Nutrition

We Asked 3 Dietitians to Share Their Grocery Lists With Us

7 min read

We asked three dietitians what items they always buy at the grocery store.
We asked three dietitians what items they always buy at the grocery store.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: When it comes to nutrient intake, we’ll always recommend a “food first” approach. That means filling your plate with a variety of nutrient-rich foods, and taking a multivitamin to help fill gaps. But when you’re meal planning for the week, what does that actually look like in practice?

With this in mind, we asked some of our go-to registered dietitians to give us a sneak peek at their weekly grocery lists, along with their favorite pointers for a fruitful supermarket run. With recommendations spanning food groups and different diets (vegans and vegetarians, we see you), the master list we ended up with ticks the boxes for nutrition and personal preference—and might just be worth bookmarking for your next trip.

First things first: Have a basic strategy.

Namely: “Try to check off all the food groups,” says Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi, PhD, RD, Ritual’s Senior Director of Scientific Affairs. “I like to make sure that in one meal I have all the food groups that are needed.” That means opting for a variety of fruits and vegetables, proteins, healthy carbs, and healthy fats while you’re at the store—and picking and choosing your favorites in those categories.

And that adage that you shouldn’t go to the grocery store while you’re hungry? Definitely true. “You're going to buy things that you normally won't buy, like packaged snacks,” says Dr. Mastaneh. If you’re focused on sticking to your list, on the other hand… well, you might be more likely to opt for a healthier kind of snack, like fresh fruit.

Similarly, Laura Burak, MS, RD, CDN, of Laura Burak Nutrition recommends saving most of your shopping cart real estate for fresh produce. "When you stock up on fresh, real foods that don't come in a package and don't have a food label, your diet will likely be more nutritious, contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and will add variety and options for every meal or snack," she says.

But let's get to specifics, shall we?

17 Items That RDs Buy at the Grocery Store

PRODUCE

Leafy greens. Folate, vitamin K2, iron… what’s not to love about the nutrient content of spinach, kale, and other greens? They’re also shockingly versatile: Saute collards with garlic, add a handful of spinach to a smoothie, or roast up kale leaves to satisfy your chip cravings.

Avocado. You'd be hard-pressed to find a grocery list that doesn't feature avocados—a fruit that could also be categorized under “healthy fats” (which you’ll find below). Burak and Mascha Davis, MPH, RDN—the founder of NomadistaNutrition.com and author of the newly released book Eat Your Vitamins—both stock up every time they hit the market. Avocados are full of fiber and heart-healthy fats, which both help keep you full, Burak says. The best part: They can quickly take a meal from basic to mouthwatering. Use them to make guacamole or avocado toast. You can also slice or dice them up and throw into salads and smoothies. Delicious, healthy, and versatile. Avocados tick all the checkboxes.

Lemons. Lemons can spruce up pretty much anything which makes them an amazing add-on to your grocery list. "Lemons add flavor and vitamin C to boost both the taste and nutrition content of your meals and beverages," Burak says. "Squeeze lemon onto your fish, chicken, and veggie dishes. Mix it with oil and spices for homemade dressings and marinades, and add them into your water during the day and mixed drinks at happy hour."

Bananas. Need a quick and healthy snack? Bananas are always there to the rescue, which is precisely why they made Davis's master list. They're high in potassium and magnesium, two essential nutrients. And bananas are very versatile too. You can use them as a topping for cereal, oatmeal, or peanut butter toast. You can also peel them and toss them in the freezer before they spoil and have them ready for smoothies.

Fresh herbs, garlic, and other seasonings. Cilantro, basil, garlic…the options are endless when it comes to zesting up your favorite meals.

Berries. Dr. Mastaneh prefers to keep berries on hand for when she or her kids get a hankering for something sweet. “I always have sweet fruits at home,” she says.

Frozen fruits and veggies. Frozen over fresh gets a bad rap—but according to Dr. Mastaneh, that’s a bit undeserved. (Especially for busy parents). “They’re so handy,” she says. “It's so interesting that people still ask me, ‘Are you sure it's healthy?’ Yes. It's just frozen. It still has nutrients that you need.”

“Even if I go to the grocery store and I forget something, I have so many assorted vegetables in my freezer. I just take them out, saute, and we have a full meal ready.”

