Shopping for Food That's Good for You

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woman examining produceIf you have a choice of where to get your groceries, pick a store that is clean and well supplied. If it is also busy, the stock is probably more likely to turn over quickly and items won’t be near their sell-by or use-by date. But don’t depend on that—always check the dates.

Many people say a successful trip to the grocery store starts with a shopping list. Throughout the week, try to keep a list of food and supplies you need. Keeping to a list helps you follow a budget because you will be less likely to buy on impulse. A prepared grocery list (PDF, 220K) will help you choose healthy types of foods.

When making your shopping list, check your staples. Staples are nice to have around if you can’t go grocery shopping. These include items like the following:

  • containers of foodcereal
  • flour
  • sugar
  • cans of low-sodium soup, fruit, and tuna fish
  • bags of frozen vegetables or fruit
  • frozen or bottled 100% juice
  • powdered, dry milk or ultra-pasteurized milk in a shelf carton
  • pasta
  • low-sodium spaghetti sauce in a jar

Make Shopping Easier

shopping cart full of foodA trip to the grocery store can be a chore for anyone, but as you get older, you might have some new reasons for not going. For example, getting around a big food store might be difficult. What can you do?

  • Some stores have motorized carts, which you can use.
  • Ask if there is an employee who can help you reach things or push your cart.
  • If your store has a pharmacy department, you might find a seat there if you get tired.
  • Plan to shop at a time of day when you are rested.
  • If it’s a busy grocery store, try to pick a time when it might not be so crowded; that way you won’t have to stand in a long check-out line.
  • Check with your local Area Agency on Aging to see if there are volunteers in your area who can help.

Shopping for healthy foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, might be hard where you live. People who live in rural areas or some city neighborhoods often have trouble finding larger supermarkets. Instead, they have to shop at convenience stores and small neighborhood markets. Sometimes smaller stores have limited selections of fresh foods.

You might try talking to the managers or owners. Let them know that you and others are interested in buying more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain products, and low-fat milk products.

Community Supported Agriculture

person buying produceTry to find a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) group. CSAs are membership or subscription groups that allow you to buy in-season fruits and vegetables directly from farmers.

You agree to buy produce from a participating local farmer, and each week you receive a box, bag, or basket of a variety of the food being harvested at that time. Local Harvest is one organization that can help you find a CSA in your area. You can go to the Local Harvest website, or call 1-831-515-5602.

If you can find a farmers’ market or vegetable stand nearby during the growing season, fruits and vegetables might cost less than in the grocery store. Local Harvest can also direct you to farmers’ markets in your area. Your local government might have a listing of farmers’ markets.

Farmers’ Markets: Fresh, Nutritious, Local

Watch this video to learn the benefits of buying fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets.

You might also be able to get some help from the federal government to pay for vegetables and fruits from farmers’ markets through the Seniors Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. They provide coupons you can use at farmers’ markets and roadside stands.

What's On Your Plate? is based on the nutrition recommendations for older adults in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).