Habits of Healthy Eaters: Shop the Perimeter

By , SparkPeople Blogger
You want to eat better, right? That's why I'm sharing my easy and often budget-friendly tips on how to eat healthfully. This is the first blog post in the series.

Did you know that the path you follow in the grocery store could help you eat right and avoid weight gain?

It's true.

Take a look at your shopping list:

  • Skim milk
  • Orange juice
  • Whole-wheat bread
  • Spinach
  • Chocolate ice cream
  • Apples
  • Yogurt
  • Potato chips
  • Eggs
  • Chicken breasts
  • Onions
  • Brownie mix
  • Oatmeal
  • Raisins

Now think about where those items are located in your supermarket. Are they along the edges of the store, or are they deep in the labyrinthine aisles?

Chances are, the unhealthier foods on your list are in the middle aisles, which are filled with tempting processed and packaged foods. The healthy, whole foods are usually located around the perimeter of the store.

Stick to the edges of the store, and stick to your healthy eating plan.

Dairy, bread, produce and meats/seafood are usually located along the outside of the store. Load up on those healthy staples, bypass the middle aisles and you'll rarely be faced with the temptation of 16 varieties of potato chips and a dozen kinds of cake mixes.

Here are some tips to help:

  • Organize your list. When I go grocery shopping, I construct my shopping list like a road map, a tactic I learned from my brilliant bargain-shopping mother. You list all similar ingredients together to minimize your risk of forgetting an item. If you frequent the same grocery store, this tactic is even easier, as you know the layout of the store. Put all your vegetables and fruit in one column, write all the meat and seafood items in another, and group the dairy together.

  • Know the aisles, read the signs, or ask for help. How often do you push your cart up and down each aisle until you find the item you need? Instead of going up and down each aisle, look at the signs in each one. If you need frozen broccoli, don’t venture down the ice cream aisle. Head straight for the frozen vegetables aisle. If you don't know where to go, ask for help.

  • Head straight to the checkouts. Do you like to wander the aisles after you're finished shopping? The long walk to the checkout line is the last chance for temptation at the grocery store. You’ve stuck to your healthy list thus far, and you only have one final leg of your journey. Don't pass through the soda aisle "just to see if there's something new," and fight the desire to see whether chips are on sale.

    Touring only a portion of the grocery store on each visit might make you feel like you're forgetting something, but after a few trips, you'll consider those middle aisles--and all their tempting junk food--a no man's land!

    Do you avoid the middle aisles of the grocery store? Will you now? How do you resist temptations at the grocery store?

  • Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
      You will earn 5 SparkPoints


