check off what you need on your next shopping trip.
  • Don’t overbuy. Check your fridge, freezer and pantry for items already on hand.
  • Make a shopping list. Put it on paper or use a meal-planning app on your smartphone that generates a shopping list based on your chosen recipes and other items you add. Many supermarkets offer apps that let you make lists and clip electronic coupons.
  • Be efficient at the store. Organize your list according to your store’s layout to avoid backtracking. Stick with the items on your list to avoid costly “impulse” purchases. Shop at less busy times, usually early in the morning or later in the evening.
  • Shop smart online. Review your past orders (usually available under your account information) to jog your memory for items you need. Stick to your list and resist the impulse to add unneeded items to your online cart.

When your pantry is well stocked, a nutritious and tasty meal or snack is just minutes away. Get suggestions for what to stock and learn about 10 popular pantry staples below.

The Scoop on 10 Popular Pantry Staples

  1. Oats. Oats provide iron and B vitamins and contain soluble fiber, which may help lower blood cholesterol. Oatmeal makes a satisfying breakfast, but also enjoy oats in smoothies, cookies, pancakes, and homemade granola and snack bars.
  2. Whole-grain ready-to-eat cereals. Choose a cereal that lists a whole grain as the first ingredient. Compare the Nutrition Facts label on different brands to find options with at least 3 grams of dietary fiber and the fewest grams of added sugars per serving. Enjoy whole-grain cereal for a quick breakfast or snack or add to homemade trail mix.
  3. Whole grains. Nutty-tasting brown rice is a whole-grain food that offers dietary fiber, protein and B vitamins. Use it as a side dish and in salads, soups and stuffing. Use other whole grains, such as quinoa, millet and amaranth, in most recipes that call for rice.
  4. Whole-grain pasta. Look for options made from whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa or other whole grains. Whole-grain pasta is usually higher in dietary fiber and protein than enriched pasta. Stock a variety of shapes to use as an entrée with your favorite sauce, or as an ingredient in soups, casseroles and cold salads.
  5. Beans and lentils. Dried and canned beans and lentils provide dietary fiber, protein and B vitamins. Stock a variety such as black, pinto, kidney and white beans, and brown, green and red lentils. Add them to salads, soups, chili, salsa, casseroles and pasta.
  6. Tuna, salmon, and sardines (cans or pouches). Packed with protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fats, use tuna, salmon and sardines in salads, sandwich fillings and casseroles, or for a snack on crackers.
  7. Canned tomatoes. Tasty canned tomatoes add vitamin C and the antioxidant lycopene to a variety of dishes. Use whole or crushed tomatoes for sauces and soups. Choose diced tomatoes for bruschetta, salsa or guacamole.
  8. Stocks and broths (unsalted or low sodium). Stocks and broths add flavor to soups, stir-fries, sauces, stuffings, rice, pasta and more.
  9. Mustard. Mustard, such as Dijon or spicy brown mustard, adds creaminess and zesty flavor to salad dressings, sauces, marinades and dips. It’s also great in chicken, beef, pork and seafood dishes.
  10. Cooking oils. Keep a variety of oils for different purposes. For instance, use a fruity olive oil in salad dressings and neutral-flavored canola oil in baked goods. Drizzle toasted sesame oil onto stir-fried vegetables.

Stocking a Healthy Pantry

Check out the list of suggested pantry staples below and add your own favorites. Read labels to see if items should be refrigerated after opening.

  • Beans, peas, and lentils (dry or reduced-sodium canned)
  • Peanut butter, nut butters
  • Pasta sauce (reduced sodium)
  • Cans or pouches of seafood (e.g. tuna, salmon and sardines)
  • Canned fruit (water or packed in 100% juice)
  • Canned vegetables (reduced sodium or no added salt)
  • Canned soup (reduced sodium)
  • Canned tomato products (e.g. whole, diced and crushed; reduced sodium or no added salt)
  • Jars of roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, and olives
  • Dried fruit (without added sugar)
  • Whole-grain, hot and ready-to-eat cereals (e.g. oatmeal, shredded wheat and whole-wheat flakes)
  • Whole grains (e.g. brown rice, barley, bulgur, farro, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, millet and sorghum)
  • Whole-grain pasta (e.g. spaghetti, rigatoni, and shells)
  • Whole-grain crackers
  • Popcorn (kernels or “light” microwave)

Contributors: Esther Ellis, MS, RDN, LDN and Cordialis Msora-Kasago, MA, RD and Grace Derocha, MBA, RD, CDCES and Su-Nui Escobar, DCN, RDN, FAND and Rahaf Al Bochi, RDN, LD and Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDE

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