Published on November 06, 2017

8 Grocery Store Hacks to Purchasing Healthier Foods

Grocery shopping cart

HealthQuest Fitness and Wellness Center teaches a different education topic every month. For October it was a “Grocery Store Tour”. The main goal for this tour was for participants to look at grocery stores in a different way and learn some tips to help make healthier choices the next time they go shopping.

Participants were asked to observe the store and see what stood out to them the most (i.e. what marketing tactics were being used to draw them in). These are everywhere. Above and down aisles, you see bold words and bright orange, yellow, and red color signs posted strategically to draw your attention and recognize those same colors in the products they hope you’ll put in your cart. End caps (aka the pretty displays at the end of each aisle) are designed to be impressive, neat, and the first impression of what’s on the aisle. You’ll often find these items on sale or buy one get one. Let’s think…how many end caps have healthy food on them? Unfortunately, very few.

So now that we’ve recognized some tricks that are being used, how can we shop through the grocery store without grabbing impulse items that may not be on our healthy eating?

Here are 8 grocery store hacks that everyone can use:

  1. Plan ahead and use a list…STICK TO IT! Using a list will keep you from wasting time and money. By focusing on your list you get exactly what you need and don’t get caught in the grocery store tactics that are trying to get you to spend more. Implementing this tip will also keep you from having duplicates in your kitchen- that extra thing of Garlic Salt in your spice cabinet or second bottle of Ranch in your pantry. Be sure to look at what you already have in your pantry so you don’t buy more than you need.
  2. Don’t go to the grocery store hungry. We are all guilty of this. It causes us to grab everything that looks yummy (usually unhealthy) and throw it in the cart. It isn’t until we get to the register that we see what ended up in our cart and how much more we are spending. (This is also about the time that the feeling of disappointment settles in knowing that these items will haunt us every time we open the pantry.) If you can’t go after eating a meal, then eat a small snack that will hold you over until after you are done with your grocery shopping.
  3. Use a smaller cart. Most people have a tendency to fill the cart because it looks empty. Unless you have a really long grocery list (see tip #1) or are purchasing large items, try to use a smaller cart so you aren’t tempted purchase more than needed.
  4. Try to put every color of the rainbow in your cart. Use this as a challenge when purchasing produce. We always go for those staple produce items such as: bananas, apples, grapes, and carrots. Why not branch out? Try an eggplant and use a fun recipe for it.
  5. Avoid end cap sales that are not healthy. Again, stick to your list! Remember, end caps are designed for the impulse buyer.
  6. Shop the perimeter of the store. You will find healthy and fresh groceries that have integrity along the outside aisles of the store.
  7. Look at the ingredient list. The listing of ingredients is in descending order of predominance by weight ( All this means is that the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first, and the ingredient that weighs the least is listed last. Here’s a test. Can you pronounce the ingredients on the list? The healthier the items usually contain fewer ingredients and are easy to say. Those are the ones you should purchase.
  8. Avoid items that have cartoons on the packaging. This may sound silly; however, cartoons are targeting kids and will probably be expensive and full of sugar. Don’t fall into the “Peter Pan” mentality of not wanting to grow up. I’m sure Peter always ate his fruits and veggies anyways.

So now it’s time to put these tips to good use. Give them a try the next time your doing your grocery shopping and let us know if there are other helpful tips you use to shop healthy!

This blog post was contributed by Samantha Barbour, Health & Wellness Specialist at HealthQuest Fitness & Wellness Center. HealthQuest, located in the Johnston Medical Mall, is a hospital-affiliated fitness and wellness center with medically based programs that will improve your health and your lifestyle. Find out more at or call 919-938-7581.

Join HealthQuest & Fitness Wellness Center

Get more than just a gym at HealthQuest Fitness and Wellness Center. UNC Health Johnston’s facility offers medically based programs to improve not only your fitness, but your family’s overall health. No matter your abilities, you’ll feel at home as our welcoming, professional staff help you work toward a healthier lifestyle.

Fill out our prospective member form to request a tour of HealthQuest and discover the best membership option for you.

Get Started

Make an Appointment

Call 919-938-6597 to get nutrition services from a registered dietitian at HealthQuest.