    YMWONG22 9/24/2020
    Great. Report
    Great tips, thanks Report
    Thanks for the tip! Report
    I wouldn't say I "avoid" the middle aisles, but I don't usually go down them because I don't need anything in them. Report
    It also depends on which grocery store you go to. I tend to shop at No Frills, so I don't have the deli counter, the bakery, the tank with lobster, the prepared salads and bagged salads etc etc. I shop the perimeter, except for the toiletries aisle and the seasonings/condiments. All the food there is whole food, and the PC brand is usually a healthy choice for some of those frozen items. Additionally, because it is a No Frills, I am able to cut the grocery budget considerably. The same food in the same quantity at a premium store would cost 3 times as much. Report
    That's a good tip. Now that I think about it, the store I shop at every week is very much laid out with all the good stuff at the perimeter...although the peanut butter, beans,and oats are usually in the middle. I know at my store, even the gluten free is at the perimeter. Report
    I do for the most part, but our store is so oddly organized it makes it harder than normal...they seriously have the bread and cookies/chips on the same isle...crazyy... Report
    I usually shop the perimeters first at my store. This way I get all my fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and dairy products first. Then I just go down the aisles that I know have the things I buy the most like sugar, oatmeal pasta, rice, beans, etc. I tend to avoid the frozen food section completely! Report
    I had read about shopping the perimeter before and I try to do this for the majority of my shopping. Great blog! Report
    I love my Peppers Market. Outside, a trailor full of iced fresh corn, fruit in the foyer, fruit and veggies just inside the door and one isle down the middle. Good meat counter and dairy and you are out of the store. Veeeeeery few items for snacking and munchin...Great Store... Report
    This is so true & I've heard & follow this kind of thing. When with a friend, I just follow her all over the store for the excersize of it: keep my feet moving. We keep our focus on the things that is according to our healthy lifestyle. Report
    I walk the store for exercise and try to stick with buying what I went to the store to purchase Report
    I think we should be adult enough to say no to ourselfs. Don't need that and neither does my kids.. What if you run into a shop you don't know sells chocolate go bananas there instead.. I say to myself the body or the food- whats the choice?
    Terror tactics like do I want to suppose child labour purchasing cheap chocolate or local farmers selling decent food so they keep selling it cheap.. Report
    I shop the same market EVERY week...I know where everything is (practically) in the store. And, this blog is correct that MOST of those items I shop for (veggies, dairy, breads, meat) are in the outer bondaries of the market. When I do "venture in" to the middle aisles...I know exactly what I am going for (brown rice, natural peanut butter, beans, etc.) and, do not allow myself to be distracted by the other items there!! This is a good blog--gets folks thinking!! Report
    This was actually the tip I submitted to Health magazine as a "unique/interesting" healthy lifestyle tip that they asked Spark users to submit back in the summer, and it's going to be published in their December issue! I am much better now about going to the store with a list and I do only go down the aisles I need to. Report
    I tried this on my last trip to the grocery store. I'm so proud of myself. I bought only good, healthy foods. I went with a friend. There was no way you could mix up our grocery bags. Mine looked like Nature's Bounty and hers looked like a little kid went shopping! Thanks SparkPeople! Report
    I had heard this before and totally agree. All the fresh stuff is on the perimeter and always check out the organic section sometimes their prices aren't too awefully high. I also check out the frozen vege section skipping the ice cream aisle completely!! hahaha. Report
    I never really thought about it, but now that I do, I don't hit the middle aisles much anymore either. Just for things like rice and canned veggies, but I only get what I am after. Good tips. Report
    We organize our grocery lists by aisle and we don't go down any aisles which don't have things we need. I tracked our grocery expenses in a budget tool and it knocked almost $600 off the grocery budget in three months' time. All of our stuff comes from the outer aisles; we never shop on the inside ones. Report
    People have laughed at me for being so organized that I had a list of commonly bought grocery store items and what aisle they were in...then, I would make my weekly list to show the aisle and items. But, it really does help keep you from temptations to pick up extra things, AND it saves time, too, since you know exactly where you are going to get what you need! Report
    PS - I don't know about other Wally-worlds, but the one in the town near here often sells produce from this region and I think that is great.

    I've lived where they had farm markets and that was wonderful! But not having them out here, I do love the way Wally-world puts the fresh and healthy food right up front.

    If you want chips, pop and other junk, those two aisles are at the very back of the store. At least this one is set up perfectly! Report
    For all that we complain about Wally-world, the Super Wally-worlds have beautiful, overflowing cases and tables of fresh fruits and vegetables right up front, behind the cash registers.

    They also have a roast chicken cart right there too - roast chicken, just peel off the skin when you get it home and that's a nice and healthy treat once in a while!

    This area is rather remote, so the closest farm market is many miles away. It's rough to grow your own food in the rocky, hard ground where water is prized like oil. I have to give Wally-world a hands up for their fruits and veggie section with their low prices and such a beautiful display right at the front of the store! Report
    I never realized this... thanks for the info....I LOVE Sparkpeople! Report
    Not long ago one of my Grandson's came to live with me for a few months to give his Mother a break. He wasn't with me very long, and i decided we needed to go to the supermarket. His mother never eats anything but junk junk sweets and more junk. I had 5 children all little stair steps in age, and took them all shopping at the same time, not that i remember this experience much. Seems i have blocked it from my mind :) As we proceeded down the isles he started getting excited, and pointing to all the familar things he recognized. Saying one please.. one please! Cookies..cakes..pies..candy..chrisp
    y squares..chicken nuggets.. french fries.. even picked his favorite high sugar cereal out of a half isle of cereal boxes in about 2 seconds. Amazing! I continued down the rows... in amusement. Now i know all the things my youngest daughter puts into her cart! This little guy is only a year and a half old... so this goes to show us... we learn food buying and eating habbits at a very young age. So let us all remember when we are shopping often someone is watching our behavior and learning. Even if it is someone elses toddler :) A real eye opener. He soon got over his disapointment that none of these things went into the cart. Now he has learned to point and pick out better things, and get excited about apples and little trees (broccoli) hahaha... all from those outer isles. And where oh where, did my daughter learn this habbit from? hmm..... that old saying comes to mind... The Apple Doesn't Fall Far from the Treeeeeeee! Report
    I don't stay away from the middle of the store. Although the perimeter is definitely the main place I shop. I gotta hit the middle though for cans of beans, cereal, chips, condiments, and essentials like toilet paper, paper towels, dish soap and laundry soap! Report
    I really thank sparkspeople for all of the helpful tips. I love going up and down the ailes as if I'm shopping for a new outfit in the grocery store. Thank sparks for helping me to learn how to live and live to learn. Report
    Unfortunetely the stores are on this idea and are re-arranging. My grocery just went thru a remodel and now has the snacks on the back aisle and the freezer cases in the middle. A good list arranged by aisle, or at least type of item, definetely helps.

