Making a Healthy Grocery List: Quick & Easy Shopping List Guide

Compiling a healthy grocery shopping list is not always as straightforward as it seems. It can be time-consuming to determine which healthy foods and meal plans work for you and your family, and sometimes tricky to incorporate these items into your existing grocery list. 

Many grocery stores don’t make it easy for you to eat healthily either. It’s not uncommon for stores to place sugary or fried products at eye level and on catchy displays, tempting shoppers at every turn. Unhealthy snacks and treats can be found at checkout counters and sale displays to tempt impulse shoppers. But, by planning out a healthy shopping list before you hit the store, you are more prepared to steer clear of unnecessary items that throw off your meal plan.

Tips for Creating Your Own Healthy Shopping List

There are a handful of things you can do to make creating a healthy grocery list easier and set you on the right track for better shopping and cleaner eating. Consider these helpful tips for creating your own healthy grocery shopping list for a week of nourishing meals:

1. Start With a Weekly Meal Plan

Organizing your shopping list from a healthy meal plan is a cost-effective and promising way to stay on track with your healthy eating goals. Instead of buying general foods you consider healthy, working from a meal plan ensures that each item you purchase has a purpose within a recipe or meal.

Break up your meal plan into four categories: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. By thinking ahead about each meal, you’re less likely to grab an extra pastry at the coffee shop or order takeout on a night when you don’t have enough ingredients for a well-balanced meal. It’s always fine to splurge occasionally; your meal plan is not made to make you feel rigid about eating. But, planning out healthy meals will help you create a pantry and fridge that encourage you to stick to your health goals.

Meal planning and healthy cooking often means that you’ll work with more basic, whole food items. As you find your family’s favorite meals, keep your recipes and healthy grocery list ideas compiled in a central location for future trips to the store.

2. Focus on What Nourishes You

It can be easy to fall into fad eating trends and strict diets when creating your first healthy meal plan. Instead, tailor your grocery shopping toward your nutritional needs and healthy items that you enjoy or have always wanted to try. Everyone’s body is different, and forcing yourself into a diet that doesn’t serve you may not be healthy or sustainable in the long run. Begin by choosing balanced recipes that seem exciting to you. Search for weekly meal plans that balance the use of protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. Make notes after each meal, commenting on what worked and what didn’t so you can plan your next grocery shopping list.

Once you find specific items that please the whole family, mark them on your master grocery list, and use them as a launching point for future meal plans. 

If items like sugary beverages or fatty snacks were a regular part of your daily habits, ease out of these habits slowly and replace them with healthier alternatives. Leave space for one or two “cheat” or splurge items to have as a treat. 

3. Variety is Key

Healthy grocery shopping doesn’t mean that you have to make bland meals. As you find your favorite healthy foods, begin to incorporate them into your grocery lists, including a mix of trustworthy items and new variations to keep things exciting. Fresh herbs and spices are a great way to explore, as are lesser-known grains like teff and farro. 

You can also add variety in your weekly splurge item. If dessert is a big part of your dinner ritual, give baking a try on the weekends. Similar to cooking your own dinner, baking your own desserts gives you a better sense of what you’re eating.

4. Shop Around

Looking for new items to add to your grocery list? Consider branching out from your usual store to try out specialty spots in the area. Break your healthy grocery list up into several sections: basics and home goods, meat and protein, fruits and vegetables and dairy. Can you grab a few of these items at a local butcher or weekly farmer’s market? 

Grocery shopping at new stores can also spark ideas around healthy ingredients you wouldn’t have spotted in your usual routine.

Healthy Grocery List Item Breakdown

Feel more organized in the grocery store by breaking up your food into categories. Though each person’s diet varies by their own needs, allergies and preferences, explore new options for healthy grocery list items as you build your master grocery list. Be sure to balance your diet with the following categories.

Produce

Buying fruit and vegetables in season is a great way to stay on top of a well-balanced diet and keep your grocery budget under control. Fresh produce is key to a nutritious diet, supplying a range of dietary fiber, vitamins, and folic acid.

Produce items you may consider adding to your healthy shopping list:

  • Leafy greens, such as spinach, kale or swiss chard
  • 3-5 seasonal vegetables
  • 1-2 seasonal fruits
  • Frozen fruits for smoothies and yogurt
  • Garlic and onion

Protein

Items rich in protein — either meat-based or vegetarian — provide necessary amino acids, minerals, vitamins, and many healthy fats.

Protein items you may consider adding to your healthy shopping list:

  • Free-range eggs
  • Lean ground or whole beef
  • Skinless chicken breasts
  • Fish—wild salmon is particularly high in healthy fats
  • Tofu or tempeh
  • Fresh, canned or dried beans or lentils
  • Ground turkey

Dairy

If you’re able to eat dairy, cheese, milk and yogurt act as excellent sources of vitamin D, calcium and protein. Fresh dairy intake also increases B12, potassium, magnesium, and riboflavin. Alternatives to dairy such as almond and coconut milk work well for those with dairy sensitivities.

Dairy items you may consider adding to your healthy shopping list:

  • 1/2 gallon whole or low-fat milk
  • Plain Greek yogurt
  • Fresh selection of soft and hard cheeses such as feta, sharp cheddar or swiss
  • Cottage cheese

Grains

To expand your healthy shopping list, break free from traditional white rice and pasta for your grain intake. Whole-grain products contain higher amounts of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Grain items you may consider adding to your healthy shopping list:

  • Sprouted, whole grain or fresh sourdough bread
  • Unsalted butter
  • Tri-colored quinoa mix
  • Wild rice
  • Plain rolled oats
  • Whole grain cereal or granola
  • Whole wheat pasta

Canned Goods

Some canned products, like tomatoes, are often best for cooking into stews and soups. They also last longer, making your healthy grocery shopping list budget-friendly as well. 

Canned items you may consider adding to your healthy shopping list:

  • Stewed, diced or whole tomatoes
  • Tomato paste
  • Chickpeas
  • Water-packed tuna
  • Low-sodium or no-sodium chicken, vegetable or beef broth

Cooking Staples

Keeping a master grocery list helps you keep track of all your basic pantry staples. Stock your kitchen with these necessities so that you’re less likely to order out or use processed stocks and sauces. Spices and fresh herbs also perk up dull recipes and reinvent simple items like chicken breast and tofu.

Grocery staples you may consider adding to your healthy shopping list:

  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Ground pepper
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Cinnamon
  • Whole grain mustard
  • Rosemary
  • Dried oregano
  • Paprika
  • Chili powder
  • Natural peanut butter or alternative nut butter
  • Soy or tamari sauce

Bottom Line

Creating a healthy shopping list is about finding a balance between your nutritional needs and personal preferences. To give you a head start on next week’s shopping trip, we’ve included this helpful grocery list template! 

Meal planning and grocery shopping shouldn’t be about cutting out all your favorite foods, but instead, finding new and nourishing items that make you and your family satisfied while still eating healthy on a budget. With the above tips and healthy grocery list reference guide, it’s time for you to create your own healthy grocery list and save some time on your next trip to the store.