What Should You Be Putting In Your Grocery Cart?

What percentage of  your grocery store is devoted to highly processed food?  Just think about it for a second.  How many aisles do you walk down and the shelves are filled with highly processed foods?  The problem here is that it is what sells.  Grocery stores wouldn’t put the food there if it didn’t sell.  The majority of the population is buying highly processed foods.  Are you one of them?  Let’s replaced those highly processed items in your cart with good, wholesome foods.

Full Disclosure: This post is a part of a 4 part series sponsored by Indiana Dairy.  Indiana Dairy has paid me for my time for these posts.  They have provided a registered dietitian for me to ask questions and gain knowledge.

Grocery Shopping

What should you be buying at the grocery store?  How should you be shopping?  Fill your cart up with fruits, vegetables, unprocessed meat, good dairy, and a small amount of bread.

When I think about how I grocery shop, 85% of my time at the grocery store is spent in the produce section.  Once I am done there I have minimal stops to make.  We buy our chicken, beef and pork fresh and in bulk so I only stop at the meat counter for fish.  Next I grab my eggs, milk and yogurt.  Depending on our menu for the week I might have to swing down and aisle or two for some spices, nut butter, beans, bread or corn tortillas.  Occasionally we might have an actual pasta instead of spaghetti squash or zoodles.

A few weeks ago I went on a grocery store tour with a registered dietitican.  When asked what the most important thing was she said, “I want people eating fresh fruits and vegetables,”  with the emphasis on eating them.  I heard it when I was on this tour, I heard it at IdeaWorld, I heard it from Trainer Talk with Sara, and from Mindy.  EAT, eat, eat… don’t drink… your fruits and vegetables.

Fruits & Vegetables

Fresh is best.  Local is becoming a big seller in the grocery stores.  If you are on a budget, frozen is the way to go.  Being on a budget is not a reason to not eat fruits and vegetables.  Bananas are inexpensive and way better for your breakfast than a granola bar or Pop Tart.  A large bag of frozen green beans to go alongside your chicken breast is cheaper and has more nutritional value than a box of processed pasta and sauce.  Fill your grocery cart with fruits and vegetables… make no excuses, do it!


Same as fruits and vegetables, fresh is always the very best and frozen is okay too.  If frozen is more friendly for your budget, buy boneless and skinless.   Choose lean cuts and names that include “top” or “loin”.

Fish is good, really good, so learn to cook it and enjoy it!  If fish isn’t on your weekly menu, make it a goal to add it in at least once a week.  If it is already a part of your menu, have it more.  It is recommended 3-4 times a week for those who are not pregnant.

And yes, there is meat to stay away from… the processed crap!  Do not eat the nitrates in deli or processed meats.  Stay away from anything that reads, “sodium nitrite.”  At our house, we don’t eat any deli meat at all.  As for the lunchables that your kids like: stop buying them.  The dietician said if there was one item she could ban, it would be the lunchables.


Contrary to what many people believe, bread is not bad.  Too much bread or not the right kinds is what is not doing you any good.  There is good bread out there.  When choosing your bread, go for 100% whole wheat or whole grain.  Choose the bread with the least amount of ingredients and shoot for 3-4 grams of fiber.  Just like anything else, pay attention to your portion size each day.


Go for the yogurt, milk and cheese they provide a lot of health benefits.  Dairy often times gets a bad reputation and the reality of it is unless you have an allergy there is no reason to avoid it.  Just like everything else, it should be eaten in moderation.  Yogurt is a great form of protein and probiotics and is a great option for our kids at breakfast time too- just watch the sugar in some brands.

Cereal & Grains

Kids love cereal, mine included, but it is not a grain.  Cereal is not the best for you.  Of course the kid-friendly, and highly sugar loaded cereal is at eye level… avoid it.  Cereal is highly processed.  It is not realistic to tell your child, “you can’t eat cereal anymore.”  I tried that, it didn’t work- I don’t recommend it.  Not to mention, my hubby is also a cereal lover.

Beyond Cereal pinnable graphic

Instead of banning cereal from your house, offer other things for breakfast most of the time and a specified number of times per week (two is a nice number).  When you are offering cereal choose once that have 4-5 grams of fiber, contain mimimal sugar and encourage Raisin Bran, Brain Chex and Wheat Flakes (not the ones that are coated with sugar).  Start calling oatmeal cereal.

Instead of that sugar laden cereal fill your cart with real grains: oats,

Other Grocery Shopping Tips

– Fill your cart with fiber-rich foods.  We need 30g of fiber a day and most Americans eat just 10-12 grams.
– Limit foods with added sugars.  Sugars can be disguised using all these words: corn syrup, cane juice, dextrin, dextrose, maltose, sucrose, lactose, glucose, honey, high fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, sorbitol, mannitol, Xylose, turbinado sugar, fruit juice concentrate.
– Remember milk & fruit have natural sugars.
-“Baked” does not mean healthy.  Crackers and cookies are baked, but they are not healthy.
– AVOID “meal in a box” dinners such as Hamburger Helper.

Your health, your pantry and your grocery are all connected with one thing: your grocery list.  This is where it all starts.  So before you go up and down those aisles and reach for items that will be fueling yourself and your family, sit down and make a menu for the week.  Turn your menu into a workable list to take with you to make your grocery shopping healthy and enjoyable.  Fill your cart with mainly fruits and vegetables, add in some meat, a little bit of bread, grains and dairy and you will be on your way to a healthier lifestyle that will make your whole family feel great.

Your turn- tell me!
What aisles in the grocery store do you go down?
Do you meal plan and then make a list?  Or do you just go?


  1. Nicole @ Fitful Focus says

    I’m a big proponent of shopping the perimeter! I rarely go down the aisles except for healthy grains, like oats and gluten-free flours, nut butter when I don’t feel like making it and things like garbage bags/cleaning supplies. Great post!

  2. Jen @ Pretty Little Grub says

    Absolutely agree with this! It’s shocking how much processed foods line the aisles of the grocery store. I completely skip the middle section of the grocery store when I shop. if you don’t go down the aisle, you won’t be tempted.

  3. Kathryn @ Dancing to Running says

    Like Nicole said, stick to the perimeter of the store. Most of what’s in the middle of the store is highly processed and full of non-healthy additives.

  4. Ange @ Cowgirl Runs says

    I’m a big fan of shopping the perimeter of the store. I will venture down some of the aisles, but when I’m making an unhealthy choice, I’m aware of it and they’re limited to one treat per week

  5. Marcia says

    Such great info here! I’m so with the dietician on her Lunchables sentiments. I cringe everytime I see those. I’m a very good perimeter shopper. Plus I have a garden. Where we fall short is with too much cereal for the kids.

  6. Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home says

    Great post! We cook almost everything from scratch at our house. I’ve been shopping at Whole Foods for years, and I don’t buy anything premade. It’s easy to make healthy, fresh meals from scratch. Going to pull my summer squash quiche out of the oven as we speak.

  7. Sue @ This Mama Runs for Cupcakes says

    I’ve always followed the rule that you shop the perimeter of the store. Most of my cart is filled with veggies!

  8. MCM Mama Runs says

    Great tips! I buy my beef directly from a farm. I wish I could find a good source like that for chicken. And one of the best things I do for the health of my family is grocery shop without the kids. It’s so much easier to not buy the junk if they aren’t there with me.

  9. Patty @ Reach Your Peak says

    Great tips! omg in college I used to love hamburger helper. So gross now looking back on it. I like your tip about dairy etc. containing sugar as well, many people forget that. Huge reason why I dont like yogurt/greek yogurt because it has so much sugar + added sugar!


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