    I have a palm pilot that has a shopping program. I put my list in there and it will sort the items by category. You can put in the aisle number and it will sort by that too. Very handy and saves paper! Report
    Good point for the major stores in the bigger towns around mine, but wouldn't work at my local store. 1/2 of the back wall is ice cream, frozen desserts & cookies, and the cookies continue around to the side. Then in the front (except where the registers are) is candy & seasonal stuff (which usually means more candy) and the bakery section. I think there the best idea is to stick to the middle of the store! LOL. Report
    This is exactly what I do! The list is really the key. Stick to the list and you'll be fine. If I don't see the tempted food, then I don't think about it and I won't buy it. It really works! Report
    I am definitely a peripheral shopper. I only go to the inside aisles when I have to find a certain item on the list so I never go through aisles for soft drinks and chips etc. That saves me a lot of time and money and we have less chance to accumulate junk food in our house. Report
    I've always grouped my list by categories; i.e., produce, dairy, etc. This is my shopping strategy: I load up all my tote bags (in the summer, I stash a large cooler in the trunk; we live in Florida). First stop is the produce lady's roadside stand;l she has just about everything I need, usually. Next is Super WalMart for soy meat substitutes, detergents, pet food. Last stop is a produce store on the way home for whatever the produce lady DIDN'T have. I love Publix, but I try to avoid it because their perimeter starts with a tempting disply of baked goods when you first walk in, then if you go around the perimenter it;s the bakery and the deli with some very expensive and very fatterning items. I feel that my shopping dollar goes a lot further this way, and I stay out of the brownie mix aisle. The only cereal I eat is old-fashioned oats. I buy a huge container, it lasts a long time, and then I buy more--organic, if possible. Also, in the midst of all my shopping, I stop at a decent restaurant and have a nice, healthy lunch. My new fave is TGIF; they have "endless lunch" for $6.99. Soup, salad, iced tea, and 2 lovely garlic knots. (Best to eat just one and take the other home to your hubby,) It's only when I feel deprived that I go overboard with food, so I make it a point to treat myself. Report
    I'm doing much better at this than I used to. Report
    I find this to be somewhat true. One thing that DOES help me a lot is to make sure I take a list with me that groups similar foods together. Also, before I go down an aisle, I read the signs above the aisle - I only go down the aisle if I need something from that aisle. I also plan to do my shopping when I am not rushed - that way I have time to actually read the labels.
    Great suggestion about carrying a bottle of water with you - I will try that to stave off temptations!
    Also - if you can't find something - ASK! I think that at the store where I shop, it is a requirement to have the aisles memorized lol :)....every time I ask a clerk where something is, they always (correctly) give me the specific aisle! Report
    I'm going to a diet center. They gave me a fat calculator wheel to calculate the percentage of fat calories in a packaged or canned item. It was hard finding items with less than 20% fat calories the first three times I went to the supermarket. I have to keep net carbs (total minus fiber) under 10 grams per serving on packaged and canned items. Also I have to eat whole grains and avoid enriched or bleached flour That meant I was reading the labels of everything before I put it in my cart the first three times I went to the supermarket. Once I found the brands and types of foods on my diet I can shop the center isles with confidence.

