#CenterYourFocus: 5 Foods to Include in Your Shopping Cart

healthy food grocery store_FINAL.jpg

You know that first day of school feeling, when you walk into a large, new room and suddenly don’t know where to sit? Unsure if it’s safe to dive into a center aisle, you choose to sit along perimeter because you’ll be less confused on the outside. That’s how I used to feel when I entered a grocery store. Scared of the unknown center aisles and their supposed “hidden dangers”, I only scanned the outside perimeter of the grocery store. I mean, that is what I was hearing on my social channels and in the news. But the more I learned about nutrition, the more I realized all the healthy foods I was missing out on by avoiding the center aisles.

And I am not the only one who feels this way. Supermarket registered dietitian, Amy Peick, explains by avoiding the center aisles, “Consumers are missing the opportunity to purchase many convenient, better-for-you options including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and even inexpensive sources of lean protein to meet the needs of all 5 food groups.”

Yes, there are often lots of fresh and healthful foods on the perimeter — that’s usually where the fruits and vegetables are. But a balanced diet is more than simply produce. Here are 5 foods you’ll miss if you avoid the center aisles.

1. Cereal and Oats

We know cereal and oats are packed with whole grains for sustained energy and fiber for gut health, and some are even fortified with iron and B-vitamins. If you become an expert label reader, you’ll be able to choose the cereals that are high in these nutrients and lower in added sugar. These foods are perfect for a hearty breakfast, snack, or as part of a healthy baked good. The options are endless!

2. Healthy Oils

Within the aisles of the grocery store are lots of healthy oils to choose from, such as canola, soybean, sunflower, olive, and avocado oil. Depending on what you’re cooking, it may be helpful to have a few different options on hand. Choose oils rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats as these types of fats have been show to support cardiovascular health.

3. Frozen Fruits and Vegetables

Did you know frozen fruits and vegetables actually have the same nutrient content as fresh? Plus, since they’re frozen, their shelf life is much longer than fresh. Frozen fruits and vegetables can be added to smoothies or cooked with any meal to boost your fiber and micronutrient (vitamins and antioxidants) intake. Supermarket registered dietitian, Stacy Bates, agrees: “Center store and frozen items provide a great nutritional bang for their buck (or sometimes less than a buck!)”.

4. Pasta

The carbohydrates in pasta will give you the energy you need to make it through your day. Options like whole wheat pasta are rich in whole grains and fiber while regular pasta is often enriched with B vitamins, such as folic acid. You can also choose pasta that has been fortified with protein, healthy fats, or veggies. With various types and shapes, pasta is the perfect way to add some variety to your meals.

5. Canned Beans and Fish

Perhaps the most underrated items in the center of the grocery store are the canned beans and fish. These protein-packed options, such as black beans, chickpeas, tuna and salmon, can be added to multiple meals. Leah McGrath, supermarket registered dietitian, adds: “Many center store items don’t have the perishability factor like fresh options. These items can prevent food waste and be helpful for populations with limited income, senior citizens, or those who don’t cook often or have limited meal preparation skills or abilities.” Canned options have a longer shelf life, are packed with nutrients, and are often very affordable. Win-win-win!

While there is usually healthy food along the perimeter, undoubtedly there are as many healthy options within the center aisles of the grocery store. A balanced diet is full of a variety of texture, colors, and types of foods and integrating perimeter and center aisle foods will give you the best of both worlds. As with any new situation, it may take a little time and adjustment to figure out the shopping routine that’s best for you. But with a little research and practice, you can do it.


This blog was written by Alyssa Ardolino, a dietetic intern at the University of Maryland.