What’s the secret to healthy eating? Well, a lot of things of course, but if we had to pick one it would probably be preparation! It’s so much easier to choose a homemade, healthy meal over a stop at the nearest drive-thru when you know you have food prepped and ready for you at home. But the idea of going grocery shopping, choosing something to make, buying all of the right ingredients and then finally getting home, only to have to cook? That’ll have your hungry stomach turning in at the next fast food sign you see. And sometimes, when your metabolism is begging for some fuel, your mind just can’t win over matter!
That’s where taking action with your shopping list comes in. If you have your pantry stocked with the right ingredients, you can whip up a healthy meal in almost no time at all! And don’t worry, your grocery list doesn’t have to be pages long – or require endless scrolling if you prefer to use an app. We’re not going to ask you to meal prep to the level you might see on social media or from calorie-conscious peers. While we have a lot of respect for the clean eating mavens out there who have breakfast, lunch and dinner set for the next three weeks, we know that just isn’t realistic for everyone. We’re not aiming for perfection here – we’re aiming for progress. If you can come home after a long day and can whip up a snack from healthy food or a quick freezer meal, thanks to your healthy grocery list, we consider that a huge victory.
Without further ado, let’s get into the list!
Fresh produce and a healthy kitchen go together like natural peanut butter and wild honey! Having produce on hand is one of the easiest ways to healthify your standard snack foods. If you normally eat crackers with hummus, try swapping carrots or peppers! Like peanut butter toast? Try ants on a log instead. Not only do these swaps add flavor, fiber and crunch, but they cut calories, so you’ll find yourself dropping pounds in no time. It’s making small changes like that which lead to healthier habits overall! In addition to all the wonderful vitamins and minerals they contain, let’s not forget their high water content, which makes them incredibly hydrating and good for your skin. As much as we wanted to write a love letter to all the great produce out there, we had to go with our top picks. But since you’re the expert in what you like best, feel free to tweak this list to your liking.
All fruit is good for you in moderation, so fruit is an area where you have a lot of flexibility at the grocery store. If you see something you don’t love on this list, swap it out! When choosing fruit, think about what you’ll actually eat and when. For example, watermelon is great for you, but it’s a lot of work to cut. If you’re looking for a grab-and-go healthy snack, you might want something like grapes, which require no prep at all. Here’s our favorite fruits to add to our shopping list.
- Apples and/or bananas: Apples and bananas are packable, portable and adaptable. You can eat them whole or slice them over oatmeal. Bananas are a great base ingredient for a lot of healthy baking recipes, like mug cakes, and apples are handy to have around if you want a better-for-you dessert like apple crumble.
- Berries: Berries are packed with antioxidants, so much that they’re practically a superfood! They’re low in calories but also pack a surprising fiber punch – there’s eight grams of fiber in a one-cup serving of raspberries! Berries have also been shown to boost metabolism, and they’re low on the glycemic index if diabetes is a health concern for you. Pro tip: if the cost of fresh berries is too high, frozen berries contain just as many nutrients, and you can keep them in your freezer to whip up an easy smoothie.
- Oranges, lemons and limes: These citrus fruits all pack a flavor punch. While lemons and limes might not be a hand fruit like oranges are, a little juice or zest from them is a low-calorie flavor boost to just about any recipe. Some research articles have even linked citrus fruits like grapefruit to boosting metabolism.
Fun fact: Few foods pack more nutrients into fewer calories than vegetables. Just like with fruit, all veggies are great for you and have their own benefits, so this definitely isn’t an exhaustive guide – it’s just a few staples from the produce aisle that always deserve a spot in your grocery cart! Vegetables in particular are really important if you’re trying to follow a more plant-based diet, as they can be the basis for so many recipes!
- Spinach: Spinach is a standby for healthy eaters everywhere. It’s a great base for salads, wilted into soup, mixed into an omelette, or added into just about any meal you can think of! If you’re looking to branch out from spinach, try its cousin, kale. These veggies each boast their own vitamin and mineral profiles, so it’s best to vary your diet with both!
- Broccoli: Like spinach and kale, broccoli is packed with antioxidants, and B vitamins. It’s also a super versatile vegetable to have in your fridge. You can steam it, roast it, toss it in with a stir fry or shave it for a salad!
- Tomatoes: Tomatoes are full of flavor, especially when they’re in season, and incredibly versatile in the kitchen. They’re also packed with the antioxidant lycopene. Mix them with mozzarella and fresh basil for a light meal, slice them up for a sandwich, or use them to add flavor to a number of stews, soups and sauces.
- Carrots and celery: Carrots and celery are great, snackable veggies to have around the house. Eat them plain or top them with hummus, or your favorite veggie dip. (Make sure you have more veggies than dip, so you’re not packing on the pounds!). Carrots and celery are also great stock veggies for making a healthy soup.
