Since beginning my career in the nutrition field, I have been shocked to find that many people find the grocery store to be a scary, intimidating or confusing place. Because I am so often asked about the best way to shop, I have come up with some tips that are great for everyone to use, but especially useful for those watching their waistline!

My first tip is to think of your grocery cart like your plate. The government MyPlate recommendations call for half of the plate to be fruits and vegetables. For my bariatric surgery patients, half of the plate should be protein. Based on these two recommendations, we should focus on produce and protein when grocery shopping and fill our carts with these items. This leaves the little old carbohydrate group out in the cold, but don’t worry, we will still work them in!

Your first stop when entering the grocery store should be the produce section. Stock up on the following:

Greens: variety is key here! Many people get bored with a plain old iceberg salad every day, so try arugula, escarole or radicchio for a new take on an old standard. Buy chard and kale to wilt as a side dish for some bonus nutrition.

Assorted snack veggies: Carrots, celery, cucumber, jicama and bell peppers are all great choices to have at the ready at home. They can easily be incorporated into meals or chopped and bagged for an on-the-go snack.

Berries: These are best to go for in the summer when they are in season. Add them to oatmeal or dry cereal in the morning, incorporate into a salad for lunch and sprinkle on some yogurt for a healthy dessert any time.

Apples: The perfect ready-to-eat snack! Eat with some string cheese, peanut butter or almond butter for some added protein.

Now that our cart is filled with delicious produce, our next stop is the protein aisle where we will pick up the following:

Ground meat: Beef, chicken and turkey are all viable options. Your best bet is to look for the 90% lean version. Ground lean proteins have endless recipes and are often on sale; buy in bulk and freeze what you aren’t going to cook immediately. Frozen ground meat can be stored safely for up to three months.

Pork: I know that the piggies get a bad rap, but there are lean cuts of pork that are healthy. Try some boneless pork chops or pork tenderloin. Lean pork can be a welcome alternative to chicken breast which people often get burnt out on.

Seafood: Fish and shellfish are low calorie and can be used time and again for healthy meals. Many also offer a good dose of
Omega 3 fatty acids.
I know many people will tell you to avoid the frozen food section, but it is necessary to venture there for the following staple items:

Frozen fruits and vegetables: These are a wonderful option as they are picked at their peak of freshness and then frozen. These can be pulled out as needed and added to soups, smoothies and stir-fries.
Sorbet: If you are a craver of ice cream, steel yourself to stroll past it and look for the fruit sorbets. These will satisfy your craving while saving you on fat, calories and sugar. Fruit bars can also be an appropriate substitute.

Your cart should be getting pretty full now but will still have a couple of sections to visit. In the dairy cooler, stalk up on these essentials:

Eggs: A complete source of protein, eggs should be a part of all healthy diets. If you aren’t big on them for breakfast, try them hard-boiled for an easy snack.

Nonfat Greek yogurt: A wonderful breakfast dish, these products can also be used as a dessert option, instead of mayo in dips and as a substitute for a creamy salad dressing.

Last but not least, grab some whole grains! These include bulgur, faro, quinoa, barley and more and are a perfect substitute for rice and pasta as they are higher in fiber. They can be combined with leftover cooked veggies or tossed in a salad. By using these as your carbohydrate source, you will make sure your body is getting a healthy energy source.

So there are my tips for navigating the trenches of the grocery store! If you feel overwhelmed, have no fear; grocery shopping is an art form which takes much practice to perfect. You need to always have in mind what items you like to eat and what you need to eat, so that you aren’t picking up takeout or frozen pizzas. As long as you have a plan of attack, you should win the battle against your grocery store and come home victorious with bags of healthy choices!