    Substitution is key. You can have pasta just choose whole grain. You can have dairy just substitute Face Greek style yogurt (0%fat) President crumbled Feta (0%fat) and Plain Kefer. You can have a wrap just substitute Mission Whole Wheat Carb Balance Burrito size. You can have a sandwich with two slices just substitute Healthy Life whole wheat. Report
    I've been very organized for years when it comes to my grocery list. We make a menu for a week (we've even done as many as 3 weeks which saves money) and compile our list from that and go shopping. Yesterday, I tried organizing my list in regards to the specific store isles and then mainly shop the perimeter. I wasn't as handy as I've been in the past and I did end up going back to a couple of isles for items, but I'm willing to give it another shot. I think once I get used to it, it's a great idea and will ultimately save me time. Report
    Definitely a great plan to shop the perimeter, FYI post #72 has it right. I work in a grocery store, and it is definitely planned to put "impulse" items around the perimeter, because people do most of their shopping anyway in these areas. I plan my meals just before I go shopping, stick to the list, with maybe a COUPLE extras added. I find planning helps me save $ since I buy just what I need for the week, plus I actually HAVE to follow my meal plan since I don't have the extra stuff in the house. But yeah, the perimeter has pretty much everything you need, just be carefull of the ends of the aisles and of displays. They are strategically put there. Report
    I actually went grocery shopping today, and I am happy to say that I did not venture into the middle aisles. When I looked at my basket of food that I just purchased, it held only healthy food, (I shop at a bring your own bag store).

    A shopping list is my most powerful tool for resisting temptations at the grocery store. Report
    This is such a simple, yet brilliant point!! Even the prepackaged "organic" "natural" or "healt" foods tend to be in one of the ouside aisles! Thanks for pointing this out :) Report
    I use a list when I shop. The outside asiles are where most of what I eat is. Althugh my DH will not stick to the list and buys in the snack asiles and some processed foods. If He would let me shop by myself it would be a whole lot easier. Report
    This is a strategy I've used for awhile! Plan meals (trying to incorporate what I already have on hand and sale items), make a list (and stick to it), then to the store. Produce, meat (I steer away from the bakery and put on my imaginary blinders as I pass the confections), dairy & frozen. I only go down the aisles for what I have planned-- cereal, juices, oils, and a few things I buy for my hubby. I only see chips and snacks if I have to take them somewhere or if I am out of popcorn kernels (that I pop in the microwave). Skipping the aisles is more than just healthy shopping. It saves money on impulse items (more for fresh foods) and only making a lap around the outside saves time. I have found that those items bought on impulse mindlessly find their way into snacks as the week wears on! Report
    I always make a list, and have it organized to the store ( also learned from my mom). I don't stick to the outer edges however as I figure Its a good place to walk extra so I weave in and out the rows, and mostly stick to my list. I get my healthy good food and other supplies that I may need with my extra exercise. I like shopping at Fred Meyer or Walmart because its bigger and has everything I may ever need. Fortunately I don't get tempted to buy "junk" foods often. Report
    I shop the outer edge of the store,, but to get to the oil you have to go into the isle where it's at. Like one said grocery stores do put those unwanted items out around the side I usually do okay, but sometimes i give in but in moderation I will eat it. My husband will eat it, too. Report
    I think my tiny nyc borough grossery store FIGURED THIS OUT 0.0 Tiny Key Food revamped their store & wouldnt ya know it--the SNACK STUFF is now located on the outer perimeter! They also went higher but that's another story ;) The nice thing--we do now have a decent section of organics.

    Lesson: Supermarkets do read lol Report
    I usually shop the perimeter because I've stopped buying things in the aisles. The only time I venture into the middle is to get things like olive oil, salad dressing and other condiments and spices. I mentioned the perimeter idea to my friend the other day and he was so surprised to realize it's true after he thought about it for a while. Report
    I never thought about this! What a great day--i looked at shopping from a completely new perspective! Report
    I sometime make a list and I end up roaming around the store picking up things I don't need. When I walk down the aisle I then be looking for things I really don't need and some time I buy it and feel bad after wards. I love drinking pesi and eating ice cream. So now I buy the ice with no sugar and I don't buy the soda at all.

    the store is set up with produce and meat on the outer isles so the stock can be taken out of the refrigeration in the back area and it is easier for the store workers to handle it. Report
    I always try to make a list when i go shopping, but i get so tempted to wonder into the isles when i try to stick to the "healthy" stuff. It's a great point to stick to the outside though, i'll have to keep that in mind from now on. GREAT POINT! Report