Family Grocery Shopping Tips

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 03, 2022

Want your family to eat healthier? It all starts with your grocery shopping list. If your cupboards and fridge are full of mostly good-for-you foods, everyone in the family is likely to eat better.

A better diet can lower grocery bills, too. It's true that ready-to-eat meals and packaged foods save time, but they can cost more, and some have too much salt and fat.

Follow these tips to get the most nutrition bang for your buck.

Stock Up With Pantry Basics

Start with these smart choices.

Fresh, frozen, canned, or dried fruits and vegetables

  • Canned: Look for low-sodium vegetables and low-sugar or no-added-sugar fruits.
  • Frozen: Use what you need for a meal, then put the rest of the bag back in the freezer.
  • Dried: Check the label for and avoid added sugar, especially on fruits.
  • Aim to fill half your family’s plates with fruits and veggies at every meal.
  • They’re a good source of fiber, which is good for digestion, blood sugar levels, heart health, and weight control, and of potassium, which kids need for healthy nerves, muscles, and water balance.

Whole grains, such as whole wheat bread, brown rice, and non-instant oatmeal

  • They have more nutrients and fiber than processed grains.
  • Steel-cut oatmeal costs just pennies per ounce, and it helps you get fiber.
  • Grains should make up a quarter of every meal.

Beans, lentils, and peas

  • Packed with protein and other nutrients, they're a great way to stretch your food dollar. Use them in everything from soups to chili to burritos. Packaged dried beans cost less, but they take some planning to cook. Low-sodium canned beans are another option. You can rinse them to lower their salt even more.

Nuts like almonds, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts

  • They’re great for snacks or as a topping for salads, cereal, or oatmeal.
  • Nuts and seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, which help brain development in babies and young children.

Lean meats, poultry, fish, and eggs

  • Fish like salmon and tuna are other good sources of omega-3s.
  • So are eggs. Make protein about a quarter of every meal.

Low-fat or nonfat milk, yogurt, cheese, and other dairy products


Buy Healthy Snacks

How can you keep your kids from going overboard on chips, cookies, and other junk food? Don’t buy it. Instead, make it easy for them to find and nosh on the healthy stuff.

Keep these snacks on the center shelf of the fridge:

  • Cut-up fruit
  • Baby carrots and low-fat ranch dip
  • String cheese
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Low-fat yogurt

And these on the counter:

  • Dried fruit and nut mix
  • Pretzels
  • Whole-grain crackers and peanut butter

Even the most health-conscious families have processed food from time to time. Check the Nutrition Facts label and choose those that are lower in sugar, saturated fat, and sodium, meaning a single serving makes up 5% or less of the daily limit for these ingredients. 

3 Rules for Healthy Shopping

Follow these basics as you cruise the supermarket aisles.

Don't shop hungry. Ever notice what winds up in your cart when you shop with hunger pangs? Eat a nutritious snack beforehand so the munchies don't take control.

Make a list. Even if you know what you need, a list saves time and keeps you from making impulse buys. Organize your list into sections according to the store's layout: dairy, produce, meats, canned and packaged items, frozen foods. Shop for the healthy items first, and pick up the treats last.

Hug the walls -- most of the time. Avoid parts of your grocery store with the unhealthy choices. The outer edges of the store tend to have the healthiest choices. Detour down center aisles for beans, whole-grain pastas and cereals, and canned and frozen vegetables and fruit. When you’re grocery shopping with kids, the temptations can be extra distracting. So skip the aisles with chips, pastries, and candy.

Show Sources


University Cooperative Extension Service, Iowa State University: "Convenience costs," "Snacks for healthy kids," "Stretch your protein dollar," "10 tips for saving at the grocery store," "Ways to save money in 2010," "What’s a good buy?"

American Dietetic Association: "Raising healthy eaters from preschool to high school," "Save time and money at the grocery store."

The University of Maine Cooperative Extension: "Winning ways to grocery shop with young children."

WebMD Health News: "Baby Milk Recommendations Changed.”

United States Department of Agriculture: "MyPlate," "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010."

Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein and Amino Acids, 2002/2005, National Academies Press.

Pediatrics: “Dietary Recommendations for Children and Adolescents: A Guide for Practitioners.”

Journal of the American Dietetic Association: “Feeding infants and toddlers study: What foods are infants and toddlers eating?”

Taylor, C.A. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, August 2007.

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Energy-dense, low-fiber, high-fat dietary pattern is associated with increased fatness in childhood,” “Current protein intake in America: analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2003–2004.”

Anderson, M. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, August 2006.

Hands, E., Nutrients in Food, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2000.

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