We put more in our baskets than just kale and plain chicken breasts.

By Isadora Baum
Updated March 20, 2019
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Lucky for me, my good pal Maggie Michalczyk, a dietitian and food blogger at Once Upon a Pumpkin, lives a few blocks from me in Chicago. So, if I ever need a good shopping trip with an expert to load my cart, I’m good to go. (Plus, let’s be honest, browsing the aisles with a fellow foodie and health nut is always fun!)

As we arrived at Whole Foods, we were ready to fill our carts with our favorite goodies. I was also curious to see how a real dietitian shops for her healthy and delicious kitchen.

Maggie’s grocery store tips made a vast difference in my whole shopping experience. Here's how to have a more productive and enjoyable time at the grocery store, according to a dietitian. 

Make a List and Don’t Go Hungry

I never make a shopping list. Ever. I simply go in thinking I know what I want, and I always leave either missing something or buying too much. Womp womp.

Here’s Maggie’s solution—bring a list with you! Not only does it keep budget in check, but it also prevents those unhealthy impulse purchases and makes your trip way more efficient and timely. Write down what you need beforehand—you can even “meal plan” for the week so you'll have a clear mission in place.

Walking with purpose down the grocery aisle is not something I’m good at—I get super distracted. Plus, I’m usually pretty hungry when I go shopping and end up eating all the samples (I'm the one hovering by the cheese cube samples.) Unfortunately, this always made me feel a bit sluggish after leaving for my walk home, as I would just think about how I basically had another lunch. And if I tried that delicious pound cake sample, I’d feel way more obliged to buy one, especially after eating a couple of pieces.

Maggie advised to not go hungry to avoid both of these dilemmas. She had a snack before meeting me, and she recommended I have something small before shopping in general, such as a protein bar, some string cheese and crackers, or a nut butter packet.

You CAN Shop the Aisles

That’s right—the whole “only shop the peripheral of the grocery store” idea is bogus, according to Maggie. There are some great finds in the interior! Together we visited the canned food section, where we picked up pumpkin puree, cans of black beans, lentils, and chickpeas, and cans of tuna and salmon.

Maggie loves having these staples on-hand for quick and tasty meals. Beans and legumes are great plant-based protein, she said, and they are super versatile—use them for soups, stews, salads, a filling for tacos, or as a base for healthier desserts like brownies.

The same goes for canned fish that’s packed with omega-3’s and protein to fill you up. Open up the can, and you’re set. It’s also a great on-the-go protein, so take that fish with you to work. (Fair warning—if you go with sardines, you may get some angry looks from the fishy smell.)

In the middle aisles, you can also find some healthier crackers or toasts to make avocado or nut butter sandwiches, or to pair with protein like cheese or turkey slices.

Don’t Fear Frozen Foods

Frozen foods get a bad rep but don’t let that stop you from enjoying them over fresh. The truth is, frozen lasts way longer and you can find some nutritious options. I personally never got anything from the frozen foods aisle (except ice cream), and Maggie showed me a bunch of veggies, like spinach or peas, that work well, and a favorite of hers, the Alexia’s sweet potato wedge fries!

If frozen is cheaper or what you want isn’t in season, definitely take some time in this aisle. Maggie’s pro tip—buy unsalted veggies! As for prepared foods, go with ones that are low in sodium too and have a solid dose of nutrients, like protein and fiber, and have a pretty good calorie or carb ratio to the serving amount. I ended up buying those fries and I agree—they’re pretty bomb.

Want to try other healthy frozen meals? Read these stories next:

Use the Bulk Section to Your Advantage

Ditch those pre-packaged almonds and trail mix and make your own—it’s way healthier (as most granolas and trail mixes have a ton of sugar or sodium). Maggie recommended getting unsalted nuts and seeds, as well as looking at the bulk foods’ section for beans, lentils, peas, and grains, which you can keep on-hand to cook from scratch. To be honest, I am a little lazy, so I’ll stick with her tip on canned ones! But, if you love to cook, you should totally take advantage.  It’s also a great way to experiment with different varieties, she explained.

Buy One “Fun” or “New” Item

Another rule she loves—always buy one “fun” or “new” item to experiment with! Then there’s something to look forward to once you’re home. A great way to do this to do browse that produce section for sales. Honeycrisp apples are on sale and you always eat Pink Lady? Go ahead and switch it up.

My “new” and “fun” items? A cool grain-and-Brussels sprouts salad from the salad bar, and a protein bar (Orgain protein bar in chocolate and peanut butter flavor). I couldn’t resist—protein bars are my thing! And I have to say it was delicious, and I ate it right when I got home.

Use the Salad Bar for Little Servings

Maggie loves going to the salad bar to take small portions of different veggies, rather than buying a whole can or bag. If you really want some cucumbers or chickpeas, throw some in a container. Or, let’s say you’re making a stir-fry. Make a medley of veggies from the salad bar (or buy a prepared veggie platter) and keep on-hand for easy meals.

She also recommended using the container that is often by the olives section, where it’s split into four small parts. I had never thought about this before! She ended up making one that had four different prepared salads in each small container to take with her. It’s a great on-the-go meal option, and it lets you sample each in small doses so you know if you want a larger container for your next visit!

BYOB

While I’d love to sip on some red wine as I walk down the Whole Foods’ aisle, this isn’t what I mean. Maggie suggested bringing your own bag to cut down on cost. You'll help the planet and make shopping easier because you won’t need to keep putting produce in plastic bags. You can use those bags to throw your apples and avocados into as you walk around the store. Check out, and you’re set.

All in all, our shopping trip was a major success. Not only did I get some girl time, but I also learned a lot about becoming a smart, savvy shopper and how an RD prepares her kitchen for the week. I also got some great product recommendations and tried some new foods, which was awesome. Thanks, Maggie!