The Healthy Foods to Always Have On Your Grocery List, According to Dietitians
Wondering exactly what to buy at the grocery store? Get grocery list ideas from nutrition pros to help make a trip to the supermarket easier and healthier.
Whether you're picking up a week's worth of groceries from a wholesale club, a nationwide retailer such as Trader Joe's or Whole Foods, or a locally owned supermarket, the variety of products lining the shelves can make your shopping trip feel seriously overwhelming. If it takes you an entire Sunday to figure out what you want to eat for dinner throughout the upcoming week, how are you supposed to immediately decide which of the 10 types of peanut butter is worth adding to your shopping cart?
But it doesn't have to be this way. To make your supermarket excursions less stressful, registered dietitians are sharing the healthy foods to buy at the grocery store each and every time you shop. Save their grocery shopping lists of healthy foods to buy on your phone, pull them up when you're feeling stuck, and start tossing good-for-you items into your cart without a second thought. Trust, you'll never spend five minutes standing in the bread aisle, attempting to decipher the nutrition label and figure out if that loaf will be good for you and actually taste delicious, again.
Healthy Food Grocery List #1
The dietitian: Stephanie Nelson, M.S., R.D., an in-house nutrition expert for MyFitnessPal.
Canned, Low-Sodium Beans
Even if you're a whole-hearted omnivore who eats bacon biweekly, Nelson's first pick should definitely be a staple on your healthy food grocery list. Beans are a great source of plant-based protein — offering 7 to 16 grams per half-cup — and boast plenty of fiber, so they're filling and beneficial for your heart and digestive health, she says. Since they're pre-soaked, all you have to do is rinse and drain the beans to wash away the excess sodium and season them as you see fit. "Heat them in a pot with some cumin, chili powder, cilantro, and lime juice and use them as a taco filling," suggests Nelson. "Another option is to add them to any soup, chili, or stew just before serving, or mash them up with some breadcrumbs, seasoning, and egg to make veggie burger patties." (Related: How to Cook Beans So They Actually Taste Good)
Depending on where you live, you might not have access to fresh berries year-round. Luckily, you can get all the antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals berries have to offer — even in the dead of winter — by stocking up on bags of frozen berries, says Nelson. And whipping up a smoothie isn't their only delicious use. "Defrost [frozen berries] in the microwave for a minute or less, and then mix them into pancakes, oatmeal, yogurt, or peanut butter," she says. "Be sure to use the juices that melted out of the defrosted berries for extra sweetness."
A cousin of beans, lentils pack nearly 24 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber per half-cup serving. But unlike other high-protein foods (think: chicken), lentils have a long shelf-life, so as long as you have the pantry space, you can buy them in bulk to save some cash on groceries, says Nelson. To incorporate this healthy food to buy at the supermarket into your diet, cook the lentils in chicken or veggie broth until tender and season with a blend of cinnamon and ginger, or garlic, cumin, oregano, and a bay leaf, she suggests. You can also amp up the dish's fat, protein, and flavor by topping the lentils with a fried egg, she says.
Sprouted Wheat Bread
In recent years, this item on Nelson's list of what to buy at the grocery store has boomed in popularity, and for good reason. Sprouted bread offers more protein than standard bread, making them super filling and beneficial for maintaining muscle mass, and often have less added sugar, she says. "I like to toast my sprouted wheat bread, then cover it in peanut butter and sliced banana," says Nelson. "Another way to eat it is to top it with a fried egg and some avocado and tomato."
Plain Instant Oats
Those pre-packaged, apple-cinnamon-flavored oatmeals may mentally transport you to cool autumn days, but they're often loaded with added sugar, says Nelson. To keep the fiber-packed breakfast food as nutritious as can be, she recommends cooking with plain oats, then adding your favorite spices and toppings. Try mixing milk, chia seeds, flax seeds, or protein powder into the warm oatmeal and topping it with berries, peanut butter, chopped nuts, or a teaspoon of brown sugar, says Nelson. (P.S. You can even transform them into a mouth-watering breakfast cake.)
