How to Make a Healthy Grocery List

Grocery basket with fruits and vegetables sitting in the middle of a grocery store aisle
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Bringing a list to the grocery store can help you make more nutritious choices that support a healthy lifestyle and a balanced body weight. Nutritious foods to include are those that supply vitamins, minerals, good fats, antioxidants, and fiber, all of which are valuable for overall health. Focusing on whole, unprocessed foods is a wise way to ensure more nutrients and fewer less additives, like unwanted sugar.

If consuming a more balanced nutritious diet is important to you, you can create a list of foods that support this goal. Below, you will find ingredients that fit the bill.

Fruits and Vegetables

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables for optimal health. A daily serving is equal to about 2.5 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit.

Consuming a wide variety of whole fruits and vegetables will help ensure you obtain the essential nutrients your body needs to feel and perform at its best. Choosing whole foods, instead of juices or sauces, will provide the added benefit of fiber.

Dried fruit and vegetables offer concentrated amounts of nutrition but may also be high in natural sugars, so be conscious of this if you are watching your overall sugar or carbohydrate intake. Here are some types of fruit and vegetables to add to your list:

  • Dark green vegetables: Such as spinach, broccoli, kale. Aim for 1.5 to 2 cups per week.
  • Red and orange vegetables: Such as peppers, red cabbage, carrots, tomatoes. Aim for 4 to 7.5 cups per week.
  • Beans, peas, and lentils: Such as chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, edamame. Aim for 1 to 3 cups per week.
  • Starchy vegetables: Such as potatoes, squash. Aim for 4 to 8 cups per week.
  • Other vegetables: Such as mushrooms, onions, cabbage, cauliflower. Aim for 3.5 to 7 cups per week.
  • All fruits: Such as apples, kiwi, bananas, melons, grapes. Aim for 1.5 to 2.5 cups per day.

Dairy and Eggs

Dairy contains significant amounts of calcium, vitamin D, and potassium which are vitamins and minerals responsible for strong and healthy bones, reduced risk of osteoporosis, and reduced risk of bone fractures. Aim to consume 3 cups of dairy products per day.

Without dairy products in your diet, it is more challenging to consume the levels of these nutrients necessary for bone health. However, if you are plant-based, careful planning can help ensure your bones stay healthy. There are several fortified dairy alternatives available.

Before you start adding dairy alternatives to your shopping cart, it it's important to note that not all alternatives are fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients that mimic the nutrient profile of animal milk. Read the nutrition labels before making any decisions.

Eggs are a highly nutrient-rich source of protein. They contain vitamin D (necessary for calcium absorption), phosphorus, vitamin A (responsible for vision, skin, and cell repair), and B vitamins. Eggs also provide riboflavin, selenium, and choline—nutrients vital for brain health. 

Consider adding these products to your grocery list: 

  • Hard and soft cheeses (cheddar, chevre, parmesan, gouda, feta)
  • Cottage cheese
  • Eggs
  • Milk, cream
  • Yogurt, kefir

Some dairy products contain probiotics which provide further benefits for overall health. When choosing dairy products like flavored yogurts, be conscious of added sugars.

Bread, Cereal, and Grains

Breads, cereals, and grains provide fiber and many nutrients, especially in their whole form. Choosing whole grains for the majority of your intake in this category is a wise choice for your overall health. Consuming whole-grain bread, cereal, and grains may reduce your risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer. The fiber in these foods can also contribute to healthy digestion.

Whole grains contain all three different parts of grain which are the bran, endosperm, and germ. The bran is the outer layer and contains fiber, B vitamins, and minerals. The endosperm contains the starchy part of the kernel below the bran. The endosperm is what refined flours are processed from and it is naturally low in vitamins and minerals.

Aim to consume 3 to 5 ounces of whole grains per day. Some foods in this category to add to your healthy grocery list include:

  • Barley
  • Amaranth
  • Kamut
  • Rye
  • Brown rice
  • Oats
  • Quinoa (a seed that's generally treated as a grain)
  • Whole-grain bread, cereal, and pasta

Choose whole-grain flours when baking or cooking to boost the nutrient content of your meals. Look for whole-grain options of pre-made bread, cereal, crackers, and other products when possible. Keep an eye on the labels for added sugars and refined starches.

