The new year is here—it’s your chance to start fresh and establish positive habits that you can sustain for life. But whether your resolution includes improving your diet, spending more wisely, or achieving a healthier lifestyle, there’s one place you can put it all to action: the grocery store. Reorganizing your food shopping strategy will help you choose the foods you know are best for you and cut costs—a win-win for your body and your wallet. Here’s how to shop smarter this year:
1. Develop a plan.
What’s the one thing you should always bring to the grocery store? Well, besides your credit card and your reusable bags, a list is essential to a successful shopping experience. In fact, using a grocery list has been linked to healthier diets and lower BMI in some adults. Develop a plan for what meals you’re going to make this week, check your cupboards to see what you already have on hand, then jot down all of the foods you need to pick up. When you’re at the store, stick to the list (and resist the urge to pick up a candy bar at the checkout counter). You’ll come home with exactly what you need for nutritious, affordable meals that will support (rather than derail) your healthy eating intentions.
2. Shop the perimeter.
In addition to planning your purchases, you should also plot a route through the grocery store. Spend the most time around the perimeter—that’s where you’ll find the more nutritious choices, like lean proteins, fresh produce, low-fat dairy products, and non-dairy alternatives (like nut milks). As you venture into the aisles, you’ll encounter high-calorie snacks, processed foods, and pricey ingredients you probably don’t need. In an ABC News piece on shopping the perimeter, Leslie Bonci, a registered dietician and master of public health, recommends filling three-quarters of your cart with foods from the perimeter before you even step foot in the center aisles.
3. Pick your proteins carefully.
Proteins can make or break a smart shopping plan. Choose the right ones and you’ll save money, get plenty of nutrients, and feel full for hours. So, which proteins should you focus on? Start with plant-based proteins, like dried beans from the bulk section. Usually priced under $2 per pound, dried kidney beans, black beans, and pintos can serve as a hearty, affordable base for tacos, chili, and soup. Then, check weekly flyers, grocery store websites, and apps (read on for specific recommendations!) to see which lean meats and seafood are on sale. This will help you enjoy a variety of animal proteins like boneless chicken breast or fresh salmon without driving up the cost of your grocery bill—perhaps leaving some room in your budget for grass-fed, hormone-free meats (which tend to cost more). Plan ahead and be flexible.
4. Befriend local farmers.
Don’t limit your food shopping to the grocery store. Your local farmers’ market is guaranteed to have some of the freshest, most budget-friendly produce, eggs, and meats in your area. If you’re looking for variety, go early in the day, right as the farmers set up shop. But if you’re hoping to save some money, swing by the market right before it closes, when vendors are more likely to offer discounts on things they don’t feel like packing up to take back to the farm. Look into community-supported agriculture (CSA) as well. These local programs allow you to prepay for a “share” of whatever a farm produces in a given period of time, whether it’s weekly, semimonthly, or monthly. You’ll receive a box bursting with seasonal produce at its prime for a fraction of what you would’ve paid at the grocery store. It’s like Christmas for a foodie, and it’ll help you learn to savor eating seasonally.
5. Cut your costs.
Technology has made it easier than ever to save money at the grocery store. The Basket app, for example, will help you find the lowest prices for every item on your grocery list at stores within a 5-mile radius. Bargain-hunters rave about Ibotta, which helps users get cash rebates for items they buy. And if you need a reality check about what you’re buying, give BagIQ a try. This innovative tool tallies your spending, analyzes your receipts to score the nutritional value of your purchases, and even suggests alternatives. With a purchasing strategy, insights on where to find seasonal produce, and the aid of technology, you’ll become a savvier, healthier grocery shopper this year. Your budget and your body will thank you.