Canned Coconut Milk
To make soups and rice ultra-creamy without using dairy, turn to canned coconut milk. This pick on Nelson's round-up of what to buy at a grocery store is super versatile, offers a plant-based source of fat — which gives you energy and helps your body absorb vitamins — and lends a slight sweetness to your meals, she says. Oh, yeah, and you can pour some into your coffee in place of regular creamer, she says.
Don't let the cholesterol count listed on the nutrition label deter you from adding eggs to your healthy food grocery list. "As long as you aren't sensitive to cholesterol — check with your doctor — eggs are perfectly safe and healthy to eat," says Nelson. "They are rich in vitamins and minerals, and they can add protein to any dish." And by "any dish," she means literally anything your heart desires. Add a fried egg to burgers, sandwiches, bowls of lentils or pasta, or even breakfast burritos. Better yet, scramble them up with all the veggies in your fridge that are on the verge of spoiling to curb your food waste and get a boost of micronutrients, suggests Nelson. (FYI, these simple tricks will help you cut back on your food waste even more.)
Frozen Chicken Breasts
This healthy food to buy at the supermarket is perfect for the days you just need a quick and easy source of protein. Buying frozen chicken breasts will save you money, and you can defrost a single piece if you're not feeling particularly ravenous, says Nelson. To give the traditionally bland food some oomph in the flavor department, Nelson suggests putting it in a slow cooker with some chicken broth, canned diced tomatoes, and seasonings, then pulling it apart with a fork once it's tender. If you're in the mood for something basic, top it with a couple of seasonings, then roast it in the oven or pan-fry it in some olive oil, she says.
Healthy Food Grocery List #2
Simply put, this first pick on Meyer-Jax's list of what to buy at the grocery store is a stress-free source of protein. "[The powder] mixes in easily to most hot and cold liquids, has no flavor or texture issues, and is an easily digestible protein," she says. "Collagen peptides are my go-to recommendation for my clients with food sensitivities, as it is free of gluten, soy, and dairy." ICYDK, collagen is a protein found naturally in the body's connective tissues, tendons, ligaments, and bones that lends them their strength, structure, and elasticity, she explains. "As we get older, our bodies become less efficient at producing collagen, so adding in collagen peptides can support protein needs," says Meyer-Jax. Try mixing in two scoops of Vital Proteins' Collagen Peptides (Buy It, $25, amazon.com) — which provides 20 grams of protein — into your coffee, smoothies, hot cereals, sauces, or baking mixes, she suggests. (Even Jennifer Aniston is a fan of the brand's collagen powder.)
While there's nothing wrong with noshing on standard wheat-based pasta, zoodles can be a delicious alternative if you're following a low-carb or keto diet or you simply want to amp up your veggie intake. Meyer-Jax typically buys the pre-spiralized zucchini to take out some of the elbow grease to creating dinner, but you can break out the spiralizer in your kitchen cupboard if you'd prefer to start from scratch. Once you have your zoodles, heat them up in a skillet or in the microwave for about three minutes, then use them in place of your noodles in any pasta dish, she says. "My other favorite way to use zoodles is part of a breakfast scramble," she adds. "I add one to two eggs, zoodles, tomatoes, and spinach for a quick, nutrient-dense breakfast that's high in protein and fiber to keep moving through the morning." (Related: The Tastiest — and Easiest — Ways to Eat Veggie Noodles)
Bone broth's heyday may have been back in 2015, but it's still a nutritious addition to your shopping cart. "It's a great source of low-calorie, hydrating, and highly digestible protein that has no added sugars or artificial ingredients," she says. "I also recommend bone broth for gut health and for its digestive system-soothing effect." After you snag the healthy food to buy at the supermarket, you can drink it straight-up as an alternative to your morning coffee if you have a strong stomach. But for those who dry-heave at the thought of sipping on a cup o' bone broth, Meyer-Jax suggests using it to cook rice or quinoa, boosting the grains' flavor and protein content.
