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The secret to improving family meals starts in the grocery store. Yet studies show the average grocery shopper spends 26 minutes running through the store filling their cart with 61 items. That’s not much time to turn packages around and evaluate the nutrition information. 

What’s a responsible parent to do? WebMD turned to nationally known nutritionists for their top 8 tips.

1. Make a Grocery Shopping List to Save Time and Money

First step, plan your menus and create a grocery shopping list after taking inventory of what’s on hand and also taking advantage of coupons and sales. 

When you stock your kitchen with nutritious foods for meals and snacks, family dinners become a healthy pleasure, says Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD.  “Nutritious meals and snacks begin with the right ingredients that need to be available in your kitchen.”

Ward, author of Expect the Best suggests your cart be filled with 90% healthy basics such as fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, low fat dairy, eggs -- and just 10% sweet or savory snacks. 

“Most adults and kids only have a few hundred calories for extras, so your cart should be filled mostly with healthy and delicious foods” she says.

2. Look for Food Rating Programs That Highlight Healthy Choices

When you are in a rush, you need to rely on at-a-glance nutrition information.  Many grocery stores have shelf-tag programs that promote healthy foods – those lower in fat or salt. Others give foods a rating (such as 0 to 3 stars) to help shoppers make wise choices. 

You can also look on the food package for the Keystone Foundation’s “smart choices” check, or the American Heart Association’s "heart check" icon. These icons reveal that the food has met a variety of nutrition criteria and is a healthy choice.    

3. Start Shopping in the Produce Aisle

Fill your cart with a variety of colorful, nutrient rich fruits and vegetables, says American Dietetic Association spokesperson Kerry Neville.

“Produce should make up half of your plate because they are super nutritious without any added sugar, salt or fat – just the way Mother Nature intended,” she says.

For a treat, pick up some fresh berries filled with delicious fiber.

4. Next, Shop the Dairy Case

Most everyone needs three servings a day of low-fat or fat-free dairy.

From yogurt to cheese, dairy is the best source of dietary calcium and vitamin D – two nutrients that most Americans don’t get enough of.

Don’t forget: Low-calorie yogurts make a great mid-morning snack or after-dinner treat.

5. Turn to the Meat, Fish, and Poultry Aisle

Think of meat as a side dish. “Save money and calories by purchasing less meat because you only need a small portion equivalent to the palm of your hand,” says Neville.

Choose lean meats, skinless poultry, and fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends two servings of fish each week for heart health.