5 Tips for Healthy Grocery Shopping to Learn from an Ancient Chinese Book on War Tactics.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes.

Do you sometimes feel that trying to do healthy grocery shopping is like fighting a battle?

As soon as you enter a grocery store, your senses are under attack - by the aroma of freshly baked bread, by the scent of ripe fruit, by aisles after aisles of colorful jars, packets and boxes.

You suddenly feel like you are starving. You stuff your bags full, and return home with a bag of unhealthy - yet, very colorful and delicious looking - products in one hand, and a bag of products you didn't even need, in another.

You lost. The food manufacturing industry won (again).

However, the first step to successful weight management is defeating the food manufacturing industry and mastering the grocery store.

The first step to successful weight management is defeating the food manufacturing industry and mastering the grocery store.

Otherwise you will end up eating not what you need to eat to manage your weight, but what the food manufacturing industry manipulates you into eating.

If you want stay in control of your weight, you have to win this battle every time.

By the way, I'm not using this terminology solely for the purpose of a great metaphor. You would be surprised how much the tactics to succeed in your pursuit of healthy grocery shopping against the tricks of food manufacturing industry is similar to the actual war tactics.

You've probably heard the saying "know your enemy". It is attributed to Sun Tzu, a Chinese general and military strategist from the 6th century BC. 

Crazy but true: You will find most of the following tactics to succeed in grocery shopping in the fundamental book Sun Tzu wrote on military strategy and tactic, "The Art of War".

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You will need a few “field trips” to your preferred supermarkets to learn about each store and to decide where to buy each product, and to plan a route to do your grocery shopping as efficient as possible in each of them.

Not every store or chain has the same products. They sometimes have non-competition agreements on certain products, and even suppliers determine to which store they deliver which products.

Also, the grocery store chains know exactly how to convince you to buy much more than you would ever suspect you needed.

Supermarket layouts have been designed to make it difficult for you to find basic products and make you wander around the aisles as long as possible seducing you with different offers.

You need to know in exactly which aisle these products are located and plan a specific route to follow in each store.

If you keep really focused on the route, you will avoid being tempted to buy all the things you don’t really “need,” saving you money and some of the enemies of a healthy diet.

A pain?

Well, as we know there is no gain without it. That is why you need to become efficient at every grocery store to save as much time and effort as possible. Once you know what to buy in each one and where the products are located, the shopping routine will become easier and quicker than you could have expected.

To be able to buy healthy food, you need to be able to distinguish it from other, unhealthy options in the first place. And there is no way around it other than reading the labels on the products you buy.

Don’t let the marketing of the front of the box trick you with the “healthy” advertisement.

Don't assume that a more expensive product is automatically healthier.

Don't trust anything unless you see that list of ingredients on the food label.

Even the same products, for example, tomato sauces, can have very different composition. There is no way to tell which is healthier without reading the labels.

Never, ever go grocery shopping hungry. I'm sure everyone of us has made this mistake more than one time and ended up buying a ton of unnecessary (and unhealthy) food.

When you are hungry, you can't think properly. You are just focused on what can you do to fulfill your very basic need: nourishment.

How are you going to try to focus on buying healthy whole-grain foods, fruits and vegetables, when your brain is just obsessed about getting some direct sugar to make it work? Your subconscious will send you right to the chocolate doughnuts aisle.

If you, however, have no possibility to grab a bite but just must go grocery shopping right now, the next tip is an absolute must.

How many times you went to a store "just for a bottle of milk" and left it with two bags full of products, because "maybe you could use this or that as well"?

Grocery shopping requires a lot of discipline. Creating a grocery list in advance, better after you've had a good meal (see tip #3), is the best way to enforce it and keep yourself in check.

And, in the times when there is an app for pretty much everything, you can use an app for your grocery shopping list.

I use Out of Milk, which is simple enough to look like an actual grocery list, without unnecessary features, and yet offers enough flexibility to move the items between the categories or create your own categories.

This way you can sort the items, for example, according to the store sections (like "diary", "fruits", etc.) or according to the stores you'll find them in. It also has a nice "send via email" feature so that you can send it to your spouse if it's their turn to do grocery shopping this week.

Avoid going grocery shopping with your kids. They will distract you from the main objectives of successful healthy grocery shopping:

  • to buy only the necessary things
  • to read food labels
  • to detect good deals.

Kids will also make you buy sugary food, such as candy and bakery items, which you wouldn’t have bought if you were on your own.

If you have to take them with you, take the opportunity to use the trip as a healthy-eating learning experience for them. Let them learn and help you.


As you can see, to learn how to do healthy grocery shopping successfully and efficiently is not a quick process. But once you have mastered it, it will simplify your grocery shopping experience tremendously.


...buy online, after dinner, when kids are asleep.

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Over to You!

Do you also find healthy grocery shopping difficult? 

Tell me about your challenges and tips!

I'd love to hear from you!

About the Author

Arantxa Mateo

Arantxa is a trained biologist, nutrition specialist and weight management coach. Born in Spain, she spent 5 years in Australia before moving to the US. Her motto is "Food is a pleasure. Nobody deserves to be on a diet."

Find out more about Arantxa and 32 Mondays >>

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