A Simple Guide to Creating an Easy & Healthy Grocery List

updated Apr 30, 2019
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My number-one rule for grocery shopping is always, always, always going to the store with a grocery list in hand — preferably organized by sections of the store. It’s essential to help me remember what I need to buy, and also limits my time in the store, keeps me on track with my budget, and helps prevent (okay, limit) impulse buys.

As for creating a grocery list that feels healthy to me? That part was not always easy and it’s taken some work to find a good system that works for me. It doesn’t matter if you’re following a meal plan or not — it’s helpful to have a strategy, or even a loose game plan, for what you buy and how you’ll use the items on your list. Here are my best tips for creating a (mostly) healthy grocery list, the go-to healthy staples I always buy, and how to use them.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

4 Tips for Creating a Healthy Grocery List

1. Focus on the perimeter of the store.

With a focus on whole food items, I can typically find at least 80% of what I need by sticking with just the perimeter of the grocery store. This is where you’ll find everything from produce to meat and seafood, dairy, and, depending on the layout of the store, the bulk bins and freezer aisle.

What to buy: Fresh fruit, greens, sweet potatoes, broccoli, avocados, onion, milk, eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese, boneless chicken thighs or breasts, quinoa, whole oats, dried beans, lentils, nuts, frozen fruit, frozen vegetables

2. Stick with healthy staples (preferably with a long shelf life).

Most of the staples in my cart come from the interior aisles of the store. Here I focus on stocking my pantry with wholesome staples that have a lengthy shelf life. Sticking with staple ingredients I know won’t spoil right away gives me more flexibility and prevents food waste.

What to buy: Natural nut butter, canned or dried beans, dried lentils, canned tomatoes, tamari or coconut aminos, low-sodium broth, extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar, Dijon mustard, frozen vegetables

3. Opt for seasonal produce.

Sure, you can probably find strawberries at the grocery store in January, but it’s not the best time to drop them in your cart. I always make a plan to stick with fruits and vegetables that are in season. Not only will they taste better, but in-season produce is also typically less expensive.

4. Make smart swaps.

As I jot down items on my grocery list, I try to think about any potential swaps that are more wholesome and still serve the same purpose. For example, that can mean choosing a natural nut butter over one that contains sugar, skipping those fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt cups for a container of plain yogurt and fresh fruit, or buying whole oats instead of the instant packets.

What to buy: Plain yogurt, natural nut butter, brown rice, multi-grain bread, whole oats

Healthy Grocery Staples and How to Use Them

For the times I don’t have a meal plan to guide my grocery shopping, I stick with versatile staples that can be used in various ways and turned into several different types of meals. Some of my go-to meals that work well for this approach include egg muffins, oatmeal (or chilled overnight oats), one-bowl meals, sheet pan dinners, and tacos — and I’m listing a few ideas below, along with the ingredients you’ll need to make each.

(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

High-Protein, Low-Carb Egg Muffins

Like frittatas, the beauty of egg muffins is that they’re totally customizable, so it’s easy to toss in any veggies, meat, or cheese you have on hand. I like a combo of finely chopped broccoli, cottage cheese, and cheddar cheese. Plus, they can be made in advance.

  • Eggs
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Cheddar Cheese
  • Milk
  • Broccoli

Get a recipe: 3-Cheese Frittata Cups

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Make-Ahead Overnight Oats

In addition to milk, I also like to stir in Greek yogurt for extra creaminess and a boost of protein. Mix in whatever kind of fresh or dried fruit you have on hand — just save the crunchy toppings, like toasted nuts, seeds, and coconut, until serving.

  • Old-Fashioned Oats
  • Milk
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Fresh Fruit
  • Nuts, Seeds, Coconut Flakes
(Image credit: Shelly Westerhausen)

High-Protein Lunch Bowls

When it comes to grain bowls, anything goes. Recipes are helpful for inspiration, but because this one-bowl meal tops the charts for versatility and adaptability, you don’t really need to follow one. Toss in rice or grains, cooked and/or raw veggies, cheese, toasted nuts, and, if you like, meat or tofu.

  • Quinoa
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Avocado
  • Feta
  • Eggs

Get Inspired

(Image credit: Dan de Jesus)

Mix-and-Match Sheet Pan Dinners

Pick your protein, a couple of veggies, maybe a simple marinade, then toss it onto a sheet pan and into the oven.

  • Salmon
  • Asparagus
  • Red Potatoes
  • Boneless Chicken Thighs
  • Broccoli
  • Red Onion
  • Bell Peppers

Get Inspired

(Image credit: Dan de Jesus)

Easy Chicken Tacos

Just about anything can be stuffed inside a tortilla, which is one reason I love making tacos. Whether you opt for chicken, another type of meat, beans, or all veggies, it’s easy to make this a healthy meal.

  • Boneless Chicken Breast
  • Corn tortillas
  • Salsa
  • Broccoli Slaw
  • Avocado

Get Inspired