You may think you navigate your grocery store based on your own choices and needs. But did you know grocery stores are designed to keep you there as long as possible? Certainly, food is a necessity, but the food industry makes the bulk of its money by convincing consumers to buy things they don’t need. They do this by influencing supermarket routes, sending buyers winding throughout the store and past hundreds of items they never planned to purchase.

There was a time when nutritionists advised health-conscious shoppers to simply stick to the perimeter of the supermarket, as that’s where the less processed staples were kept. However, grocery stores soon caught on to the perimeter-only rule and began stocking those areas with snacks, treats, and pre-packaged dinner options.

So how do you avoid grocery store traps and save time and money while still making healthy choices? Come up with a customized list and grocery store navigation plan and stick to them. Although you’ll have to spend a little bit of time researching how your own grocery store is organized and thinking about the foods you want – and don’t want – to purchase, it will pay off in the long run because you’ll have a straightforward plan every time you step through those sliding doors.

Here are two recommended grocery store routes based on common dietary needs and restrictions.



The Average Healthy Diet

This supermarket navigation plan is for the regular, health-conscious eater. You may not have any strict dietary needs or allergies, but you still want to feed your body with food that nourishes you. Your first stop should be the produce section, usually placed close to the front of the store to draw buyers in.

Depending on your store’s layout, you’ll want to hit the meat and seafood section next, but beware of processed deli meats and items such as battered fish sticks. Dairy is usually kept near the back, which is a strategy to entice buyers to walk past the many tempting items on their way to buy milk. Bread is often kept next to the produce or on the opposite side of the store. Be extra wary in this section as healthy whole-grain options are often displayed right next to cookies and pastries.

If you do need to enter the central aisles, know what you’re going in for ahead of time and don’t let yourself get distracted. Healthy options include beans, whole-wheat pasta, and items required to make your own meals and desserts from scratch.



The Restricted Healthy Diet

Whether you eat gluten-free, sugar-free, vegetarian, vegan, or have any allergies or special dietary needs, having a set grocery store navigation plan is especially important. You may want to check out an organic or natural foods market, which will have items specifically designed for your special diet. However, if that isn’t an option, try finding a grocery store with a natural foods aisle or plenty of alternative options alongside the everyday food items.

Much like those who shop for an average healthy diet, you’ll want to make your way through the primary sections such as produce, meat and seafood and dairy (unless you’re vegetarian or vegan) and bread. If you require gluten-free products, check the bread section, but also see if there’s a special area of the store reserved for gluten-free bread, pasta, condiments and so on.

Probably the most important thing to remember when trying to avoid certain food items is to read ingredient labels closely. Educate yourself on the ingredients you want to avoid and their variants. Again, it takes a bit more time, but once you have a solid shopping list and supermarket navigation plan it will be much easier to avoid the foods you don’t want, while saving both money and time.