Plus, frozen produce isn’t just grab-and-go for easy smoothies, soups, and more—they’re also less likely to spoil, cutting back on potential food waste.

HEALTHY GRAINS

Crackers. "I don't leave the market without a crunchy, high fiber box of crackers made with whole, real, pronounceable ingredients," says Burak. "Nutritious crackers can be used in any meal or snack not only to add a crunch factor but to keep you energized and satisfied." Eat them with veggies and guac. Top them with slices of turkey and cheddar cheese. Or, sprinkle them over a salad.

Whole-grain cereal or oatmeal. Menu planning for lunches and dinners is great, but for breakfast, cut yourself some slack and keep it simple with cereal. (That's right—don't count out your favorite childhood breakfast.) "Instead of the sugary kind, opt for whole-grain cereal," Davis says. “This will leave you feeling fuller for longer, and avoid that mid-morning energy crash that has you grabbing for a second cup of coffee."

Pro tip: Just make sure you read your labels and opt for a cereal with minimal mystery ingredients (if any). Better yet, try oatmeal: A tried-and-true, protein-rich standby with endless possibilities for customization.

Quinoa. Just one cup of fluffy, cooked quinoa provides 8 grams of protein, along with magnesium, iron, fiber, and zinc—all things our bodies need. In fact, quinoa is a complete protein—meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids. (1)

PROTEIN + HEALTHY FATS

Legumes. Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or eat a little bit of everything, we can all get behind the plant protein power of legumes like lentils and beans.

Nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds are another excellent source of plant-based nutrition. "Nuts and seeds are a complete snack on their own too as they contain all three macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat) naturally, which helps you stay satisfied longer," Burak says. "Plus, there's no need to refrigerate them, so they make the perfect portable snack."

Sardines. "These little fish are a nutrient powerhouse," says Davis. "One 3.75-ounce serving can pack up to 20 grams of protein and includes omega 3 fatty acids." Since they are canned, you can keep a few stashed in your pantry and whip them out whenever you need a quick lunch or a snack. Now that's what we call easy meal planning. (2)

Salmon. “Salmon provides 16 grams of protein for every 3 ounces, making it a great source of protein,” says Davis. That’s not to mention the omega-3 fatty acids in every serving. (3)

Eggs. For a satiating breakfast (or lunch, or dinner), it’s hard to go wrong with eggs—a winningly versatile combo of healthy fats and protein.

DAIRY / NON-DAIRY

Almond milk. Whether you consume dairy or not, almond milk is a yummy nut milk that makes a great addition to your shopping list template. It’s handy for things like smoothies, oatmeal, or chia seed pudding. Hence, why it's a permanent staple in Davis's grocery list. She recommends opting for one that has vitamin D added back into it. Also, remember that almond milk isn't as high in protein as traditional cow’s milk, so be sure you get your protein elsewhere.

Yogurt. Yogurt is high in protein and contains probiotics, making it worthy of a spot on your master grocery list. The yogurt aisle at the store, however, can be overwhelming. Davis recommends going for plain yogurt. Many flavored yogurts can sneakily contain a lot of sugar. To sweeten it up and give it flavor, you can add fresh fruit at home.

References:

  1. Quinoa. (2019, October 21). Retrieved from Harvard.edu
  2. FoodData Central Search Results. Sardines in Oil. Retrieved from USDA
  3. Spitler, F., RD, CDE. (n.d.). ...Salmon. Retrieved from Healthline

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Meet our Expert

This article features advice from our Science Team.

Science Thumb — Mastaneh

Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi, PhD, RD, Senior Director, Scientific Affairs

Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi has a PhD in Nutritional Sciences and is a Registered Dietitian. She received her training from Penn State University and University of Connecticut where she researched dietary patterns, chemosensory perception and community nutrition. Her dietetic work is focused on promoting healthy eating habits by translating the science of nutrition into practical information for the public.

Science Thumb — Mastaneh

Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi, PhD, RD, Senior Director, Scientific Affairs

Dr. Mastaneh Sharafi has a PhD in Nutritional Sciences and is a Registered Dietitian. She received her training from Penn State University and University of Connecticut where she researched dietary patterns, chemosensory perception and community nutrition. Her dietetic work is focused on promoting healthy eating habits by translating the science of nutrition into practical information for the public.