Cooking 101 (Week 4) Quick and Easy Menus, Recipes and Tips for Singles and Couples: Grocery Shopping Made Easy

(FN1559, Reviewed June 2020)

Shopping for healthful foods doesn’t have to put a dent in your budget, and it doesn’t have to be hard. Learn what product labels mean and some tips to make your grocery shopping easier.

Lead Author
Lead Author:
Kayla Bahtiraj, Student Dietitian, NDSU Nutrition Education in the Community (class)
Other Authors

Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

Web only
Publication Sections

Shopping Tips

  • Make a weekly menu plan. This will help balance your diet and aid in making a grocery list.
  • Make a grocery list and organize it according to the store layout. This will save you time and help you stick to your budget.
  • Aim to try a new fruit or vegetable each week.
  • Eat before you shop. Going grocery shopping while hungry can promote impulse purchases that are not always the best for your health or budget.
  • First, shop the perimeter of the grocery store, where fresh foods such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat and fish usually are located. Limit your time in the center aisles, where more convenience foods are found.
  • Look up and down the store shelves. Remember that the middle shelf often has higher-priced products.
  • Try the store/generic brands. They can be just as good as a brand name, but they may be lower in price.
  • Consider purchasing larger amounts of food, such as meat. Meat can be divided into recipe-sized portions and frozen for use later.
  • Buy fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season. They will be of higher quality and usually lower price.
  • Be aware of store specials, and use coupons for foods you will use. Many stores have fliers in the store and coupons online.
  • Watch the store’s checkout monitor to make sure you are being charged the correct price. Or check your receipt before leaving the store.

Pop Quiz: What do you know already?

1. True or False? Going to the grocery store while hungry can lead to impulse purchases.

2. “Fat free” on a food product means how much fat is in that product?

a. Zero
b. Less than 0.5 gram
c. 1 gram or less
d. 5 grams or less

3. True or False? The serving size on a product’s nutrition label indicates how much food is in the entire package.

4. How are the ingredients listed on a food product’s nutrition label?

a. Alphabetical order
b. Least amount to greatest amount by weight
c. Greatest amount to least amount by weight
d. Longest word to the shortest

Answers: 1. True 2. b 3. False 4. c

Selecting Fruits and Vegetables

Select firm, crisp, bright-colored vegetables that are heavy for their size. Look for firm, bright/appropriately colored fruits. Avoid fruits and vegetables with bruises, cuts or other blemishes.

When fresh foods aren’t available, try frozen, canned or dried fruits and vegetables. Choose canned fruits in water or juice, not heavy syrup. Compare the sodium content in canned vegetables, and pick the lowest per serving.

What Does “Free” or “Low” Mean on a Product?

Some foods are labeled “fat-free” or “low-sodium.” However, fat-free doesn’t necessarily mean the product contains no fat. The “fat-free” label designation means the food has 0.5 gram of fat or less per serving. A low-sodium food has 140 milligrams or less of sodium per serving.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strictly defines the claims that manufacturers use, but these claims can be misleading to consumers when they do not know the full definitions. To learn more about nutrient content claims, visit www.fda.gov or use the following general guidelines to help you when shopping:

  • “Free” means a food has a trivial amount of the specified nutrient.
  • “Very Low” and “Low” means the food has a little more of that component than what is found in foods labeled “Free.”
  • “Reduced” or “Less” means the food has 25% less of a specific nutrient than the regular version of the food (based on a 100-gram portion).

Know Your Nutrition Facts

Figure 1

Nutrition facts panels are found on food packaging and tell us what nutrients are in a food product. They are great tools to help us make more healthful choices.

1. Look at the serving size and number of servings in the package. Tip: Ask yourself, “How many servings am I eating?”

2. Look at the number of calories in one serving. The rest of the information on the label is based on one serving.

3. Compare the amount of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium to the total amount recommended (see information at the bottom of label or % Daily Value). Try to minimize trans fat in your diet. Eating too much of these may increase your risk of developing chronic diseases. Eating too much saturated fat and/or trans fat, for example, may increase your risk of heart disease.

4. Check the amounts of dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin D, calcium and iron. Getting enough of these nutrients in your diet may lower your chances of developing some diseases/conditions. For instance, getting enough calcium may help lower your risk of developing osteoporosis, a condition of weakened, fragile bones.

5. Check out the % Daily Value. Food labels list percentages of the recommended daily intakes of several nutrients. The numbers are based on a 2,000-calorie diet and are used for adults who are age 18 or older. If you consume more or less than 2,000 calories per day, you still can use % Daily Values as a reference.

Use this reference guide for evaluating a product’s % Daily Value:

“Low” = 5% or less of the daily value

“High” = 20% or more of the daily value

The Ingredient List

Ingredients are listed from the items present in the greatest amount to the least amount by weight. By looking at the ingredients, you can get a general idea of the healthfulness of a product.

The nutrient label and ingredient list can be used to compare products to choose the one that best suits your needs.

