How to Shop Healthy When You Have to Shop Wal-Mart

A couple of weeks ago, I watched Forks Over Knives on Hulu while I ran on the treadmill. I know this movie sparked a lot of controversy when it first came out, but I mostly just thought it was interesting. I do think its overall argument — that Americans need to eat more plants and less crap — is a good one.

At one point , one of the women featured in the film talked about never shopping at Wal-Mart. I thought, “Isn’t that special.”

I’m sure it would be nice to shop at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods or Sprouts every week. But for some of us — especially those of us in rural America where Wal-Mart is THE grocery store (and the clothing store, and the hardware, and the craft store…) — not shopping there is pretty much not an option. Here in Fort Morgan, we have a also Safeway and a small local grocery, but neither has better selection than Wal-Mart, and who has time to go to three different stores on a single grocery trip? And some rural folks don’t have even those options. My sister-in-law, for example, drives 45 minutes each way just to get to Wal-Mart.

The good news is that healthy grocery shopping at Wal-Mart is completely possible…and Wal-Mart is getting better and better at carrying healthy foods. So if you’re a Wal-Mart shopper, from choice or necessity, here are some simple tips to help you fill that cart with healthy stuff.

Plan ahead

Shopping at Wal-Mart is stressful. It’s always crowded, and since they cram those aisles together as closely as possible, you’re always either in somebody’s way or waiting for someone to get out of your way. Or both. This means that stopping to casually browse the shelves or even read a label is nearly impossible. Thus, your shopping success hinges on having a detailed list.

Plan your healthy meals for the week, make a list of everything you’ll need to cook them, and refuse to deviate from that list.

(image source)

If while you’re shopping,  you see a new product that you’d like to try, but you can’t read the label without causing 47 people to line up behind you, don’t just toss that product in your cart and hope it’s healthy. Make a mental note (or take a fast picture) and Google it when you get home. Healthy? Put it on the list for next week.

Assume everyone is judging the contents of your cart. 

I’ll admit it: I’m a cart-judger. Should I judge? No, judging is rude. But I do it, and I know I’m not the only one.

Use jerks like me to your advantage. It’s a lot easier to bypass the Doritos if you think everyone who looks in your cart is thinking about what poor eating habits you have. And it’s a lot easier to not eat Doritos if they never make it into your cart and your cupboard.

Shop the perimeter. 

This is a pretty basic healthy-shopping tip, but it’s still a good one. Most of the junk is in the middle of the store. Most of the real food will spoil if it’s thrown in a box on a shelf, so it’s in the refrigerated sections along the side of the store. Stick to that area and deviate only for those nonperishable essentials ON YOUR LIST, like oatmeal, coffee, and canned pumpkin. (Oh, maybe those are just my essentials.)

Pride yourself on being smarter than the marketers. 


Those highly-paid Wal-Mart marketing experts are smart. They know that people like me are telling you to shop the perimeter. So they’re sneaking crap into the perimeter, too. Bananas here? Oh, let’s put some NIlla wafers here, too. Apples? How about some caramel dip?

But you’re no fool, you. You know they’re trying to get you spend your hard-earned money on crap. And you don’t buy crap. Strut past those displays like a boss, and go get you some Nilla-free bananas.

Avoid the checkout line temptations. 

Just when you’re patting yourself on the back for not putting anything unhealthy in your cart, you find yourself stuck in a line of 25 people with the world’s slowest cashier. And next to you, for the 30 minutes you’re in line, is a whole shelf of this:

photo (12)

Stay strong! Indulge your other guilty pleasures instead:

photo (11)
Or pass the time by cart-judging other people. I won’t tell.

Where do you grocery shop?

What are your best healthy shopping tips?

9 thoughts on “How to Shop Healthy When You Have to Shop Wal-Mart”

  1. Oh my goodness. You live in such a different neck of the woods than me. I can drive halfway sometime and give you lots of trader joes’ goodies when it finally (if ever) opens in Boulder! Actually the joke is that Boulder is getting a wal-mart before it gets a TJs. They have been saying for years that one is coming and the construction has begun, but it has been delayed forever.

    When I lived in NJ, I would either drive 30+ minutes to a Trader Joe’s or 10 minutes to a Super Target or 5 min to a small local grocery store. I hated it but I usually wound up at Target so I sympathize with your plot!

  2. Haha, cart judging. Funny you mention that because that’s how I shop. I want to look uber healthy so I don’t buy crazy junk foods… Luckily we have a Publix closer to our house than Wal-Mart, so I am fortunate that I can avoid Wal-Mart as much as possible.

  3. This is a fantastic post. Living healthy doesn’t have to mean living expensively. Also, I am totally a cart judge. It’s horrible of me, but I do it. And I don’t want others to judge my cart, so I keep the crap out of it. I did have 5 bags of candy and 3 pints of Ben and Jerry’s in my cart a couple of weeks ago for my family. I was so embarrassed because that was ALL I had.

  4. This is a wonderful post my dear. My mom lived in Maine and there also aren’t a ton of grocery store options by her except Walmart. While I still think Walmart is evil there are still great deals to be found there and you can totally find healthy foods there. Shopping the perimeter is such a smart idea. And I love the idea of cart judging…..hilarious!

    We are lucky enough to live very close to a Whole Foods, so I do most of my shopping there but I rarely go to Trader Joes (also very close) because I think it’s mostly a bunch of junk food. There have a very limited produce section and a lot of junk in the middle.

  5. Oh my gosh, thank you SO MUCH for admitting to be a cart judger! I am a TOTAL cart judger!! It’s horrible and I try not to, but some people’s carts are just so interesting as to what is and is not in there. Love that tip!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s