Girls Gone Strong Guide To Grocery Shopping On A Budget

By Amber Thome

At GGS, we believe that a diet that emphasizes nutritious whole foods is an important part of building a healthy lifestyle. While we would love to have unlimited resources to buy only the best foods available, the reality is that most of us have a certain budget for grocery shopping. Not to mention, many of us have limited shopping options depending on where we live and our access to transportation.

woman-groceryshopping-list-cart-450x338You may be wondering, “Geez, do I have to go to a farmer’s market? Is it okay to shop at Walmart?” “What foods should I spend a little extra on? And, how can I make the best choices when I’m trying to save?” Or perhaps you're thinking, “If I’m not buying the organic, non-GMO, sustainable, earth-friendly version, watered with angel tears and fertilized by unicorns, should I even bother?”

We get it. It can feel pretty overwhelming when you’re trying to figure out how to improve your eating habits and keep within a certain budget. “Perfection” and “the best diet” don’t exist. It’s not black and white, right or wrong. Everything you eat falls on a spectrum, and that spectrum has room for every budget.

So, while the goal is to focus on real, unprocessed or minimally processed foods that will give you the greatest nutritional bang for your buck, the most important thing you can do is to do the best you can with the budget and options you have.

Whether you shop at a local or chain grocery store, a Walmart or Target, a Co-Op, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, or a club like Costco or Sams, you'll be able to find reasonably priced foods from the examples listed below. In some cases, you can stretch your dollar by shopping at different stores for different items, or mixing things up and choosing some higher-end items and some conventional/regular items based on what's on sale or what you eat most often.

You may even be surprised to find some higher-end, better quality foods at a better price in a store like Walmart than at your local grocery store.

For example, I live in a rural area with a couple of small grocery stores and a Walmart. I prefer to buy organic bell peppers, zucchini, lettuces, and spinach at my local Walmart because they’re better priced, which leaves a little extra in my budget for other nutritious foods. At Walmart, these foods are purchased more frequently by more shoppers, so there’s higher turnover because they get restocked more often. The result? I get fresher organic produce there (and at the better price!), than I would get at my local grocery store!

See below for categorized suggestions that can serve as a guide on your next trip to the store. We broke it down into three categories: Ideal, Good, and Good Enough. Remember to do the best you can to make fresh, real food a priority in your shopping basket, no matter the category.

The “ideal” options suggested are often organic, locally-grown, or locally-raised foods. We always encourage you to eat as many vegetables and fruit as you can (local, organic, or not) especially if they help you eat less processed, less nutritious foods.

Focus on doing the best you can with the budget and options available to you, regardless of the messages you get from media or the claims on packages and labels.

Instead, make your purchases based on your budget; what’s on sale; what’s in season; your personal, ethical, and environmental considerations; and what the evidence says.

Interestingly, several recent studies have suggested that organic fruits and vegetables are not much more nutritious than conventional/non-organic versions (if at all).1,2,3,4   In addition, while organic produce has become more widely available and affordable in the last few years, it should be noted that “organic” isn’t always environmentally friendly, nor is it always synonymous with “pesticide-free,” because many organic crops do use pesticides, though they’re from an approved list for organic farming.5,6,7  There does seem to be evidence that locally grown, in-season produce may be the most nutritious option because those foods make it from the original source to your plate much quicker than from large scale commercial farms. Foods from commercial farms must be harvested, packaged, and shipped to locations around the world.

Bottom line: This is a tricky topic and there seems to be conflicting evidence. Purchase what makes the most sense for you.



  • Local and/or organic, grass-fed, pastured, or free-range beef, bison, pork, chicken, turkey, etc.
  • Local and/or organic, cage-free, pastured eggs
  • Wild caught fish or seafood


  • Lean cuts of conventionally raised beef, bison, pork, chicken, turkey, etc.
  • Cage-free omega-3 enriched or regular eggs
  • Sustainably raised fish or seafood

Good Enough

  • Conventionally raised chicken, pork, turkey, beef, etc.
  • Regular eggs
  • Minimally processed fresh or frozen fish and seafood


  • Often, conventionally raised animals are given hormones and antibiotics to keep them healthy and/or force their bodies to grow or produce beyond their normal capacity, and these substances may end up stored in their fat. To reduce your exposure to added hormones and antibiotics, look for a leaner cut, or save a few dollars by choosing the the skin-on or fattier cuts, and trim them yourself at home.
  • If available, buy locally raised meats and eggs from a farm or farmer’s market in your area. With a little research, you might find that buying a bulk portion and freezing reduces your overall cost!
  • If you’re purchasing processed meats, such as sausage or bacon, look for uncured versions that do not list nitrates or nitrites, MSG, and added sugars as ingredients.


Fresh or frozen, eat your fruits and vegetables.


  • Local and/or organic fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits such as berries, bell peppers, celery, apples, grapes, and leafy greens


  • Conventional fruits and vegetables, especially those with thick peels

Good Enough

  • Any fresh fruit in place of: dried fruit coated in sugar, frozen fruit blends with added sugar, or cut-up fruit pre-packaged in syrup
  • Any fresh or frozen, minimally-processed vegetable instead of “veggie chips” or “veggie crackers”


  • Purchase organic versions of “delicate” fruits and veggies as often those are the heaviest in pesticides and herbicides. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s lists of the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen.”
  • Fruits and veggies that are “in season” may be more affordable during their time of the year.
  • Pick your own berries (or other fruit accessible in your area) at a local farm and freeze in bulk to use at a later date!



