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5 Ways to shop smarter and healthier at the grocery store

Nutritionist Rania Batayneh, MPH is the author of the best-selling book, The One One One Diet: The Simple 1:1:1 Formula for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss. She holds a masters degree in public health from the University of Michigan.

If you are like most consumers, you probably feel a bit overwhelmed by all of the mixed messages you see, read and hear every day with regard to what to eat, what not to eat, what to buy, what not to buy. Here are five "shop smart strategies" that will take you from confused to confident in the supermarket.

1. List don't lust

One of the main benefits of going to the store with a list is that it may limit the temptations of filling up your cart with extra goodies that not only add to the cost at checkout but may possibly add to a growing waistline. Think of your list as a "prevention plan." Whether your goal is weight loss or budget management, using a list will make you feel more organized and help you manage your time better.

2. Be picky about your produce

The produce section is typically located in most store entrances and it is often the largest department. With colorful fruits and veggies beautifully displayed, who wouldn't want to bring nature's gifts home to enjoy? The problem I hear with most of my clients is that they go shopping and stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables only to have them spoil quickly. This is a great time to turn to the frozen foods section. You can pick up berries for smoothies or your Greek yogurt or buy frozen vegetables to add to a stir fry or homemade pizza. Think about only buying the fresh produce that you will use within the next three to five days, whether it is apples for your mid-morning snack, a bag of organic spinach for your salads or the avocados for taco night.

3. When packaged may be preferred

I know you are probably all thinking, why would a nutritionist recommend packaged snacks vs. fresh whole foods? The reason is that we as a society love convenience, and good things do come in packages. Brands are listening and they know consumers want healthier options for their on-the-go lifestyles. Take hummus for example. Most of us are not going to blend up chickpeas, tahini, garlic and lemon juice on a weekly basis. Conveniently, there are delicious and natural options for hummus with a wide range of flavors. Pair up hummus with raw veggies like celery and carrots (I know this takes work) or a mini whole-wheat pita. Also be sure to look at sodium levels and the ingredients panel of your purchases — the fewer ingredients the better.

4. From farm to table

When we think about our wellness, our food choices greatly impact our long-term health. As we become more conscious consumers, we start thinking about the origin of our foods and how to better nourish our bodies. One recommendation I give my clients is to sign up for your local farmers market newsletter or check out their social media pages, as they share recipes and send you updates on which farmers will be in attendance. Oftentimes, farmers are giving away recipes as well. As a conscious consumer, you are more in control of what you eat and who you buy it from. For some this is natural, for others, this is a work in progress. If you simply like to visit your farmers market for that delicious cup of coffee and to check out the vendors, who knows, you just might get inspired and bring your own eco-friendly bag next time and do some shopping.

5. Recipe rescue

This strategy really seems to integrate the four listed above. When it comes to your list, you can organize it by recipe. Having the right ingredients in your pantry will make mealtime less stressful. If your recipe calls for vegetables and you do not have a lot of time for prep, head to the freezer section. If you need a marinara sauce, look for low-sodium options vs. making your own. Last but not least, enjoy the meal knowing that you made a healthy and delicious meal from the best ingredients you could source.

"If you keep good food in your fridge, you will eat good food." Erick McAdams

Photo credit: boggy22/Getty Images
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