The Ultimate Guide to the Grocery Store

We cut through the chaos and tell you what you should buy -- and where you can save your money.

In the Produce Section, Look For


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  • Conventional fruits and vegetables that harbor the fewest pesticide residues (see "Clean 15," below).
  • Organic versions of fruits and vegetables that traditionally have the most pesticide residues (see "Dirty Dozen," below).
  • Produce grown in the U.S.


Generally low in pesticide residues:

1 Onions
2 Corn
3 Pineapples
4 Avocados
5 Asparagus
6 Sweet peas
7 Mangoes
8 Eggplant
9 Domestic cantaloupe
10 Kiwi
11 Cabbage
12 Watermelon
13 Sweet potatoes
14 Grapefruit
15 Mushrooms


Consider buying organic:

1 Apples
2 Celery
3 Strawberries
4 Peaches
5 Spinach
6 Imported nectarines
7 Imported grapes
8 Sweet bell peppers
9 Potatoes
10 Blueberries
11 Lettuce
12 Kale/collard greens


Buy produce in bulk when it's in season or on sale and freeze it. After washing, submerge small amounts of veggies in boiling water for a minute; cool in ice water. Drain, then pack in a freezer container. Wash berries and lay in a single layer on a baking tray and freeze; place in an airtight container.

At the Fish & Seafood Counter, Look For

  • Items from the U.S. (Check the country of origin on the label or tag.)
  • Certain imported fish. Farmed tilapia from Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, or Honduras; cocktail shrimp from the Canadian Atlantic; and haddock from Iceland are all safe alternatives when you can't find U.S. fish. See "Smart Seafood Picks," below, for more.
  • Canned salmon.


These choices tend to be lower in contaminants and have higher levels of healthy omega-3 fatty acids than other fish.

  • Albacore tuna (from the U.S.)
  • Oysters (worldwide)
  • Pacific sardines (from the U.S.)
  • Rainbow trout (from the U.S.)
  • Arctic char (from the U.S., Canada, Norway, and Iceland)
  • Barramundi (from the U.S.; farmed)
  • Dungeness crab (from the U.S. Pacific and Canada)
  • Longfin squid (from the U.S. Atlantic)
  • Mussels (worldwide)

At the Meat & Poultry Counter, Look For

  • Lean meats and poultry (see "What to Buy," below).
  • Beef that's "grass fed."
  • Meat and poultry with "No Antibiotics Added."


Beef Opt for sirloin, eye of round roasts, and tenderloin
Pork Go for tenderloin, loin roasts, and loin or rib chops
Ground beef Choose 90 to 95 percent lean
Ground poultry Get lean (which usually contains less than 10 grams of fat per serving) or extra lean (which has less than 5).

Note: As of January 1, 2012, all fresh meat and poultry that is sold in supermarkets in the United States will have a nutrition label.


When you see that meat and poultry has been labeled as certified organic, it means that the animals were not administered antibiotics and were treated more humanely. Of course, this doesn't guarantee that it's healthier than its conventional counterparts. Organic poultry does offer one clear benefit, though: no arsenic -- approved by the government as a dietary supplement and used in small amounts in commercial chicken feed.

At the Dairy Case, Look For

  • 1 percent or skim milk.
  • Milk that's fortified. No need to go organic here. As long as it's fortified, it doesn't matter whether the milk is organic or conventional. For a bit more money, you can get nutrients beyond vitamin D, including omega-3 fatty acids, beta-carotene, vitamin E, and conjugated linoleic acid (or CLA), a type of fat that may help lower cholesterol levels and boost bone formation.
  • Low-fat and fat-free versions of cheese and yogurt.
  • Eggs with omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Certified organic eggs if your family eats eggs often.


While brown eggs may look more wholesome, they offer no nutritional advantage. Also, don't be swayed by labels like "cage-free," "all-natural," and "farm fresh" -- the terms aren't regulated and therefore don't mean much.

In the Center Aisles, Look For

  • Whole-grain bread and pasta with the word whole coming first in the ingredients list.
  • Canned fruits and vegetables.
  • Foods packed in glass or paper, when possible.
  • Tomato sauces made with little or no added sugar or sodium.
  • Organic ketchup.

In the Frozen Food Section, Look For

  • Fruits and vegetables. Follow the same "clean" and "dirty" lists as you do for fresh. Whenever you buy frozen fruits and veggies, pick ones that contain no added sugar or sauces.
  • Pizzas with a whole-grain crust and veggie toppings.
  • Chicken nuggets and patties with about 10 or fewer grams of fat and less than 500mg of sodium.
  • French fries cooked with healthy oils like canola.
  • Originally published in the August 2011 issue of Parents magazine.
  • All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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