Tips for Buying Less Junk Food

by Jessica Sommerfield · 0 comments

Junk food is one of the most unrealized perils of grocery shopping trips. In the last few decades, we’ve seen an explosion of newly available brands, products, and varieties of nutritionally-deficit food in the grocery store aisles.  Some might think of this as a luxury of the developed world — access to and affordability of food that isn’t essential. While it’s nice to know you can afford to spend money on snacks and treats, it can quickly develop into a habit that negatively affects your health and grocery budget.

I can’t say I don’t ever buy junk food. There are certain ‘unnecessary’ food items I enjoy as a treat on occasion. But I’ve learned that not only do unnecessary foods create a deficit in my nutrition (and a surplus on my waistline), they are a waste of money. And just how do you avoid all those tasty treats and impulse buys when marketers and retailers present them so appealingly for you? Plenty of willpower, and the following tips.

Don’t shop hungry! The best possible advice for avoiding impulsive junk food purchases is to shop on a full stomach. We’re all more susceptible to high-fat and high-calorie foods the hungrier we are — it’s just part of human nature. If you have to shop right after work, make sure you eat a quick healthy snack so you’re better prepared to fight the temptation of the ice cream aisle.

Shop with cash.  Shopping with cash is a proven psychological trick for spending less on junk food items (and any items, for that matter). When you pay with cash, your mind registers the transfer of money more concretely than when you use your debit or credit card. You will ‘feel the pain’ of spending $100 on groceries more acutely when you have to hand over a fresh, crisp bill. This reality check with what you’re spending, in turn, helps keep those impulse items out of your cart. You won’t feel guilty for spending money on food you need; you may feel guilty for spending money on junk food.

Shop with a list (and stick to it). Never underestimate the importance of a list. Like using cash, it’s another visual reminder to you of what you’re there for — essential food items. It should consist of sale items you may want to stock up on while they’re the right price, items you have good coupons for, and food items you plan to incorporate into your weekly or monthly meal planning. Even if you end up forgetting a few items you didn’t write down, it’s almost better to make a return trip for just those items than trying to shop by memory and overspending on items you didn’t need.

Shop the periphery.  It’s often said that the healthiest, most essential food items are  placed on the outskirts of the grocery store, and that’s true. Most produce and bread departments are located near the front, while dairy and meat tend to be placed along the outer walls. Shop this periphery for your essentials and venture with caution into the aisles for the processed food items on your list (staples such as rice and pasta, canned or frozen vegetables, cooking oil,etc.). The further into the aisles you wander, the more processed and junk foods you’ll encounter and be tempted to buy.

Avoid impulse buys at the register.  Junk food is placed strategically by the registers to tempt you as you wait in line. As hard as it is, resist the temptation to add anything to your cart after you’ve selected a line. Do whatever it takes — flip through a magazine, play on your smartphone, anything that keeps you distracted from throwing impulse purchases into your cart. If you have kids, this part of the store is often the worst trial, because they’ll start asking you for treats — “It’s only $.96, mom.”  These small items may not seem like much, but by the time you’ve purchased treats or drinks for everyone, you may end up spending as much as $10-$15 more than you intended to!

These are just a few ways you can save yourself money and improve your family’s health by keeping junk food out of your shopping cart. Do you have any other tips for avoiding the junk food trap?

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