A Real-Life Healthy Eating Shopping Guide

Healthy eating doesn’t suddenly happen overnight.

You won’t wake up one morning with new food in your cupboards, totally new taste buds, and spectacular cooking skills. All of those blogs and experts who have told you it can happen overnight were exaggerating…more than a tad.

And if you’ve been waiting for that miraculous moment to arrive in your life…sorry to have burst your bubble (I really am).

But (and this is a HUGE but) it also doesn’t need to be a difficult transition.

You don’t need to suddenly give up everything you like eating just so you can eat all of this new fangled healthy stuff.

It doesn’t happen overnight but it also doesn’t need to be black or white. Healthy eating DOESN’T equal perfection.

Instead it looks more like; healthy foods you really enjoy 80% of the time, and the other 20% includes French fries (or whatever delicious not-so-healthy food you’d have trouble giving up forever).

It means you mostly eat healthy food

...and you always love it.

This is the recipe for success.

Slow changes, step by step, that’s all. Like, replacing a processed food for a healthier one. Or trying out a new recipe that may have new foods or spices you’ve never tried before. One at a time, as you feel comfortable. That’s all :).

The place where confusion starts -

The grocery store can be a very confusing place when it comes to making new buying decisions. Food labellers are really out to trick you (it's true, unfortunately). It can be confusing to know when to buy organic or when to save that money for something else. And, it's hard to know what to have on hand so you can make great food all week.

I’ve put together this real-life shopping guide to help you out. The key to make this real-life is – I don’t want you to do everything! (Unless doing everything is only a small change for you right now). Instead, just go step by step. One change per grocery trip max. One change per month is also totally reasonable.

You can make HUGE changes in one short year with this method.

Lisa’s Real-Life Healthy Eating Shopping Guide

I’ve separated my recommendations into 3 parts…but they don’t need to be followed in this order. To start - just pick the one that looks the most interesting to you.

high protein label - cheerios.png

Part 1 – Ignore food advertising (so they can't trick you :).

This is an easy one, because there’s only one rule –

If a food says it’s healthy then it probably isn’t.    Just put it down and walk away.

This is when the food’s label brags about something specific – like; gluten-free, high-protein, low-carb, or whatever is in style right now. Remember the low-fat food craze of the 1980s/90s? Remember how those foods were chock-full of chemicals and made us collectively much fatter? Well, this is the same thing.

Food manufacturers LOVE food fads. It allows them to modify their foods, slap on a “high protein” label, and charge a lot more than they could when the ingredients were more whole.

So, in a nutshell, these foods tend to be more processed AND more expensive. So just walk away.


Part 2 – Organic vs. Non-organic

This can be a hard decision when your budget is tight. So, I’ve listed foods in my order of preference regarding when to buy them organically and when not to. And yes, veggies are near the bottom. They’re great to buy organically – but, there’s definitely better bang for your buck.

Important note – if you can’t afford to buy organic foods at all, that’s SO okay! Switch to whole foods over processed foods and you and your family will be much healthier. Buying organic is only for those who have the extra budget space.

Local vs. organic – Local is always (generally) better

If you have the choice between produce that’s grown locally (and preferably spray-free) vs. something that’s certified organic (but shipped in from somewhere) – ALWAYS go local.

Local produce will be higher in nutrients and antioxidants because it (presumably) is much fresher, and you’ll be supporting your friendly neighbourhood farmer, which is very important for our local food economy.

When to buy organic – in this order (top to bottom)

Meat, poultry, fish, & eggs – fish is better wild over organic. Also, free range and/or grass-fed is better than organic. Lower the quantity and increase the quality is my mantra :)

Dairy and dairy products – including and especially butter (factory-farming nastiness concentrates in fat)

All forms of soy and corn – they’re high GMO foods and highly sprayed ones too. Happily, organic versions aren’t too much more expensive :).

Honey  - local and unpasteurized is okay. Commercial honey has been so processed some no longer consider it honey. (this is a bigger problem in the US than in Canada)

Concentrated veggies - like tomato sauce & tomato paste. Safe pesticide levels are just for the whole fruit/veggie. Concentrate the veggie and you concentrate the pesticide.

Coffee – luckily there are some amazing organic coffees :)

Grains – like rice, quinoa, and oats

Dirty Dozen veggies – just buying these puppies organically can reduce your produce pesticide load by 80%. This is a yearly list created by the non-profit EWG.org.

All other veggies

Surprised by anything on my list? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below :).


Part 3 – Lots of healthy staples

I’m not the best grocery shopper and one could argue that I’m a pretty poor grocery shopper for a nutritionist. I don’t plan out my week of meals and I don’t always make it to the end of the week with fresh produce on hand (I am getting better at this).

BUT! I do have a tried and true way of making sure I can always throw together a healthy meal at any point during the week.

And the way I do it is – I always have healthy staples on hand, and I ensure that my cupboards are stocked by keeping a running list on my fridge.

When I notice a staple has less than a week left it gets added to the list. When I go to get groceries I grab my list, add the fresh food that’s needed, and voila! It’s done.

Impt note - Buying everything on this list will be expensive…so don’t. Look to see where your holes are and fill in the gaps any time you have space in your budget. My kitchen staple inventory took me YEARS to create! It doesn’t need to happen overnight :)


A look into Lisa’s kitchen staples:

Healthy fats/oils – organic butter, virgin coconut oil, evoo, organic sesame oil (regular and toasted)

Grains/beans – oats (rolled and steel cut), quinoa, rice (white basmati), lentils (red and green), organic popping corn

Frozen veggies/beans – spinach, broccoli, chickpeas (makes for a fast protein source), organic tempeh

Canned foods – beans, coconut milk, ready-made curries (handy for a fast dinner), wild fish

Sweeteners – raw honey, organic maple syrup

Condiments – mustard, mayo, miso gravy, coconut marinade, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, nutritional yeast

Crackers – Finn Crisps, black sesame rice crackers, organic chestnut crispbread (a new favouite, it’s delish)

Bread – Stone Oven kamut sourdough

Nut butters/spreads – peanut, raw cashew, hummus

Herbs and spices – way too many to name, but I always make sure I have; basil, oregano, curry, turmeric, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, and nutmeg

Are there any staples not on my list that you can’t live without? Share them with all of us in the comments below :)