  • Local and/or organic potato varieties, sweet potatoes, yams
  • Organic 100% whole grains, flours, or grain products (rice, oats, corn, quinoa, wheat)


  • Regular potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams
  • Regular 100% whole grains, flours, or grain products (rice, oats, corn, quinoa, wheat)

Good Enough

  • Regular potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams
  • Regular 100% whole grains, flours, or grain products (rice, oats, corn, quinoa, wheat)


  • If you’re purchasing processed or packaged items such as breads, cereals, etc. look for items made with 100% whole grains, that have a short list of ingredients that you can pronounce, and no added sweeteners. Ideally they list more fiber than sugar in the nutrition label.
  • If items last a long time like flours, purchase in bulk if possible.

woman-groceryshopping-oils-450x338Fats and Oils


  • Raw, organic nuts and seeds or nut/seed butters (almond, cashew, sunflower)
  • Grass-fed, organic butter and cheeses
  • Organic oils (olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil)

Good/Good Enough

  • Regular nuts and seeds or nut/seed butters with no added sweeteners or hydrogenated oils
  • Organic butter and cheeses
  • Regular oils


  • Buy nuts and seeds in bulk and store extra in the fridge.
  • Remember that you’ll eat what the animal ate, so try to go for organic butter and cheeses for the same reasons you would for beef—to reduce exposure to hormones and antibiotics.
  • If you’re buying conventional butter and cheeses, consume them occasionally rather than regularly—again, to reduce exposure to hormones and antibiotics.



  • Organic, fair trade, shade-grown, single locale/roast coffee
  • Organic fair trade cocoa or chocolate
  • Local and/or organic herbs and spices (fresh and dried)
  • Organic canned goods with a short list of ingredients you can pronounce and identify, without added sugars
  • Organic, grass-fed yogurt, kefir, and cottage cheese


  • Conventional versions of all of the above
  • Canned goods with a short list of ingredients you can pronounce and identify, without added sugars
  • Organic, plain/unsweetened yogurt, kefir, and cottage cheese ( you can add your own sweeteners, fruit or fats)

Good Enough

  • Regular plain/unsweetened yogurt, kefir and cottage cheese (and you can add your own sweeteners, fruit or fats)


  • Often coffee, chocolate, herbs, and spices are heavily sprayed with pesticides. To reduce exposure, go for organic if it’s something you consume regularly.
  • Grow an indoor or outdoor herb garden and use your own fresh or dried herbs and spices.
  • Canned goods are often packed in water with a lot of additional preservatives and sugars. Take a look at the labels and ingredient lists and look for versions without those ingredients.
  • If you’re purchasing dairy products on the cheap, go for organic versions for the same reasons as listed for meat and butter.

If you find that you currently consume a lot of processed and/or packaged foods and want to start upgrading your eating habits, think of one small change you can make to move along the spectrum toward something a little more nutritious. The Girls Gone Strong community is always here to help, and you can reach out by leaving a comment below.

We hope this article will make your next trip to the store a little easier to navigate. Find out more ways to stretch your dollars in Dr. Cassandra Forsythe's article: 8 Tips to Save Money on Healthy Food!

If you feel like you could use a little more guidance with both, your nutrition and your training program, we're happy to help!

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About the author:  Amber Thome

Amber Leonard-Thome is a coach, curriculum developer, and contributor for GGS. Since 2008, she has held multiple positions in the fitness industry as a personal trainer, wellness and nutrition coach, a university lecturer, and managed a fitness and sports performance facility. Amber holds a M.S. in Kinesiology, a B.S. in Exercise Science, and is an ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist and is Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified.


  1. Dangour AD, Dodhia SK, Hayter A, Allen E, Lock K, Uauy R. Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr September 2009 vol. 90 no. 3 680-685
  2. Smith-Spangler C, Brandeau ML, Hunter GE, Bavinger JC, Pearson M, Eschbach PJ, Sundaram V, Liu H, Schirmer P, Stave C, Olkin I, Bravata DM. Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?: A Systematic Review. Ann Intern Med.2012;157(5):348-366. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-157-5-201209040-00007
  3. Marcin Baranski M, Srednicka-Tober D, Volakakis N, Seal C, Sanderson R, Stewart GB, Benbrook C, Biavati B, Markellou E, Giotis C, Gromadzka-Ostrowska J, Rembiałkowska E, Skwarło-Sonta K, Tahvonen R, Janovska D, Niggli U, Nicot P, Leifert C. Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. British Journal of Nutrition.
  5. McGee JA. Does certified organic farming reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production?. Agriculture and Human Values. June 2015, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 255-263.
  6. Bahlai CA, Xue Y, McCreary CM, Schaafsma AW, Hallett RH. Choosing Organic Pesticides over Synthetic Pesticides May Not Effectively Mitigate Environmental Risk in Soybeans.PLoS ONE, 2010; DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0011250
  7. Organic 101: Allowed and Prohibited Substances. USDA.

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