Healthy meal plans require a healthy grocery shopping list. If you need advice on where to start, we're here to help. Dietitian Mary Dutcher, UnityPoint Health, identifies 10 items you should fill your cart with the next time you’re at the grocery store. (There’s even a bonus item, if 10 isn’t enough for you!)
Chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which you must get from your diet because the human body doesn’t make omega-3s. The fatty acids can help prevent heart disease and stroke. Dutcher says she likes chia seeds because they’re versatile and easy to use; you can sprinkle them on just about any food. Dutcher says the seeds have a healthy fiber that helps you feel satisfied without adding too many calories.
“To be honest, I don’t measure how much chia seed I add. When I put it in yogurt, probably a teaspoon. However, I wouldn’t go over two tablespoons a day,” Dutcher says.
How Dutcher adds chia seeds:
- Baked goods, like banana bread
Quinoa is a grain high in protein, fiber and antioxidants, and it’s gluten-free.
“I love it because it cooks so quickly. You can cook it in 10 minutes. That’s quicker than rice,” Dutcher says.
How Dutcher uses quinoa:
- Cook with chicken, beef or vegetable broth, and serve as a side
- Cook it with water, and use it as a morning cereal with fruit
- Added to green salads
Dutcher says steel-cut oats (also known as Scottish or Irish oats) are a better option than old-fashioned oats for your healthy food list because they’re less processed, so they fill you up better. They are chopped into little tiny pieces, versus rolled out with additional processing. They have a nuttier flavor and aren’t as sticky or mushy as old-fashioned oats. Steel-cut oats also have double the fiber.
“The negative would be that they take a little longer to cook than old fashioned oats. But, I just use my microwave, and they still cook quickly,” Dutcher says.
How Dutcher uses steel-cut oats:
Fruits and vegetables should be part of any healthy eating meal plan. All greens are healthy, but Dutcher adds spinach to the list because she thinks it’s a little more versatile than other products, like kale. She also thinks most people prefer the taste and texture of spinach to kale. Any dark green product, like spinach or kale, is great because it’s rich in phytonutrients, which are believed to help prevent disease and keep your body working properly.
“Spinach is one of the best ways to get iron, if you’re not getting iron from meat. It’s also high in calcium, vitamin C, potassium and magnesium,” Dutcher says.
How Dutcher uses spinach:
- Fresh in a salad
- In vegetable omelets
- Cut up and added to dips
- On a sandwich instead of lettuce
Dutcher says any berry will work (including raspberries, strawberries or blackberries), but blueberries are her favorite. Blueberries are high in antioxidants and phytonutrients. This fruit has what’s called anthocyanins, which makes the berry blue and is thought to help protect the body from disease. Blueberries are also high in fiber with about 4 grams for every cup. Dutcher says frozen blueberries are just as nutritious as fresh.
“Blueberries may have similar impact on urinary health as cranberries, and they may help prevent urinary tract infections,” Dutcher says.
How Dutcher uses berries:
- Added to cereal
- Added to oatmeal
- Added to plain Greek yogurt
WATCH: See Dutcher explain her 10 items in person.
Dutcher says this pre-cooked item is nutritious and convenient as an addition to healthy meals. Beans are high in soluble fiber, which can help control blood cholesterol levels. Beans are also rich in protein and low in fat. She says you can pick whichever bean you prefer. If you’re worried about sodium, make sure to select the low sodium options.
How Dutcher uses beans:
- On top of a salad
- In soup recipes
- Added to pasta dishes
Dutcher says she has V8 juice every day due to its nutritious perks, including high amounts of vitamin A and vitamin C. It also doesn’t have any added sugar, artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. She says it’s an easy way to get more vegetables into your day. You’ll get two servings with an 8-ounce glass and that’s only 50 calories. There are also many different varieties you can try, if the plain V8 juice isn’t for you.
“In the winter, I warm it up in a coffee mug for a little snack sometimes, if I get hungry mid-day. You can even add a little cheese, and it’s like French onion soup,” Dutcher says.
How Dutcher uses V8 juice:
- Heated up, as a snack
- As a chili base
Usually almonds get all the credit, but Dutcher says you should add walnuts to your list of snack foods. She says walnuts are healthier than almonds and have significantly more antioxidants. They are high fiber, a good protein source and have a healthy fat that won’t clog your arteries. Dutcher says walnuts can also help reduce inflammation.
How Dutcher uses walnuts:
- For snacking
- Added to oatmeal
- Added to cereal
- Added to recipes when baking
Dutcher suggests Greek yogurt over regular yogurt because Greek yogurt generally has double the protein (12-17 grams per serving) and half the carbohydrates. Another perk: yogurt has probiotics, which is a beneficial bacteria for boosting the immune system. Greek yogurt is also higher in calcium and B12 than milk. Dutcher says people who are intolerant to dairy products can usually still tolerate Greek yogurt. Plain Greek yogurt is the healthiest option, but Dutcher says to get what you like.
“There’s still a lot of nutrition in a yogurt with flavor. If you aren’t watching your weight, get the regular Greek yogurt, which is generally around 150 calories. It’s a super nutritious choice.
If you’re watching your weight, go for the low calories options,” Dutcher says.
How Dutcher uses yogurt:
- For breakfast with berries
- In place of sour cream or mayo
- As a dip
Eggs are super nutritious and inexpensive. Dutcher says they are highest quality of protein you can buy, and they’re rich in vitamin D for strong bones. She says it doesn’t matter what color of eggs you purchase or whether they are organic or not. It’s completely your preference.
How Dutcher uses eggs:
Bonus: Canned Tuna
If you’re looking for more advice on what to add to your cart, Dutcher suggests considering canned tuna. It’s high-quality protein and omega-3 fatty acids, but low in saturated fats.
“Tuna can replace foods high in saturated fats, which can lower your risk of heart disease,” Dutcher says.
How Dutcher uses canned tuna:
- On a salad
- Tuna salad sandwich (light yogurt/light mayo, pickles, celery, water chestnuts, chopped carrots and onion)
- Added to casseroles (like tuna noodle casserole)
- Tuna pouches for lunch
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