6 low-cost secrets for stocking your pantry and fridge

A healthy eating plan starts with having access to healthy foods. But without a little planning, it’s easy to end up with a mix that doesn’t add up to a wholesome dinner. Our shopping guide will help you make sure you’re prepared. 

Stacey Colino
Healthy foods on a table

It’s hard to prepare healthy meals at home if you don’t have the right ingredients on hand. Maybe it’s getting tougher for you to navigate the grocery store. Perhaps money is tight. Or maybe you’ve just been so busy living your life that meal planning keeps getting pushed down on your to-do list.

No matter what’s standing between you and healthier meals, there’s a way to bridge the gap. In fact, making sure you’re eating well and have access to good-for-you food can be a special part of an annual UnitedHealthcare® HouseCalls visit.

During this free in-home visit, which is part of most Medicare Advantage plans,* a licensed medical practitioner will spend up to an hour with you learning about your health and completing a head-to-toe assessment. (To see if you’re eligible and to schedule your HouseCalls visit, click here or call 1-800-934-0280, TTY 711, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET or 5 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. PT.)

When your exam is finished, if you’d like, your practitioner can take a peek in your fridge or cupboard and offer tips on healthy-eating choices. “The goal is to help people realize how diet can be a factor in their health,” explains Stephony Robinson, MSN, APRN, FNP-BC, a nurse practitioner and director of clinical operations for HouseCalls.

Besides offering guidance on specific foods to keep stocked, your HouseCalls practitioner will provide advice on how to plan your grocery shopping trips so that you’ll have healthy foods for today, tomorrow and the longer term.

Here are 6 tips to get you started:

Spend most of your time in the outside aisles of the store. That’s where you’ll find fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein (fish, poultry and meat) and dairy products, says Robinson. Packaged and processed foods, on the other hand, tend to be in the interior aisles of the store.

Buy produce that’s in season. Fruits and vegetables that are in season typically sell at lower prices. Remember, though, fresh produce is perishable — so buy only what you need for the week. For longer-term use, you can stock up on some frozen, canned or jarred options. Purchase plain frozen veggies (without a sauce) or canned goods that don’t have added salt or sugar. Similarly, look for unsweetened fruits in cans or jars, or those that are packed in their own juice.

Make smart swaps. To get the biggest nutritional bang out of every bite, consider healthier choices. That means buying low-fat, skim or plant-based milk instead of whole milk or yogurt, whole-wheat bread instead of white, brown rice instead of white, and plain yogurt instead of sour cream. If you’re buying red meat, choose cuts with the word “loin” or “round” in the name. They are lower in saturated fat.

At the end of a HouseCalls visit, your practitioner will leave you with additional materials that can help guide your meal planning based on your specific health needs.

Stock up on staples. If you keep the following healthy items on hand, you’ll be able to put together a nutritious meal quickly — without the need for creamy sauces or heavy gravies:

  • Lean proteins (beans, fish, chicken)
  • Fruits and veggies
  • Whole grains (oats, brown rice, quinoa)
  • Whole-grain pasta
  • Unsalted or low-sodium stocks and broths
  • Vinegars (red and white, balsamic and cider)
  • Healthy fats (extra-virgin olive oil, ghee)
  • Dried herbs and spices

Scan the labels. One thing your HouseCall practitioner will focus on is helping you make the best food choices for you and your specific health conditions. For instance, if you have high blood pressure, you may need to watch your salt intake. If you have diabetes, it’s important to avoid processed sugar. That’s not always easy considering that sugar can go by many different names in the ingredients list, including:

  • Corn syrup
  • Rice syrup
  • Fruit nectar
  • Juice concentrates
  • Honey
  • Agave
  • Molasses
  • Anything that ends in “-ose” (fructose, sucrose, maltose or dextrose)

Taking a minute to review the labels of packaged foods can help you stay on track no matter what your goal is. And remember: Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, which means that those with the largest amounts appear higher up on the list.

Make nutritional foods accessible at home. Once you’ve brought healthy foods into your kitchen, make sure they’re at eye level. Place a bowl of fresh, colorful fruit somewhere you can’t miss. As soon as you get home from the store, rinse and cut fresh veggies and place them in clear containers in the front of the fridge. This will help you have easy-access snacks.

Yes, eating healthy can be easier with a little bit of planning, but those extra minutes will pay off in how you’ll feel — better.

Get personalized 1-on-1 care right from home with HouseCalls

UnitedHealthcare HouseCalls brings yearly check-in care into your own home. Connect for up to a full hour with a member of our licensed medical staff. You’ll get a physical, health screenings and plenty of time to talk about your health questions, including ones about nutrition. It’s a great way to feel confident about your health, knowing an extra set of eyes is looking out for you in between regular visits to your provider.

To see if your plan includes HouseCalls and to schedule your in-home visit today, call 1-800-934-0280, TTY 711 or click here.

*HouseCalls may not be available with all plans or in all areas.