Meat, Fish, and Tofu

Meat, fish, and tofu as well as other plant-based meat alternatives provide protein. Animal-based protein also contains essential nutrients such as iron, B12, zinc, and more. Protein is an essential macronutrient your body needs to function, responsible for the building and repair of your body's tissues.

Protein protects against diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer and lowers your risk of inflammation. It's necessary for the building and maintenance of muscle mass, which is necessary for daily functioning and healthy aging. And, it's responsible for creating enzymes and DNA, helping the immune system function properly, and helps you grow.

Fish is high in healthy fats as well. Aim for two servings per week of fish and seafood. Fatty acids such as omega-3s are vital for heart health, cancer prevention, and cognitive functioning.

Meat alternatives such as tofu can help plant-based eaters obtain protein. It's essential that vegans plan their intake carefully since most plant-based proteins lack some of the essential amino acids. Consuming a wide variety of protein-rich plant foods can help ensure you get enough.

Here are some protein-rich foods to add to your healthy grocery shopping list:

  • Meat, poultry, eggs: Such as chicken, beef, turkey, pork. Aim for 23 to 33 ounces per week.
  • Seafood: Such as shrimp, salmon, halibut, crab, canned tuna packed in water. Aim for 8 to 10 ounces per week.
  • Nuts, seeds, soy products: Such as almonds, walnuts, cashews, tofu. Aim for 4 to 6 ounces per week.

Pantry Staples

Nutritious pantry staples that can help you craft delicious, healthy meals at home include shelf-stable foods belonging to the other food groups. Some ideas of what to keep on hand include:

  • Canned vegetables and fruit: Diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, applesauce for baking, canned fruit in water or juice, marinated or pickled vegetables.
  • Canned and dried beans and legumes: Chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans.
  • Low-sodium broth or stock: Chicken stock, beef stock, fish stock, vegetable stock.
  • Oils: Olive oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil, coconut oil.
  • Flours: Whole wheat, rye, oat, almond, spelt.
  • Dried herbs and spices: Cumin, cayenne, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, rosemary.
  • Condiments: Mustard, tamari, low-sodium soy sauce, salsa, vinegar, garlic-chili sauce, curry paste, hot sauce.

Check nutrition labels for added sugar, sodium, hydrogenated/trans fat, or other additives you would rather avoid.

Snacks

Snacks are best when they serve as small meals, meaning they are balanced in terms of carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Well-balanced snacks can stave off hunger and help you reach your nutrient goals. Not everyone enjoys snacking, so if you prefer to eat the standard three meals per day, that's OK.

Here are some ideas for nutritious snacking:

  • Beef or turkey jerky and pepperoni sticks
  • Dark chocolate
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Olives
  • Pickles
  • Popcorn
  • Seeds
  • Whole-grain crackers
  • Protein powder, shakes, and bars (check labels for added sugars)
  • Hummus, tzatziki
  • Carrots, celery, cucumber, grape tomatoes
  • Whole fruit

A Word From Verywell

A nutritious grocery list helps you reach your nutrition goals by providing nutrient-dense foods that are filling and delicious. Enjoying your meals is vital to sticking to healthy eating habits, so make sure you choose foods you love. Focusing on nutrient-rich foods is important, but so is enjoying the occasional less-nutritious food. Writing out a healthy grocery list before shopping can help you make the most out of your grocery budget while aiming toward optimal health.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What groceries do I buy to eat healthy on a budget?

    To eat nutritious foods on a budget, focus on frozen and canned produce, whole grains, and dried beans and legumes. Avoiding pre-made foods will cut down on your spending and help you create more nutritious meals. Buying in bulk can also help you trim your grocery spending.

  • What is on a healthy grocery list for men who exercise?

    Men who exercise should consume plenty of lean protein such as chicken, fish, and beef, as well as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, and healthy fats. If you are hoping to gain muscle, focus on obtaining higher levels of protein. To lose weight, focus on creating a calorie deficit using whole foods in smaller portions.

  • What should be on a healthy grocery list for people who don’t cook?

    If you do not cook but want to eat healthy, try buying pre-made salads, frozen stirfry mixes, pre-cooked protein sources, and healthy pre-made snacks such as whole grain crackers, granola bars, and cereals. There are also nutritious options for frozen and canned meals but watch out for added sugar, sodium, and other additives.

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13 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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