10 Ways to go green at the grocery store

Mar 24, 2010 at 10:47 a.m. ET

Boost the health of your family and your planet with eco-friendly grocery shopping.

Woman shopping vegetables at grocery store

Even though we want to do what's best for the environment, we don't always know how. "People are trying to get green," says Julie Parrish of the Organic Grocery Deals website, "but they still might eat meat, or the kids still might get Lucky Charms for breakfast." The grocery store is a great place to get your family started, and these go-green tips may help.

Buy only what you need

Store displays can be tempting, so make a list and stick to it. Don't chase after the buy-one-get-one offers. Buying things you don't need (and may not eat/use) is wasteful, and buying too much means food may spoil before it's used.

Reduce grocery bag waste

Bring your own. Some stores give a discount to customers who bring their own bags. Alternatively, recycle/reuse the store's plastic bags or deposit them in recycling bins some stores set aside for used bags. And remember: You don't need to put your produce in those impossible-to-open plastic bags. You're going to wash it before you eat it, so just put the bagless produce in your cart.

Buy in bulk

Jill Nussinow, a vegetable, vegetarian and vegan expert, says to buy in bulk. Bulk foods use less packaging and thus generate less waste. Take it one step further and bring your own bulk-food containers. If you must buy packaged foods, pick those that use as little packaging as possible.

Buy local products

Choose foods such as hand-picked apples and peaches from neighborhood farms. This reduces gas consumption and pollution and supports local farmers. And buy what's in season. Glenn Croston, founder of StartingUpGreen.com, says, "Local produce is usually fresher and better and has less of an eco-impact from transportation."

Skip most beverages

Water doesn't need to come in bottles -- a filter is fine, and your city water is safer anyway, says family blogger Jessica Gottlieb. And deeply discounted fruit is just overripe enough to make excellent juice. Avoid sodas completely.

Buy organic foods

You don't have to shop organic stores to find organic foods (that's just one more gas-guzzling trip!). Most major grocery chains carry organic products. Jackie Newgent, RD, is a culinary nutritionist and author of Big Green Cookbook. Newgent explains the grocery sticker codes on fruits and vegetables:

  • Four-digit code = conventional
  • Five-digit code starting with 8 = genetically modified (GMO) 
  • Five-digit code starting with 9 = organic

Read labels

If you can't pronounce it, it's probably not good for you. Buy "real food," recommends Food Rules writer Michael Pollan. Real food consists of things that would have been recognized as food 100 years ago.

If you must eat meat, make it good

Consider healthier meat choices such as grass-fed beef. It's better for you and better for the planet. Same goes for poultry: Locally raised, all-natural poultry is best.

Shop the perimeter of the store

Food staples -- produce, meats, dairy -- are typically located in the outer and rear aisles of the store. Interior aisles contain the packaged, processed foods.

Use coupons

Parrish discredits the myth that coupons exist only for junk food. "There are coupons for organics, produce, naturally produced proteins and environmentally friendly household cleaners," says Parrish. They may be a little harder to find, but they're out there. Recycle unused coupons at eCoupons.com.

Before your next trip to the store, make a list and put some shopping bags in the car. It's a great start toward your green grocery future.