When your meals need a bit more zing, add Cholula Hot Sauce (Buy It, $16, amazon.com) to your list of what to buy at the grocery store. "It's a flavor powerhouse that has no sugar, is low in sodium, and is made with simple ingredients — peppers, water, spices — that can zip up all of our good-for-you foods that may be low on flavor," says Meyer-Jax. Splash it on eggs, shredded chicken, roasted veggies, or avocado toast to give your taste buds some much-needed excitement, she suggests.
For those who need to cut out dairy from their diet or reduce their intake, Meyer-Jax recommends adding creamy oat milk to your "what to buy at the grocery store" list. When choosing a jug, make sure you look for a variety that's fortified with calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, and vitamin B12, which will ensure your plant-based drink has a similar micronutrient profile as cow's milk, she says. "Oat milk also provides beta-glucans, a naturally occurring soluble fiber that research has shown may reduce cholesterol and support immune function," says Meyer-Jax. To get its perks, add oat milk to your baked goods, smoothies, coffee, or cereal, she suggests.
Avocado Oil Cooking Spray
Olive oil is great and all, but it's not the only oil to include on your list of what to buy at the grocery store. Avocado oil boasts monounsaturated fats — which can help lower your LDL or "bad" cholesterol — has a mild flavor, and can stand up to high-temperature cooking, making it ideal for stir-frying and baking, says Meyer-Jax. "Having it in a cooking spray form allows you to add a little bit, without smothering it in oil and extra calories," she explains.
Brown Rice Cakes
Again, bread is totally okay to munch on, but if you're looking for ways to dial back your carb intake, these Lundberg Thin Stackers brown rice cakes (Buy It, $14 for 2, amazon.com) are a great option. Low-calorie, gluten-free, and made from whole grains, the healthy food to buy at the supermarket is so versatile, you can top it with practically any fixings. But Meyer-Jax loves smearing a cake with chive cream cheese, covering it with avocado slices and cherry tomatoes, and finishing it off with a dash of Everything But the Bagel seasoning. Plus, "they have a great crisp texture that doesn't make you feel like you are eating styrofoam-like traditional rice cakes," she says.
Bibb Lettuce (Butter Lettuce)
If you're looking for stress-free ways to add more veggies to your plate, Meyer-Jax suggests using the big leaves of bibb lettuce as a wrap. Just rinse one or two large lettuce leaves, add your favorite sandwich fillings, such as shredded chicken, cheese, sliced tomatoes, and cucumbers, roll up, and enjoy, she says.
Healthy Food Grocery List #3
The dietitian: Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N, a Shape Brain Trust member.
Jarred Tomato Sauce
When you barely have enough energy to get up off the couch, let alone make a lavish dinner, Gans suggests breaking out a jar of this Barilla Vero Gusto Tomato & Basil sauce (Buy It, $26 for 3, walmart.com), which is free of added sugar and made in Italy. "For a quick and easy meal, I always recommend jarred tomato sauce and frozen peas tossed with al-dente cooked pasta," says Gans. An Italian meal, featuring an authentic sauce that doesn't take an entire day to create?
Not only are pistachios a good source of protein and fiber, but they're also rich in unsaturated fats, creating a nutrient package that can help keep you feeling full longer, says Gans. Since it can be easy to overeat nuts, she recommends adding these 1.5-ounce single-serve packets of Wonderful Pistachios (Buy It, $7 for 9, amazon.com) to your list of what to buy at the grocery store. Each package provides 150 calories, 6 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fiber, so your stomach won't rumble in the middle of your afternoon meeting.
100% Fruit Bars
It's not always easy to get your hands on some fresh fruit. That's why Gans recommends stocking your snack cupboard with That's It fruit bars (Buy It, $30 for 20, amazon.com), which provide two whole servings of fruit per bar. Unlike other on-the-go snack bars, this healthy food to buy at the supermarket is free of added sugar and preservatives. Still, they're shelf-stable, so you don't need to worry about finding space in the fridge for a box, says Gans. (If you do have some room to spare, stock up on these refrigerated protein bars.)
