Tips for healthier food shopping and home cooking

Parents and young child picking out vegetables in a store. Healthy eating starts with healthy food shopping. We have some tips to help you make the most of your food shopping trips.

Fast food may be cheap and easy, but it’s a bad health habit. Anyone can cook delicious, healthy meals at home. It just takes knowing how to plan and how to shop. 

Keep it fresh.

Healthy shopping habits can help you make healthier food choices that won't break the bank. Some tips include: stock up on fruits and vegetables, plan ahead, look for lean meats and fish, buy store brands, and shop sales or buy in bulk for savings.

Healthy shopping starts as you walk into a store, in the fruit-and-vegetable aisle. “Shoot for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day,” said Lindsey Kent, retail dietitian at the ShopRite stores in East Hartford and Manchester. She recommends filling half your plate at meal time with fruits and vegetables.

Then, walk the outer aisles for more fresh choices. “Look for lean protein choices, such as boneless, skinless chicken breast and thighs, fish (especially cold-water salmon and tuna), ground turkey, lean meat, and low-fat dairy,” said Kent.

Canned and frozen can be good, too!

If you can’t buy fresh, pick up low-sodium canned vegetables and beans, and fruit packed in water or 100% juice. Frozen fruits and veggies are picked at the peak of freshness, preserving nutrients in a convenient package.

Remember your protein! Canned tuna in water and frozen fish portions are smart buys. Other good protein sources to add to your meals are dried beans, nuts, and seeds.

Plan ahead – with an eye on sales.

Shopping with a list and planning meals in advance can help you buy only what you need. Check your cabinets and refrigerator before making your shopping list.

Store promotions can help you decide what to eat each week. Check circulars and websites for specials. Chicken thighs on sale? Stock up and freeze them for the future. Pair store specials with coupons from store websites, newspapers, and digital coupon sites.

“Buying in bulk is another way to save,” Kent said. “Brown rice, dried beans, oats, and pasta are all examples of non-perishable (meaning they have a long shelf life) foods that can save you money when buying in bulk.” Then double recipes so you can cook once and eat twice with healthy leftovers.

And skip the brand names. “Store brand products provide the same quality and nutritional value at a fraction of the name brand cost,” said Kent. Wait for sales and coupons if you want brand names. Then, buy a little extra to freeze so you’ll have it when you need it.

Ask for help.

Some supermarkets, like ShopRite, have dietitians on staff to help you create healthy recipes. Check to see if your market features free cooking demonstrations, nutrition classes, or even free one-on-one nutritional consultations right at the store.

Kent encourages people to visit store websites and social media accounts for event calendars, healthy recipes, and nutrition tips.

ConnectiCare members can also call 1-800-829-0696 (TTY: 711) and ask for help finding resources for healthy eating.

Food shopping with ConnectiCare members

We asked some ConnectiCare members about their shopping habits. It turns out, this is the “land of steady habits”.  Most (90%) still buy groceries in a store, and 82% use shopping lists. Here are a few more highlights:
– 69% go food shopping once or twice a week
– 64% plan their meals at least a day or two in advance
– 47% think it is difficult to shop healthy on a budget
– 62% have never spoken to a nutritionist

*Results of an online survey fielded by email between 8/22/19-8/30/19 to adult women and men who are ConnectiCare members. Demographics: 112 members completed the survey; two-thirds female and one-third male; 20% ages 21-49 and 80% ages 50+.