One of the most common things I hear in my office is that healthy grocery shopping is so very expensive. I won’t lie – it can be sometimes, but it doesn’t have to be. When we say healthy grocery shopping that doesn’t necessarily mean buying everything organic. I would love to see more organic options in Maricopa, and am a fan of organic foods, but it’s just as easy to buy organic junk food (at 3 times the cost) as it is to buy non-organic junk food. Here are some tips to make your fridge and pantry a much healthier place, without breaking the bank.

1 – Stay out of the aisles as much as possible!
A healthy diet includes lots of whole foods – that means foods that haven’t been “messed with”, processed, changed, put in bags or boxes, added to, taken away from, etc. Think fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, nuts and seeds – you get the idea. Those things are all typically found on the perimeter of the store. The center aisles typically contain the bulk of the high-calorie, sugar and fat-laden foods that we’re trying to avoid.

2 – Spend the bulk of your time in the produce department.
Fresh fruits and vegetables, can be very inexpensive, especially when bought in season. Just compare the cost of a single apple against the cost of a snack-pack of chips. Keep your eyes peeled for specials and deals. If yours is a house that goes through a lot of salad/lettuce, buy heads of lettuce, instead of the pre-done bags, wrap them in a damp paper-towel to keep them from turning brown, and chop as you need it. Also, try experimenting with different greens – you can buy beets, use the greens in a salad and then eat the beet itself, or try kale, collard greens, mustard greens to add a little variety to your usual romaine.

3 – Just because it says “Organic” doesn’t mean it’s health
Organic chocolately O’s puffed cereal is still just as sugary and junky as non-organic chocolatey O’s puffed cereal. You’re better off leaving both of them on the shelves.

4 – Read your labels!
I’m not necessarily talking about the fat, calorie, and sugar content. I’m talking about further down where it says what is actually in the food item you are thinking of buying. You want a label that reads like REAL FOOD. For instance, you can get peanut butter with the following ingredients: peanuts, salt. Or you can get peanut butter with these ingredients: roasted peanuts, sugar, molasses, fully hydrogenated vegetable oils (read TRANS FATS here!), mono and diglycerides, salt. You tell me which one sounds better. One of my personal favorite tricks is to buy loaves of bread from the bakery, instead of the brand-name varieties on the shelf; much more fresh, far fewer additives. Good rule of thumb – the shorter the list, the better.

5 – Buy in smaller quantities.
It’s easy to buy enormous bags of non-perishable items like chips, cereal, cookies, etc. But then they’re in your pantry, tempting everyone in the house with their very presence. Produce may go bad sooner, but not if you eat it first! Instead of shopping once every 2 weeks, your food choices will be much healthier if you are shopping once or maybe twice a week. A word to the wise – if you’re only running in for green beans, some bananas, and some chicken you can get in and out very quickly (unlike having to slowly browse in every aisle for an hour or more).