Just like Nelson, Gans recommends adding eggs to your list of what to buy at the grocery store. "Eggs are packed with a whole lot of good-for-you nutrients, such as lutein, vitamin E, and B vitamins," she says. "Due to the wholesome, all-vegetarian hen feed, Eggland's Best eggs (Buy It, $3, walmart.com) are the only eggs that provide six times more vitamin D and 25 percent less saturated fat than ordinary eggs." Enjoy them on their own — fried, scrambled, poached, or in omelet-form — or plop them on top of a slice of pizza, a baked potato, or a burrito bowl, she says. (Related: This $20 Gadget Makes Perfect Hard-Boiled Eggs In 15 Minutes for Easy Meal Prep)
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Unlike dairy-derived cooking fats such as butter, which is high in saturated fat that can raise cholesterol, olive oil is loaded with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which may help lower cholesterol levels and the risk of stroke, says Gans. Plus, the oil works just as well as other fats to create rich sauces, salad dressings, stir-fries, and more, she says.
Sprouted Whole Grain Bread
Another item both Gans and Nelson have on their "what to buy at the grocery store" lists: Sprouted bread. But this isn't your standard loaf. Gans' pick is found in the frozen food section — not the bread aisle — and is made with wheat, barley, millet, spelt, lentils, and soybeans. Thanks to those atypical ingredients, Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Whole Grain Bread (Buy It, $5, target.com) packs 3 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein per slice. "Having bread on hand in your kitchen makes a last-minute sandwich or slice of toast with peanut butter always an available option," she says.
Peanut Butter or Almond Butter
While other nut butter may contain added sugar, salt, or palm oil, which increases the saturated fat content, Crazy Richards' peanut butter (Buy It, $3, walmart.com) and almond butter (Buy It, $11, target.com) each contain one ingredient: Nuts. Go with a classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich, smear the almond butter on crackers or an apple for a snack, add either to your oatmeal for healthy fats and protein, or simply eat a spoonful, suggests Gans.
Even though they're pre-packaged, frozen veggies are no less nutritious — and sometimes a bit more so — than their fresh counterparts since they're frozen at peak ripeness, says Gans. And since they make it super convenient to add more veggies to your day, they're a smart addition to your list of healthy foods to buy at the grocery store. "You can even buy them in bags, such as Bird's Eye Steamfresh (Buy It, $1, walmart.com), where [there's] no dish or clean-up required," she says. "Personally, I enjoy tossing frozen veggies into sauces and soups very extra nutrition."
Fresh Fruit and Veggies
Of course, a list of healthy foods to buy at the grocery store isn't complete until there are fresh fruits and veggies added to it. Produce in general is rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and other key nutrients for your health, and since there's so much variety, there's no reason to leave the store empty-handed, says Gans. "A good rule of thumb in healthy eating is to try and include more plant-based foods in our diet," she explains. "For example, add some strawberries to your morning cereal, try a peach for dessert with lunch, nosh on some raw sliced peppers and hummus for a snack, and start your dinner with a mixed green salad." (Better yet, use them to create the "nature's cereal" that's trending on TikTok.)
Healthy Food Grocery List #4
The dietitian: Samantha Lynch, M.S, R.D., C.D.N., founder of Samantha Lynch Nutrition.
Oranges may be known for their vitamin C, but lemons pack a punch of the nutrient, too. One lemon offers 41 percent of the USDA's recommended dietary allowance of vitamin C, a nutrient that helps the body produce collagen, keep the immune system working properly, and protects you from free radical damage. Plus, the flavonoids found in citrus — including lemons — have anti-inflammatory properties, says Lynch. Try squeezing some juice onto your fish or salads, making a jug of lemonade, or adding a few slices to your green tea, says Lynch.
