Nutrition and Health 
Smart grocery shopping tips

By Melissa Bess

Most of us probably visit the grocery store at least once a week. There are so many unhealthy and expensive temptations lurking around every corner. Here are some tips to make your grocery shopping experience as healthy, simple, and inexpensive as possible.

  • Plan your meals for the week and check what foods you have available. Use the store advertisements to plan for foods that are on sale that week. Before you leave home, make a list of what you need. Try to stick to the list, but watch for sales and other good bargains.
  • Do not go to the store hungry. Eat a snack before you go to the store so you are less likely to stock up on unhealthy or expensive choices.
  • Use coupons to buy things you really need or a new item you would like to try, but don’t use them to buy things you won’t use. These items with a coupon may not be cheaper than a similar brand, make sure you compare prices.
  • Use the unit price to help compare the cost of an item in different sizes or different brands. Many people just look at the price and don’t consider the size of the item; this is where unit pricing can be very helpful. Unit pricing can also help shoppers who are on a budget determine what is the best value for their money. This is usually on the shelf by the price of the item and is usually in ounces, quarts, or another measurement. If this is not listed by the item, you can divide the price of the item by the amount of the unit you want to compare (ounces or quarts).
  • Read food labels to look at the information on calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, fiber, sugar, and ingredients. When reading labels, use the % Daily Value to find healthy foods. If the % Daily Value for a nutrient is 5% or less, it is low in that nutrient. If the % Daily Value is 20% or more, it is high in that nutrient. The ingredients are listed in descending order starting with what ingredient is present in the highest amount in the food item.
  • Look for foods with sugar lower down the ingredient list. You can also divide the grams of sugar by four to determine the sugar in teaspoons. Choose grains that have “whole” as the first ingredient, not just the word “wheat” or “enriched.” Those will be your 100% whole grains which have more nutrients than other options.
  • Check the dates on food packages. A sell-by date is not an expiration date, but be sure you can use the food within an appropriate amount of time after you purchase it.
  • Don’t buy torn packages or cans that look damaged. Be picky about the foods your chose – cold foods should be cold, fruits and vegetables should be firm and absent of brown spots or mold.
  • Keep raw, fresh, and ready-to-eat foods separate in the grocery cart and when they are bagged. This will prevent cross-contamination and ensure better food safety and quality.
  • Buy fruits and vegetables in season. They are less expensive and will be better quality when in season. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are just as high in nutrients as fresh and may be a good alternative when they are on sale or when fresh is not in season.
  • Avoid buying things on the end caps and at the checkout aisle. The end caps may not be a better deal, so make sure to compare those products with similar ones. The items in the checkout aisle are placed there for impulse buying. Try to avoid these temptations.
  • Sometimes the best deal is not at eye-level; scan all products high and low to compare prices. Generic brands are just as nutritious and safe as national brands; however, quality may vary.

If you have questions, please contact Melissa Bess, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist with University of Missouri Extension, by email at call 346-2644.