How to Make the Most of Online Grocery Shopping

Woman using iPad to do her food shopping online
Gary Burchell / Getty Images

Going to the grocery store can be a hassle, especially if you're rushed for time and the only time you can go is when everyone else seems to be shopping. Factor in the travel time and grocery shopping may take up a big portion of your day that you could spend doing other things. 

One solution for saving time and energy is to do your grocery shopping online and either pick your purchases up or have them delivered. Many supermarkets offer online services as well as delivery. Another option is to use a dedicated grocery delivery service, like Fresh Direct. Most offer a similar experience. Let's use Fresh Direct as an example.

Getting Started

When you open up the Fresh Direct page, you'll be greeted with a popup that asks for your zip code to see if the service is available for your location. Then you'll need to create an account. If it is, then you're in luck. If not, there are other services you can check out.

Time to Shop

If you've done much online shopping, Fresh Direct looks like it's easy enough to navigate. If not, we can walk you through it. The site is organized like a brick and mortar grocery store, and you'll find all the different food categories along the top ribbon. Select the category and pick an item from the expanded menu to see your options.

So, for example, click on "Seafood" and then "Crab" and you'll be taken to a page with an assortment of crabs. When you click on any one item, you'll go to a page that has all the details, including nutrition information, cooking instructions, and serving suggestions.

When you find the items you want, just add to the cart and repeat with all the items on your shopping list. You can also just search for each specific item (that's a time saver compared to walking through the aisles!). Then you can pay and set up your delivery.

In a lot of ways, choosing foods online is just like choosing them in the store. Whole foods are best, especially veggies, fruits, lean meats, seafood, and poultry. Limit processed, sugary, high calorie foods and snacks. Stock up on sale items that are nutritious and can be stored for a long time, such as dry beans, canned veggies, and broth-based soups. Don't forget calcium sources such as milk and dairy products, dark leafy greens, or calcium-fortified foods.

Fresh Direct Meal Kits

One of the more interesting features of Fresh Direct is the ability to purchase meal kits. These are similar to the meal kits that you can order and have delivered on a weekly basis, but without the commitment and auto-renewed billing. They're an excellent option for anyone who doesn't mind cooking but isn't always sure what foods go well together. 

Fresh Direct has several meal kit options that cost about 10 to 12 dollars per serving. You order the kit and receive the ingredients and cooking instructions. You'll need to supply your own cookware, so double check what you need to make sure you have the right pots, pans, and baking dishes. Fresh Direct also offers ideas for the best wines and beers to serve with each meal. 

How to Pick the Healthiest Meal Kit

Of course, it's important to choose a meal kit that includes foods you like, but with such a large selection that shouldn't be difficult. You'll want to go with something that's healthy, and you can do that by opting for the meal kits that include green and colorful vegetables.

Take a look at the nutritional information that's available for each meal kit. You'll see all the nutritional information for the whole meal, which makes it easy for you to decide if the meal is healthy or not. There's no need to tally up the nutritional information for a bunch of ingredients—it's all right there.

Look at the calorie count and the percent daily values for the various nutrients. Do they fit into your daily calorie budget? Not too high in fat or added sugars? Not too high in sodium but has a good amount of fiber? If so, then you've found a good meal kit to order.

How Do Direct Fresh Meal Kits Stack Up Nutrition-Wise?

Some of the meal kits are not too high in calories and include veggies that will increase your intake of vitamins and minerals,, but other meal kits come in at more than 1,000 calories per serving, are high in sodium, and contain too much saturated fat.

Fresh Direct does change their options seasonally, offering you variety, so it's difficult to recommend one best meal. For example, at the time of this writing, there's a garlic chicken and purple mashed potatoes meal kit that has about 500 calories per serving, isn't high in fat, and has plenty of fiber. In contrast, there's a Steak Au Poivre that looks simply delicious but has over 800 calories per person, more saturated fat than you should eat in a whole day, and three-fourths of your daily allowance of sodium.

But What If I Really Want That Steak Au Poivre?

If something catches your eye but isn't the best dietary choice, you might be able to tweak it a bit so that it's better for you. One method is to divide the kit in half or serve more people, which reduces the portion size. So, even though the Steak Au Poivre kit is meant for two people, you can only eat part of it and share the rest, or eat half the first night and save the rest to eat as leftovers.

When you order your meal kit, be sure to buy all the ingredients you need to make a big green garden salad with lots of non-starchy veggies (look in the vegetable section). That will help fill you up and keep the calorie count, fat, and sodium content under control. If you're not a big salad fan, you can choose a broth-based soup or an extra green veggie side dish to add to your meal instead (Fresh Direct has lots of healthy soups and sides in their Meals section).

When you balance out your meal in this way, it can become a healthier overall option and you can make the most of online grocery shopping.

Common Questions About Online Shopping

Is online shopping more expensive?

Depending on where you shop, you'll pay a membership fee, delivery fee, or both. You may spend more money, but you'll save time. Similar to supermarkets, however, online grocers often have a "sale" section that you can pick from, and first-time buyers can take advantage of coupon codes available online.

How much is shipping?

Fresh Direct charges about eight dollars per delivery and you may wish to tip the delivery person, so be sure to factor that cost in when deciding if online grocery shopping is best for you. Often times, if you make a bigger purchase, shipping is offered for free.

How do I select the freshest produce if I can't see it?

That's a tough one. You'll have to rely on the employees who pack your order to choose fresh produce. Also, you'll need to be around to put the food away. Fresh Direct promises food will stay fresh for up to two hours after delivery.

What if the food is spoiled or damaged when I receive it?

The best thing to do is contact the company and ask for a refund or replacement. They'll work with you to get you the best products and service.

By Shereen Lehman, MS
Shereen Lehman, MS, is a former writer for Verywell Fit and Reuters Health. She's a healthcare journalist who writes about healthy eating and offers evidence-based advice for regular people.