  • Whole-wheat tortilla with hard-cooked egg, ham and low-fat cheese
  • Banana
  • Fat-free milk
  • Three Bean Pasta Salad*
  • Orange
  • Grapes
  • Fat-free milk
  • Low-fat or fat-free yogurt
  • Peach
  • Whole-wheat English muffin with peanut butter
  • Apple
  • Fat-free milk
  • Canned soup
  • Whole-wheat crackers
  • Salad (greens, carrots, tomatoes, hard-cooked egg, salad dressing)
  • Fat-free milk
  • Whole-wheat grilled cheese and ham sandwich
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Fat-free milk
  • Popcorn
  • Orange
  • Low-fat or fat-free yogurt
  • Granola
  • 1/2 cup strawberries
  • Fat-free milk
  • Whole-wheat tortilla with turkey, cheese and lettuce
  • Carrots
  • Fat-free milk
  • Stir-fry chicken, brown rice, mixed vegetables and almonds
  • Fat-free milk
  • Whole-wheat crackers
  • Orange
  • Oatmeal
  • Banana
  • Fat-free milk
  • Pasta with Garden Vegetables*
  • Whole-wheat tortilla with ham and cheese
  • Fat-free milk
  • Tacos with Monday's Sloppy Joes* mix, lettuce and cheese
  • Fat-free milk
  • Almonds
  • Apple
  • Whole-wheat English muffin topped with melted low-fat cheese, sliced tomato and a hard-cooked egg
  • Fat-free milk
  • Baked potato
  • Chili beans
  • Tossed salad
  • Fat-free milk
  • Pretzels
  • Grapes
  • Cold cereal
  • Apple
  • Fat-free milk
  • Whole-wheat turkey sandwich with lettuce and cheese
  • Grapes
  • Fat-free milk
  • Berry Chicken Salad*
  • Peach
  • Fat-free milk
  • Popcorn
  • Whole-wheat crackers
  • Oatmeal
  • Peach
  • Fat-free milk
  • Toasted whole-wheat English muffin with tuna, cheese and tomato
  • Carrots
  • Fat-free milk
  • Whole-wheat tortillas with Saturday's Berry Chicken Salad
  • Mixed vegetables
  • Fat-free milk
  • Almonds
  • Pretzels

Grocery List


  • 1 package whole-wheat tortillas
  • 16 ounces dried penne pasta or any other type pasta
  • 1 loaf whole-wheat bread
  • 1 bag of 6 whole-wheat English muffins
  • 1 box whole-wheat crackers
  • 6 whole-wheat buns
  • 1 small bag granola
  • Reduced-calorie microwave popcorn
  • 1 small bag plain brown rice
  • Small container quick oatmeal
  • 1 box cold cereal of choice

Vegetables (fresh or frozen)

  • 1 large onion
  • 16 ounces grape tomatoes
  • 2 Roma tomatoes
  • 1 sweet yellow pepper
  • 1 package mixed salad greens
  • 1 package spinach
  • 1 bunch celery
  • 1 bag baby carrots
  • 1 Russet potato
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 2 bags frozen mixed vegetables (corn, peas, carrots or your choice)


  • 3 bananas
  • 3 oranges
  • 3 peaches or other seasonal fruit
  • 3 apples
  • 1 pound grapes
  • 1 pint fresh strawberries (or use frozen)


  • 1 gallon (or more) fat-free milk
  • 2 6-ounce containers nonfat yogurt
  • Low-fat shredded cheese
  • Low-fat cheese slices

Meat/Other Protein Foods

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 8 ounces deli ham
  • 8 ounces deli turkey
  • 1 jar peanut butter
  • 1 small bag almonds

Canned goods, etc.

  • 1 (15-ounce) can three-bean salad
  • 1 (6-ounce) bottle chili sauce
  • Dried dill weed (spice)
  • Small bottle Catalina or French salad dressing
  • 1 (15.5-ounce) can reduced-sodium soup of choice
  • 1 (15.5-ounce) can chili beans
  • 1 (5-ounce) can tuna (packed in water)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Bag of pretzels

 Read through the recipes and check your supplies to see what and how much you need. Adjust the list based on your supplies and preferences.

 To save money, compare unit prices (price per ounce) on the store shelving.


Key to Abbreviations

tsp. = teaspoon
Tbsp. = tablespoon
c. = cup
oz. = ounces
pkg. = package
g = grams
mg = milligrams
lb. = pound

Slow Cooker Sloppy Joes

1 lb. lean ground beef
½ onion, finely chopped
¼ c. water
1 (6-oz.) bottle chili sauce or ketchup
Sandwich buns or tortilla chips
Salt and pepper to taste

In a skillet, cook ground beef until brown and crumbly. Drain thoroughly and place in slow cooker. Add water, onion and chili sauce; mix well. Cook on low for four to six hours, until onions are tender. Serve on buns or with tortilla chips.

Makes five servings. Per serving: 150 calories, 3.5 g fat, 1 g protein, 11 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber, 60 mg sodium

Three-bean Pasta Salad

1 (15-oz.) can three-bean salad, chilled
8 oz. whole-grain pasta
2 c. grape tomatoes
1 tsp. dried dill weed

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain. Rinse with cold water and place in a medium-sized bowl. Add undrained three-bean salad, tomatoes and dill. Mix gently, cover and chill.

Makes six servings. Per serving: 110 calories, 0 g fat, 5 g protein, 25 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 280 mg sodium

Pasta With Garden Vegetables

8 oz. dried penne pasta or other type pasta (whole-wheat)
¼ c. extra virgin olive oil
¼ c. shaved or crumbled cheese
½ c. chopped fresh or canned diced tomatoes
½ c. chopped yellow sweet pepper
½ c. chopped spinach

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta and return to pan. Add oil; stir in cheese, tomatoes, sweet pepper and spinach. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Makes four servings. Per serving: 370 calories, 17 g fat, 9 g protein, 44 g carbohydrate, 6 g fiber, 90 mg sodium

Berry Chicken Salad

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
1 c. Catalina or French salad dressing
1 (10-oz.) package mixed salad greens or spinach
2 c. sliced strawberries

In a large skillet, simmer chicken in ¼ cup of salad dressing over medium-low heat until chicken is cooked thoroughly (165 F). Toss greens, strawberries and chicken in a large bowl with remaining dressing. Serve.

Makes six servings. Per serving: 250 calories, 9 g fat, 25 g protein, 18 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 75 mg sodium

For more information, visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/food.  

For more information on this and other topics, see www.ndsu.edu/extension.