Shopping healthy at convenience stores

When you are busy and don’t have time to grocery shop, sometimes convenience stores are where your food is purchased, learning how to shop healthy at these locations is important for your health.

We’ve all been there, no time to drive to the grocery store, but you don’t have anything to eat at home. Why not stop at the gas station or dollar store and get some groceries? Sounds like a high fat trap doesn’t it? In reality, the choices are mostly unhealthy, however if you look there usually are items to choose that can be part of a well-balanced meal. Fat and sodium are the two nutrients to be most concerned about limiting – and one or both of these are concentrated in most of convenience store items.

Some stores do sell a basket of fresh fruit by the counter, so look there first. If not, look to see if they have any canned fruit. Fruit is canned in either a heavy syrup, a light syrup, or in its own juices. If you are diabetic, be cautious– as there may be more sugar in fruit canned in heavy syrup than there is in a candy bar.

Food/Serving size

Sugar

1 cup peaches in heavy syrup

49 gm (26 gm from added sugar)

Snickers candy bar, regular size

28 gm

** Taken from the USDA Nutrient database

More and more places sell fresh fruit smoothies, or one that is already prepared – such as Bolthouse Farms®, or Dannon®. These can provide you with vitamin and fiber rich fruit and also calcium rich diary in a convenient package to go. If there is a freezer, they may also sell frozen fruit, which can be eaten plain as a snack or used to make your own smoothie.

It is rare that you would find fresh vegetables for sale at a convenience store, but it’s possible during the harvest season. A fresh fruit & vegetable stand may even pop up at some locations. However, when this luxury is not available – look to the canned or frozen options. With canned vegetables, salt is the main offending nutrient you have to be leery of. Low sodium canned vegetables are readily available at grocery stores, but the likelihood of finding these at a convenience store is slim. You can rinse off the vegetables before you cook them, which will decrease the sodium significantly, but not completely – and are still a much better option than a bag of chips.

Look for “whole wheat” bread or other whole grain items such as whole wheat pasta or brown rice to add to your shopping list. Fifty percent of your grains should be whole, so if white bread, pasta or tortillas are all that is offered, cash in on the remaining 50 percent when you have the chance to go to a grocery store. Often convenience stores sell cereal, so choosing whole grain cereal like shredded wheat, oatmeal squares, cheerios or oatmeal are other good options. They make great snacks, can be eaten dry or with milk, and can be combined with other options like dry fruits and nuts to make your own snack mix.

Peanut butter, canned chicken, tuna or salmon, eggs, deli meat and lean meats like chicken are possible choices you may find at a convenience store that can be part of a healthy diet. These are leaner choices, but most are still high in sodium. Avoid breaded or fried items like chicken tenders, bacon, hot dogs and brats, and many prepared items that you might find like pizza. Nuts are full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and healthy fats, so are still a better option than chips or a hot dog.

It might take a little creativity and effort, but you can make healthy choices by shopping at convenience stores, just don’t make it your main source of groceries. Michigan State University Extension recommends following the MyPlate guidelines, and planning ahead when possible so that your main shopping items come from a store with more options.

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