At the YMCA of Greater Toronto, we respect and admire the expert advice provided by our partner health charities. That’s why we’re excited to bring you even more great reading material from the team at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada (Heart and Stroke). In this article, you’ll get tips and tricks to make your next grocery order healthy and fun.

The foods we eat affect our well-being.

Making healthy food choices can help you:

  • Reduce your risk of heart disease.
  • Improve your cholesterol levels.
  • Lower your blood pressure.
  • Maintain your healthy body weight.
  • Control your blood sugar.

With a little advance planning, you can make healthier choices at the grocery store, in the kitchen, and on the go.

Meal planning is key

Meal planning is important whether you’re cooking for yourself or for a family. By planning ahead, you eat better, save time, and spend less money.

Make meal planning a habit

Try to set aside a specific time each week to write down your meal ideas and grocery list. If you relax with a coffee every Saturday morning, that could be a good time to plan the week’s meals. Plan your meals around a healthy plate, making sure you stock up on vegetables and fruits, whole grains and a variety of protein foods, especially plant-based ones.

Don’t forget to plan for snacks. Once your meal ideas are ready, check your fridge and cupboards to see what you need to buy.

Then update your shopping list.

Another great tip is to always keep paper and a pen in the kitchen. As you run out of ingredients, write them down. Then add them to your shopping list.

8 ways to think outside the box when planning your meals.

The best way to eat healthy is to prepare meals at home using fresh, whole foods. To avoid buying pre-packaged convenience foods, think about what you’d like to eat in the coming days.

1. Variety is the spice of life

  • Plan to include vegetables and fruit at each meal and snack.
  • Include beans, lentils and other legumes several times a week.
  • Stock up on whole grains such as brown rice, whole grain pasta, bulgur, farro, etc.

2. Include quick, healthy meals for those nights when you know you’ll be busier

  • Make extra so you have leftovers.
  • Make extra soup or lasagna to freeze for easy heat-and-serve meals.
  • Repurpose your leftovers into a whole new meal. Leftover spaghetti sauce can become minestrone soup, meatloaf, or pizza sauce.

3. Get inspired by the season

  • If salmon, tomatoes or rhubarb is in season, seek out recipes with those ingredients.

4. If you can, try to buy local

  • It’s often fresher than food that comes from far away — and you’re supporting local farmers and families, too!

5. Food that is less processed is more nutritious

  • Pre-made or pre-packaged convenience foods may be handy, but they are often high in fat, salt, sugar, and calories. If you must eat packaged foods, check the Nutrition Facts label and watch your serving size.

6. If you follow a special diet, try to focus on what you can eat, not what you can’t eat

  • If you are gluten-free, for example, there are many naturally wheat-free grains, beans and lentils, and produce. As well, you can enjoy modified bread and pasta.

7. Include snacks on your list to reduce temptation once you’re at the grocery store

  • Healthy snacks might include nuts, baby carrots and hummus, roasted chickpeas, hard-cooked eggs, tuna and whole-grain crackers, air-popped popcorn and whole-grain crackers with lower-fat, lower-sodium cheese.

8. If you have a family, get them involved in the meal planning

  • Keep a running list of meals your family enjoys, and get everyone to participate with their favourites.

Shopping tips for healthy food

Grocery shopping is an important part of healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle. The key is to be prepared before you go, and know how to navigate the grocery store once you get there. If you prefer online shopping over the traditional visit to the store, these tips apply in the virtual world as well.

Eat something before you shop so you aren’t tempted by snack foods at the store

If you’re going into the store, take some time to familiarize yourself with the layout

Vegetables, fruit, bread, tofu, meat, fish and dairy will usually be in the outside aisles.

Whole grains, lentils, beans and oils will usually be in the inside aisles. That’s where you will often find frozen and canned vegetables and fruit, too.

Read the packaging

All packaged foods have a Nutrition Facts table. Use it to choose food that’s lower in salt, sugar, and saturated fat. Look for the percent daily value on the right-hand side of the Nutrition facts table. It shows you if the serving size has a little or a lot of a nutrient.

5% DV (Daily Value) or less is a little

15% DV (Daily Value) or more is a lot

Prepare your produce
Wash and cut some of your vegetables and fruit so they’re ready for snacking.

Celery, cucumbers, carrots, peppers, grape tomatoes, and snap peas are great on their own or with a low-fat dip, hummus, peanut butter, or salsa.

To wash or not to wash before you put your produce away?
Cold, clean tap water is just fine for washing fruits and vegetables but the choice to wash before you store, or once you’re ready to use it really comes down to the produce in question:

Leafy greens: salad, spinach, cabbage, green onions. Wash when you get home from the store. Then wrap in a paper towel and store in a plastic bag or sealed container in the fridge. This way, they’re ready to use and they’ll last longer.

Food with a rind or thick peel: oranges, cantaloupes, melons, carrots, and potatoes. Wash before eating/cooking and if you have a produce brush, give them a little scrub. This removes bacteria on the rind or skin so it doesn’t get in the food when it’s cut or peeled.

Mushrooms: Don’t wash. Wipe them with a clean cloth just before using. They keep best when stored in a paper bag in the fridge.

Berries: strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. Wash just before eating otherwise they spoil very quickly. 

Be prepared

Divide your snack food (crackers, nuts) into individual, ready-to-eat servings. When making a snacking choice, be careful with nuts and seeds. They’re tasty and it’s easy to over-do it. Opt for raw or dry roasted nuts without the added salt, rather than roasted in oil.