If you are trying to improve your diet, starting with changing your grocery shopping habits is a great idea. By now you have probably heard that you should shop the perimeter of the supermarket. While this is a good tip, I find it too general and too limiting at the same time. There are many other ways that your grocery shopping can probably be improved.

Start with a plan

Fairly often when I get busy it seems like I end up at the supermarket on the way home from work almost everyday. I haven’t made a plan for the week and I need to pick up something for dinner, or pick up something we have run out of that I forgot on my last stop. But I actually save considerable time when I make a weekly meal plan and a shopping list. I keep both on my phone so I always have it when I’m shopping and I can update it during a break at work. There are many apps available for list keeping that keep you organized or if you are ready go one step further try a recipe app that creates a grocery list for you.

Read the labels

Look beyond the words on the outside of the box that are meant to draw you to the package. These can often be misleading. The real information is usually on the side of the box. Check out my previous post on reading labels for more great tips.

Shop the perimeter, but limit…

As I said shopping the perimeter is a good idea, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Grocery stores usually put the bakery on the perimeter. You might be able to find some healthy items here, but they are counting on some impulse purchases of cookies, muffins or other treats. If you are likely to get drawn in, avoid this area.

Frozen foods are often on the perimeter. Many frozen foods like berries or vegetables are a great part of a healthy diet. Others are not. Try to limit purchases of “value added” or prepared frozen foods. These are usually not made with the healthiest ingredients. Of course you want to limit purchases of ice cream, frozen desserts and french fries. Juice from concentrate is a tricky one. If you are choosing this, make sure it is 100% fruit juice, not a fruit drink or punch which will be cheaper, but contain a lot of added sugar.

Of course you want to spend more time in the vegetable and fresh meat areas. Vegetables can be chosen quickly based on quality and what you have on your list. It is fairly simple to make a choice with meat – the less it is processed the better it is. This is unlike the interior aisles of packaged foods where you have to decide on about a hundred choices of breakfast cereals.

Shop the interior for some things

Contrary to some advice there are many healthy foods to find in the interior of the grocery store. Dried and canned beans are incredibly nutritious and versatile. Steel cut oats or rolled oats can make a healthy breakfast. You’ll find olive oil and coconut oil in the interior aisles. When you are looking for a quick healthy meal, sauces and pastes can be helpful. I love green Thai curry paste for making a quick curry filled with vegetables. Brown rice, quinoa and whole grain flours are also found in the interior.

Upgrade your choices

One of the reason that diets fail is that they are too limiting and require too much work. When grocery shopping try to pick up things that you can easily make into a healthy meal. There are several pastas that are either whole grain or made with legumes. These can be added to steamed vegetables and a commercial pasta sauce for a quick meal. Rather than the bag of potato chips or Doritos, a bag of baked tortilla chips with some hummus might be a better option. Even better replace the tortilla chips with raw veggies. That rotisserie chicken might not be the best option, but compared to a stop at a fast food place on the way home it’s a great choice.

I find that when I follow these suggestions, I can have a much better shopping trip. We also eat healthier and I actually have more time because I’m not going back to the grocery store for more things, or spending precious time trying to decide between all the options for packaged foods.

If you are going through menopause and are frustrated by weight gain, download this free guide.