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Tips for Easy Healthier Eating: Shop the Perimeter

Posted on: June 4th, 2014 by April Hamilton

“Stay out of the middle of the supermarket, shop the perimeter of the store.
Michael Pollan, Food Rules: An Eaters Manual

This sensible strategy is a great way to navigate the grocery store.  First of all, it’s much quicker than weaving up and down every crowded aisle. More importantly, though, the perimeter is where you’ll find the real food.

Start with produce.  Load up on fragrant citrus, the naturally delicious way to get lots of Vitamin C.  I skip the individual lemons, limes and oranges and buy them by the bag so I always have plenty. (You can squeeze fresh citrus juice into water for a refreshing thirst quencher, spritz it over grilled chicken or fish for an instant, all-natural sauce. Zest your citrus for a double dose of tangy flavor.)

perimeter of supermarket

Keep strolling, grab some greens, crisp celery, crunchy carrots, fresh herbs.  Hmmm what’s for dinner?  The broccoli looks beautiful!  Steamed?  Roasted?  Stir-fried?  I’ll get two bunches.  Onions?  Garlic?  Check.

Head over to the fresh meat section and pick up a whole chicken (or two) to roast or grill and have extras for tasty leftovers.  If you need a quicker fix, boneless chicken breasts can be trimmed into cutlets for a very easy weeknight meal.

Now on to dairy for some milk, Greek yogurt, a wedge of cheese, some real butter.  Yes, real butter—a little bit for most diets is OK. While shopping , keep in mind Pollan’s Food Rules #6,7 and 8:

  • Avoid food products that contain more than five ingredients
  • Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce
  • Avoid food products that make health claims.

I always get some eggs too.  They are so versatile. An elegant omelet for an effortless mid-week dinner, hard-boiled for a quick snack.  Add a breakfast burrito to your morning routine.


Here we go, home stretch! My cart is adequately stocked with good fresh food.  That was easy!

It is equally easy to be misguided at the supermarket, however, to lose focus.  As we strive to eat more nutritious foods, the grocery marketing gurus are making every attempt to slip us up. They have invaded the perimeter.

At a recent visit to my supermarket, I casually started counting the junk food displays in the store’s perimeter.  A dozen cleverly arranged pyramids of soda pop.  Boxes and boxes of sugary cereal.  Mountains of chips at every turn, out here in the “safety zone”. Not to mention the quantities of candies and cookies.

If you find yourself in this spot, fret not: stick to your list and stick to the rules…even rule #64, the final rule, which is ‘Break the rules once in a while.’


Need something for dinner tonight? Here are two delicious and easy recipes to try-Lightning Fast Lemon Pepper Chicken and Roasted Broccoli– courtesy of the perimeter of the store!



April Hamilton    food columnist        (dorst photo)April Hamilton grew up spending more time in the kitchen than out. As an adult, her passion has led her to share her appreciation of the creation of good food with others, particularly in Charleston, West Virginia where she lives and teaches cooking classes for children and adults. In 2010, she worked with the Connecticut firm Sustainable Food Systems to attempt to revamp the school food in Kanawha County, an initiative that earned her the honor of “Food Revolution Hero” by Jamie Oliver. To read more about or by April, visit her website.