Shopping the Perimeter


Go whole!  Try to make sure that majority of your food is unprocessed, whole, fresh, organic*, & in season.

When you went grocery shopping the last time where did most of your groceries come from?  The perimeter of the store?  The aisles?  An equal mix of the perimeter and aisles?  When we go grocery shopping we try our hardest to stay on the outer perimeter of the store.  If we venture into too many aisles we end up with things like Oreo cookies and Mac and Cheese in our cart.  I’m not saying they aren’t yummy occasionally, but on the whole those are things we try to avoid.

Go whole!  Try to make sure that majority of your food is unprocessed, whole, fresh, organic* (natural if organic isn’t available), and in season. So how do we tackle our shopping?  We start with the produce section.  Now, if you are fortunate enough to be able to shop in a Whole Foods or Earth Fare, the store is set up with that in mind.  We buy our snacks, sides, breakfasts in the produce section as much as possible.  By the time we are done in the produce section we have filled 8-10 reusable produce bags, added a melon to the basket, and probably a couple of plastic produce bags.  Our cart is nearly full by this point and our list is almost completely checked off.

After the produce section we hit the bulk bin section.  If you have never shopped in the bulk section it is a little like being in a candy store (and there are even sweet things in this section).  You can try lots of new things for relatively little expense and you don’t have to buy a lot of the product (we have all been stuck with a huge box of something that we really did NOT like).  We usually replenish our stock of quinoa, oats (steel cut for morning oatmeal, and rolled oats for homemade granola bars), spelt flour, almonds, dark chocolate chips, long grain brown rice, whole wheat couscous, black beans (the baby loves them), pinto beans, garbanzo beans, and veggie pasta.  Just recently we tried amaranth (a grain) for the first time and we only bought exactly what we needed for the recipe.  Turns out we liked it, but if we hadn’t, we wouldn’t have felt the guilt over not using something we paid valuable money for at the store and wasting food.  Next time you are in a grocery store with a bulk section check it out.  One of our favorite things to do when we go out of town is to stop by and make a snack/trail mix.  You get to pick your favorites and you know it hasn’t been sitting around for months in a warehouse.

Ok, so remember how I said that our cart is usually pretty full and our list almost complete after the produce section?  Usually, after the bulk section we only have a handful of items left to gather up.  We try to eat fish once a week (while nursing I watch my mercury intake) and meat once or twice.  We check out the in season fish and pick up whatever looks good (and is low in mercury) and then pick up whatever meat we are going to eat (organic is a must in my book).

Finally, we grab some almond butter, jelly, almond milk (chocolate for my husband, unsweetened vanilla for me), yogurt (for the baby), whole wheat or spinach pasta, some low sugar cereal, fresh baked bread from the bakery (or frozen Ezekiel bread) and head for the check out line.

Did you notice that the only “aisle” foods were pasta, cereal, and jelly?  That is fairly typical for us.  Occasionally if we are craving chips we throw in some veggie chips, but that is pretty much it other than dried spices.  When we get home our veggie drawers in the fridge are overflowing, there are fruits and vegetables all over our counters, and our pantry is stocked with grains.  All of those fruits and veggies make it easy to grab a quick and healthy snack even with an infant!

Next time you are at the store, think about shopping the perimeter.  If you go down the aisles, think about whether there is a fresh alternative – you will be impressed with the flavor difference.

*Organic foods aren’t always in the budget.  They are expensive.  Do the best you can and stay tuned for a post on which foods you should really try to buy organic and which don’t matter as much.


  • Erna

    For about the past 6 weeks, I have been making a concentrated effort to choose organic foods, and eat and cook in a more healthy way. I find Whole Foods to be very daunting, but decided that I would go into the store at least once a week (I usually get there 2-3 times a week), look at everything, walk every asile just to try to educate myself on what is there. I promised myself that I would buy something old (that I’ve eaten for a long time) and something new each time I went into the store. Since I’ve been doing this, I am getting much more comfortable in the store.

    One of my experiences was with the bulk section. The first time I used this section, I did not see the plastic bags, only the paper ones. I did not get the bag held correctly under the pecan container and the nuts spilled out all over the tray underneath. The people around me smiled at the old broad who didn’t know what she was doing, but I ignored them, picked up all the spilled nuts, took them home, washed them vigorusly, toasted them and ate them. (Next time, I used the plastic bags.) On another visit, I wanted to buy fresh mozzarella. I found a stand with the product in the produce section. However, there were two kinds: ciliegine and another kind which I can’t remember the name of. I stood by the display, confused by the strange words on the container and read everything on the package trying to figure out what the words meant. Finally, I decided that I could walk away and save myself from, again, looking like I didn’t know what I was doing, or I could get out my smart phone and look it up on the internet. I decided to do the latter even though, once again, people were smiling at the old broad in an all-knowing way. I discovered that the difference is in the size of the balls. Today, I discovered Quinoa gluten free pasta. Who knew. My next goal is to find recipes we can use at home. If I had, for instance, a menu for a whole week, that would give me a real idea of how to accomplish this goal. Any plans to do something like that on your blog?

  • Moira

    I have to agree that Whole Foods can be very daunting. I remember when my husband and I started shopping there. We couldn’t even get through our whole list before feeling so overwhelmed that we would just check out. Now, I have learned NOT to go on Saturday afternoon and not to go when I am in a rush. You are tackling the store in a much better way then I did. Great idea to choose one new product a week to try! Before long you will notice that you aren’t buying the old foods as much and instead your new “go to” or comfort foods are just a little healthier.

    I think every time I am in the bulk section I see someone spill stuff….usually me. Don’t worry about. Someone spilled quinoa all over me a couple of weeks ago and it didn’t bother me at all. If someone gets annoyed, just apologize and keep going. I have never had anyone seem angry with me because I have spilled something.

    There are a lot of great recipes using Green Light foods. They are often simple, filling, and of course nutritious. I encourage you to sign up for a L.E.A.N. Start workshop where we will discuss ways to prepare these types of meals. Additionally, you may find that a Smart Shopping Trip and Pantry Makeover will be helpful. Coming soon you will be able to subscribe to a weekly newsletter that includes suggestions for meal planning.

    Keep up the great work on becoming more healthy!

    Moira