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Can You Find Nutritious Foods in the Grocery Store Center Aisles?

by Qula Madkin, MSU Extension Service

Yes, you can! But if you’re like me, you’ve probably heard that shopping the grocery store's perimeter is the best way to pack your cart with healthy foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables.

This sends the subtle but inaccurate message that healthy foods are only in the outside aisles of the grocery store.

The center aisles provide a wide variety of nutritious options that are versatile, shelf-stable and budget-friendly. Here are some of my grocery store center-aisle favorites:

Canned and dry beans: Beans are great in soups, chili, tacos, omelets and as sides.

- Why and how to add them to your diet:

  • Beans are high in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals.

  • Watching your sodium intake? Choose no-salt-added or reduced-sodium items. Rinse canned beans to remove some of the sodium.

For more information about beans, how to use them and bean recipes, check out Extension Publication 2599, “Nutrition and Wellness Bean Basics.”

Frozen fruits and vegetables: Frozen produce doesn’t spoil nearly as quickly as fresh produce, and it is usually more affordable.

- Why and how to add them to your diet:

  • Because they are harvested at peak ripeness and quickly frozen, they are as nutritious as fresh produce.

  • Add frozen fruits to smoothies, oatmeal or pancakes.

  • Roast a pan of frozen vegetables to eat as a side or use in meal prepping. I add roasted vegetables to soups and salads and sometimes eat leftover veggies for breakfast.

Canned salmon, tuna, and chicken: These items are high in lean protein and are shelf-stable.

- Why and how to add them to your diet:

  • Salmon and tuna provide heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids and are great economical seafood choices.

  • Excellent to add to a salad, avocado toast, or a grain bowl.

Look for simple recipes with these ingredients in Extension Publication 3430, “14-day Shopping and Meal Plan.”

Nuts and nut butters: Anytime I want to add crunch to my food, chopped nuts are my go-to. I keep peanut butter on hand year-round. Other available options: almond, mixed nut and hazelnut. Have a nut allergy? Try seed butter, like sunflower seed butter.

- Why and how to add them to your diet:

  • Most nuts and nut butters are high in protein, fiber and healthy fats. The American Heart Association recommends eating one handful of nuts daily.

  • Try adding nuts to yogurt, salads, oatmeal and vegetables. Nut butters are great for sandwiches, smoothies, baked products or eating with fresh fruit, such as bananas and apples.

Canned diced tomatoes: Canned tomatoes are an excellent option to boost flavor and nutrition in many foods, from soups to fish.

- Why and how to add them to your diet:

  • Canned tomatoes are low in calories and high in fiber, vitamin C and the antioxidant lycopene. Lycopene has been shown to help lower the risk of heart disease.

  • Canned tomatoes come in various varieties, such as diced, crushed, fire-roasted and with seasonings, like garlic, basil and oregano. Low-sodium and no-salt-added items are also available.

Try one of these recipes with canned tomatoes previously featured on the blog:

Bottom line: whether you shop online or at the grocery store, shopping in the center aisles is a great way to save money and have versatile foods at home for easier preparation.

For more helpful tips like these and nutritious and easy recipes, visit and join the MSU Extension Nutrition and Wellness Facebook Group.

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