- Onions and garlic: While onions and garlic aren’t the most snackable vegetables out there, they are a fantastic addition to most recipes. They’re known as aromatics, which mean they add flavor, and if you’ve ever sauteed an onion or stir-fried with garlic, we bet you know what we’re talking about! When you have these aromatics on hand, you’re one step closer to getting a healthy meal on the table.
Different experts will tell you all sorts of different things about what kind of meat you should, or shouldn’t be eating at all. Depending on your diet, you might eat all meat, some meat or no meat, so we wanted to leave this section pretty flexible. Our shopping list usually includes some fresh meat, some fish, and some plant-based protein, for variety and to help the planet!
- Meat: Whether you like chicken, beef or pork is up to you. Fresh meat is the basis for a lot of meals, especially in an American diet. We’d just recommend leaner cuts if you’re eating a lot of red meat.
- Fish: Fish is such a great way to get in your omega-3s, as well as reduce your meat consumption while still eating a complete protein. Plenty of studies have shown all the great benefits of eating it. We love salmon when it fits into our budget, as salmon is one of the healthiest fish you can eat.
- Canned beans: Canned beans are one of the easiest ingredients ever because they’re already cooked! You can toss them in a soup, add them to a salad, or turn them into a delicious dip. Bonus point: they’re one of the most budget-friendly sources of protein around!
In some families, dairy products include some of the best things in the world, like ice cream, butter, and cheese. However, dairy can also contain some not-so-great things, like saturated fatty acids, AKA saturated fat. While your body needs fat and fatty acids, it’s best to consume unsaturated fat rather than saturated fat, as too much saturated fat can contribute to excess weight and heart disease. When choosing dairy – if you’re not dairy-free – it’s best to opt for low-fat.
- Milk: Milk is an excellent source of protein and calcium, especially for kids with growing bones! We’d recommend anything between skim and two percent.
- Greek yogurt: Greek yogurt contains more protein than regular yogurt. The flavored packages can contain a lot of sugar, so we recommend buying it plain and adding a drizzle of honey, or some of the fruit you added to your cart earlier!
- Cheese: Cheese does contain saturated fatty acids, but it also has a lot of calcium and protein. Plus, it’s delicious, so we say go for it in moderation. Just check the label for nutrition information, to make sure you aren’t accidentally getting a ton of calories.
Of all the grains, whole grains reign supreme, of course. Whole grains have more fiber, more protein, and are slower-digesting, so they make you feel full, which can help keep excess weight off. Easy to cook as a side dish or main meal, they’re a great pantry staple in any clean-eating diet.
- Quinoa: Quinoa is one of our favorite plant-based proteins to keep in the pantry. One cup of cooked quinoa contains around eight grams of protein and four grams of fiber!
- Whole wheat bread: Bread is a staple in most diets, and whole wheat bread is the best kind for you. Make sure you check the ingredients list to make sure whole wheat flour is the first ingredient!
- Whole wheat pasta: Don’t be fooled by advertising saying pasta is bad for you. When you buy whole grain pasta, you add fiber and protein, and balance out the blood sugar rush of regular white pasta. Pasta lasts a long time, too, it’s great to keep in your pantry in case you need a quick meal. Like bread, just make sure you check the nutrition label.
- Brown rice: Brown rice has more fiber than white rice, and like whole wheat pasta, it’s a delicious whole grain staple that can be the basis for many meals.
- Oatmeal: Oatmeal is a great breakfast, a great snack, and a great base for tons of healthy baking, whether you’re making oatmeal cookies, pancakes or muffins! Plus, with four grams of fiber and five grams of protein per serving, you’ll definitely want to have this whole grain on hand.
When your grocery shopping is complete, and your pantry is stocked with whole foods, the pantry is what takes a good meal to a great one. You may have read articles suggesting that it’s best to grocery shop around the store, rather than in the center store, as the aisles in the middle of the store typically hold all the processed food. We totally agree that you should minimize your processed food intake – studies have linked processed foods to health risks like diabetes – that doesn’t mean you have to steer clear of everything in the center store, as there’s a lot of condiments and seasonings that can add flavor to your healthy food, without sacrificing calories!
- Salad dressing: Salad dressing is one of the easiest ways to turn a bowlful of vegetables into a tasty meal. As with most dressings and sauces, make sure you read the nutrition information to make sure you’re not adding tons of calories from fat and sugar to your otherwise healthy food.
- Spices: Spices are virtually calorie-free, and one of the best ways to add flavor to a meal. Some research has even shown that they can boost your metabolism!
- Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds make great additions to salad, pilafs, fish, and most dishes. We like cashews and almonds, as well as pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Seeds can be lower in fat and calorie content than nuts, if you’re trying to keep the pounds off.
- Condiments: We like condiments as much as the next person, but again we’ll say to check the nutrition information before you add to your cart. You’d be amazed at how many calories can hide in those squeeze bottles!