Thursday, October 8, 2009

Shedding It & Getting It

Healthy Grocery List
October 8, 2009
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To Market, To Market

Cooking and preparing my own meals is a huge part of my life. I am sure I sound like a broken record, but it’s the number one suggestion I have for people when it comes to taking control of your health. It’s economical, it’s healthy, it’s political, it’s empowering!

But the fact is, you can’t cook without a well-stocked kitchen. While grocery shopping and meal planning may seem overwhelming, I’ve finally come to understand the meaning of the word “staples.” Most recipes and dishes contain the same basic ingredients. I’m to the point now where, yes, I plan meals for the week, and I keep track of the few special ingredients I may need on my Blackberry, but 99 percent of the time, I can head to the grocery store without a list. And almost all the meals and recipes I post here use these basics.

I absolutely love grocery shopping; I love to wander the aisles, taking my time, reading labels…I always walk out renewed and stress-free. It’s my church. So…I thought I’d share my list! I noted brand names when I am particularly loyal to a certain brand; otherwise, I buy what’s on sale or experiment with new brands. Also this is my list whether I’m cooking for one or for four; the only major difference when I lived alone is that I bought less of everything — particularly less meat. Meat is pricey, and it takes a single girl much longer to eat a pound of it.

Weekly Items

  • Fresh vegetables: romaine lettuce, cucumbers, baby carrots, broccoli, celery, green peppers, red/yellow/orange peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, lemons, limes. These are the cheap raw veggies that I always need handy for salads, wraps, or for a crunchy lunch side.
  • Fresh fruits: apples, bananas, peaches. Again, usually not too expensive, so I can buy a lot — I generally eat one of each every day!
  • Canned goods: no-salt-added canned diced tomatoes are indispensable!! Ahhh! I usually buy two or three cans a week; they can turn almost anything into a legit meal. Also in this aisle: canned pumpkin, several cans of black beans and chickpeas, a can of light tuna, and a couple cans of soup. I love canned stuff because it’s not expensive and it keeps for a while; I definitely buy low/no-sodium though.
  • Dairy: skim/soy milk, a 16-ounce container of fat-free plain organic yogurt, one type of inexpensive, reduced-fat cheese (like shredded Mexican, good Parmesan, or crumbled feta). The plain yogurt is a great snack and can be used in dips, sauces, and as a sour cream substitute. Whichever cheese you go with, try to plan meals that are in that flavor family that week.
  • Liquid egg whites
  • Bread: whole-wheat English muffins and one type of “lunch” bread (wraps, whole-wheat wraps, bread, buns, etc.). I try to change it up weekly.
  • Protein: skinless chicken breasts, 96 percent lean ground beef, all-lean ground turkey breast, lean pork chops
  • Fresh herbs: parsley, cilantro, basil. Herbs aren’t expensive, but they often get wasted because the bunches are rather big. I usually just choose one per week.
  • Salsa


  • Kashi Heart to Heart frozen waffles
  • Garlic, sweet potatoes, red and white onions (these keep long enough to buy every couple weeks)
  • A head of cauliflower, jicama, mushrooms, bagged fresh spinach, green onions, avocado (I like them, but I can go without them for longer)
  • Thinly sliced deli turkey (same – I can survive meatless lunches or revamp leftovers from dinner)
  • Morningstar original veggie burgers or black bean burgers
  • Grains: brown rice, couscous, Ronzoni Smart Taste pasta (again, they last a while)
  • An additional variety of fruit, based on what looks good, sounds good, or is just on sale.
  • Luna or Larabars
  • A few single-serving containers of fat-free or reduced-fat Greek yogurt
  • A bag of Food Should Taste Good tortilla chips
  • Sabra hummus
  • Frozen salmon burgers or frozen salmon fillets
  • Jarred pasta sauce (usually Newman’s Own)
  • Trader Joe’s garlic chicken sausage
  • Light firm tofu
  • No sodium chicken and veggie broth

Once-a-Month (or less) Items

  • Olive oil and canola oil
  • Old-fashioned oats
  • Balsamic vinegar and apple cider vinegar
  • All-natural BBQ sauce
  • Honey
  • A bottle of Newman’s Own Lighten Up! Dressing
  • Bulk almonds
  • Spicy brown mustard
  • Two bags of frozen fruit; I mix up the varieties, depending on how the fresh fruit looks, but I like frozen peaches, cherries, bluebs, and strawbs for smoothies.
  • Frozen broccoli and a few frozen ready-to-steam Green Giant veggie sides
  • A few Amy’s frozen burritos
  • Pre-ground spices: cinnamon, garlic, nutmeg, thyme, cumin, curry powder, basil, rosemary, lemon pepper, sea salt. If you don’t have a lot of spices yet, buy them a few at a time. The good thing is they keep for a year!
  • A couple cans of light coconut milk.
  • Almond butter
  • Frozen shrimp
  • One box of a healthy cereal or granola
  • Cocoa powder
  • Whole-wheat flour
  • Coffee and tea

So-You-Worked-Some Overtime Items

  • A second type of nut butter
  • More fresh fruit
  • More exotic/recipe-specific veggies
  • Boxed snacks – Kashi TLC bars, Bear Naked granola, crackers, etc. These items tend to be pricey, so I just don’t eat them every day.
  • Frozen shelled edamame
  • Fresh fish
  • A block of really good cheese

After a few years of experimenting, this is what I stick with to be as healthy and budget-conscious as possible. I’ve learned that I waste bread if I buy too many varieties of it. From the dairy to the deli, I only buy enough to use. I can count how many days are in a week. If I’m buying tofu, then I’m not buying beef. I know how many lunches I can get out of a pound of chicken breasts. That extra-few-minutes thought process has really helped me save money. I’ve also learned that it’s cheaper to make snacks out of whole foods (like fruits, cottage cheese, and nuts) than it is to buy the packaged stuff for convenience. I’ve stopped relying so much on frozen meals, but it’s good to have on hand, and when I’m broke, my frozen-to-fresh ratio for fruits and veggies definitely shifts heavily to the cold stuff. I also don’t buy ice cream or frozen bars; I think it’s overpriced and I prefer treats made from scratch and just plain fruit. Obviously this reflects my personal tastes to a degree, but you know how I eat — now you can see how I shop. When you have a well-stocked kitchen, cookbooks and recipes will be way less intimidating. It’s truly amazing how healthy your diet can be (and how much money you can save) by just sticking with the staples.

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