You may have developed an aversion to broccoli back when you were 7 years old, but considering all the veggie's health benefits, it's worth adding to your list of what to buy at the grocery store. A single stalk boasts 4 grams of fiber, as well as 171 percent of the RDA for vitamin K and 180 percent of that for vitamin C. To make these little trees actually taste good, roast the florets with lemon juice, garlic, and Parmesan cheese or purée them with carrots and cheese to create a creamy soup. (Put the leaves to good use with these recipes.)
You probably already have avocados on your grocery list, but in case you need some more convincing to write them on there, know that avocados are rich in that LDL-cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated fat. Plus, the bright green fruit has 13.5 grams of fiber, which helps regulate your number twos, maintain bowel health, and potentially reduce cholesterol levels. Once you've eaten enough avocado toast to last a lifetime, add a few slices to your salad, mash the fruit up into guacamole, or transform the fruit into ice cream.
Yes, even chocolate can be included on your "what to buy at the grocery store" list. "Cocoa powder is rich in flavonoids, antioxidants shown to reduce 'bad' LDL cholesterol and increase 'good' HDL levels," says Lynch. And the type of chocolate you consume makes a difference: The more cocoa, the more flavonoids, so opt for bars with higher percentages of cacao. Nosh on a few pieces after dinner or when you need a midday pick-me-up, and when you're feeling extravagant, use the chocolate to make a three-ingredient dark chocolate bark.
Available in colors spanning across the rainbow, potatoes are rich in carbohydrates, your body's primary energy source during exercise. The healthy food to buy at the supermarket packs important micronutrients, too. One red potato contains 37 percent of the recommended dietary allowance for potassium — a mineral that helps muscles contract and regulates blood pressure — while one sweet potato provides 132 percent of the RDA for vitamin A, a nutrient that keeps your vision in tip-top shape. Slice 'em real thin and roast for tender french fries, dice them and combine with other veggies on this list to create a buddha bowl, or whip them up into good-for-you mashed potatoes.
Chicken may be your go-to source of protein after a grueling workout, but salmon deserves to be in your rotation of healthy foods to buy at the supermarket. The fish packs a whopping 17 grams of protein per three ounces, plus it's a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which play a key role in supporting heart, brain, and eye health. To get your fill, roast a fillet with olive oil, salt, pepper, and freshly squeezed lemon juice or grill it with sliced peaches and avocado. (Related: 5 Ways to Cook Salmon In Less Than 15 Minutes)
If you're looking for a nut that doesn't require any muscle to crack open (looking at you, pistachios), add walnuts to your list of what to buy at the grocery store. "[Walnuts] contain the most omega-3 fatty acids, which may help reduce cholesterol, of all nuts," says Lynch. Crumble a few in your morning oatmeal, sprinkle them on top of your salad, or dip them in melted dark chocolate for a nutritious sweet treat.
You're most likely incorporating garlic into your meals for the kick it adds, not for its nutritional perks. But it does offer one: The allium contains anti-inflammatory compounds, says Lynch, meaning it could help ease up chronic inflammation that can potentially lead to serious health conditions such as cardiovascular disease. You can't go wrong with homemade garlic bread, but if you want to get creative with your consumption, try adding a few cloves to your fried rice, pasta sauce, hummus, or stews and embrace your garlic breath.
Much like broccoli, you probably gave spinach a lot of flack back when you were a kid, but it deserves some reconsideration. Even though one cup of spinach has only 7 calories, it offers 58 micrograms (about 15 percent of the RDA) of folate, a nutrient that's needed to make DNA and other genetic material and, among pregnant women, prevent neural tube defects in the baby. The healthy food to buy at the grocery store also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that are important for eye health, says Lynch. If you're still put off by its bitter taste as an adult, hide the leafy green in spinach and artichoke dip, your favorite pasta dish, or in a green smoothie. "Try blending 1 cup spinach, 1 cup grated carrots, 1 banana, 1 cup apple juice, and ice," suggests Lynch.
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