Written By: Carley Salas, MS, RDN, CDN and Janet Klein, MS, RDN, CDN, CDCES"man at grocery store"

You may enjoy grocery shopping or you may hate it, but either way it’s something we all have to do if we want to eat, right? Grocery shopping can be overwhelming at times, especially if you are winging it without a game plan for what meals and snacks you plan to make for the week ahead. You don’t want to buy more than what you will eat and then waste food and money having to throw things out. You also want to buy enough so that you are not stuck relying on take out. If you don’t make a plan, you are planning to fail! Luckily there are a few things you can do to take some of the stress out of the equation.

Food Shopping – Where to Start?

No one wants to cook a meal from scratch 7 nights a week. Finding a balance between meals cooked from scratch and meals that are “semi-homemade” that use convenience items or leftovers can help reduce the burden and time required to cook healthy meals.

Take a look at your schedule for the week ahead. How much time do you have during the week to actually cook meals? If you are working late or have a kid’s sporting event to attend in the evening, preparing a complicated recipe with a long prep and cook time is not going to be ideal on those nights. Those are the nights that having leftovers or a meal that requires a minimal amount of cooking would be perfect, or you could plan to prepare extra portions of the previous night’s dinner, if possible to utilize leftovers. 

Once you’ve taken a look at your schedule and determined when you’ll have time to do some kitchen prep work or make a more involved recipe, next is creating the shopping list. The first place you want to check is your own pantry, fridge, and freezer! See what you already have on hand and if there is anything that should be used before it expires Have a half a bag of spinach leftover from last week that is starting to look a little wilty? Plan to make a meal using cooked spinach earlier in the week to use it up. Pull some frozen chicken out of the freezer first before buying more to reduce food waste and save $!

Check the weekly sale flyer from your favorite grocery store. See what is on sale and in season and start with your protein foods first as that is your main priority. Then choose a vegetable that will pair nicely with it. Frozen steamable vegetables are an easy and affordable option for those nights where you don’t want to waste time washing and chopping!  If you eat seafood, plan to cook that at the beginning of the week as it is more perishable than other types of proteins. Canned tuna/chicken, frozen turkey burgers, tofu, or vacuum sealed chicken/turkey sausages are great items to save for the end of the week as they last longer. 

If time is a barrier to eating healthy, consider spending a little extra on pre-cut fruits and vegetables (if you can) rather than thinking you’ll have the time/energy to do it yourself. You might be surprised at how much more veggies & fruit you eat when the prep work has been done for you! 

Create Your Meal Plan for the Week

Based on what you already had on hand, combined with what is in season and on sale at the store, now you can create your weekly meal plan! If chicken breast is on sale and you have leftover broccoli that needs to be used, search on Pinterest or other websites for recipes that use both ingredients and pick something that sounds good! 

When planning your meals for the week, it doesn’t need to be super specific, you can always just write down food combinations and then decide on the preparation method or seasonings later. Keep it simple! Protein + veggie + seasoning. For example: Salmon + asparagus + Cajun seasoning. 

Grocery Store Game Plan

Never go to the grocery store when you are hungry! Everything will look and smell extra appetizing and you will end up buying things you don’t need and most likely grab foods that are less healthy. Get out your shopping list and stick to it! Start out in the produce department. Keep your vegetable choices flexible as sometimes stores run out of sale items or they may not look very good when you get there and something else may be calling your name! Stock up on those non-starchy veggies listed in your bariatric hand book! Utilize frozen/canned vegetables (watch the sodium content though) and fruits too – they can be less expensive and are also a huge time saver!!

Protein is the priority on your list so this may mean heading to the meat/deli and/or fish counters at your supermarket. Ask the butcher if they can show you which cuts of beef/pork are considered “lean” if you do not know and need help. When thinking of high protein foods, don’t forget about the dairy aisle - Low fat milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese sticks, and eggs are excellent sources of protein too! Check out the brand FairLife or SkimPlus which is ultra filtered milk that has had the lactose removed, lowering the carbohydrate count and increasing the amount of protein!

If you do not eat meat or dairy, opt for plant-based alternatives that are higher in protein such as soy milk, pea protein based milk like the brand Ripple or another alternative that has at least 6-8 grams (the equivalent of regular dairy milk) protein per serving. When looking for veggie burgers or other plant based meat alternatives, choose one that has at least 8-10g protein per serving, and be careful with the carbohydrate amount as many meatless products use grains, potatoes, or corn in them. Look for ones with <20 grams of net carbohydrates.

Don’t Avoid the Center Aisles Completely

At this point your cart is stocked with fresh or frozen produce and plenty of protein options. But you still may need some sugar-free beverages, broths, marinades, salad dressings, vinegars, spices, and other condiments. Don’t forget to READ THE NUTRITION LABEL. Learn about the food you are buying. Try to keep the added sugar low! Many sauces are unfortunately filled with added sugar and sodium (BBQ sauces, salad dressings, etc). If you are post-op in maintenance phase, look for higher fiber starches such as quinoa, oats, bean pastas, brown/wild rice, low carb wraps/breads, etc.

Helpful Kitchen Gadgets for Bariatric Surgery

  • Vegetable spiralizer (zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, cucumbers) - Turns vegetables into “noodles” and make a great vessel for your favorite sauces!
  • Digital Food Scales are the most accurate way to measure your food. These take the guess work out of knowing if you are eating the proper portions. 
  • 2oz and 4oz containers are useful for portioning out food to bring with you when not eating at home.
  • Water bottles with ounce (oz) markers are a great way to keep track of your fluid intake. 
  • Sugar free flavorings - If you find plain water boring, this might help you drink more and meet your fluid goals.
  • Weekly Vitamin/Pill Organizers to help remind you if you’ve taken your vitamins or not, these are also great for traveling so you don’t need to bring the entire bottle with you.
  • Digital body weight scale for keeping track of your weight loss progress. There are some scales that sync with an app so you can see your weight changes charted in a graph for a nice visual of your journey.
  • Protein shaker bottle - These bottles have a small metal ball that works as a whisk to quickly blend protein powder into the liquid for a smooth tasting shake
  • Water pitchers with infusers for fruit to add flavor to water - These are a great way to increase your fluid intake by adding fruit, vegetables, and herbs to infuse flavor into the water that might help you drink more.
  • Mini-blenders - Emulsifies and blends to create great protein shakes!  
  • Prepdeck - Mini-prepping station and storage containers. 
  • The Complete Bariatric Cookbook and Meal Plan - Recipes and guidance for life before and after surgery.  Megan Moore, RD, CSOWM, CD.
  • BariatricPal Portion Control Travel Utensil Set with Case - perfect to have in your lunch bag at all times for convenience!


Carley Salas MS, RDN, CDN
By Carley Salas MS, RDN, CDN
Bariatric Dietitian Educator

Carley Salas, MS, RDN, CDN is Garnet Health Medical Center’s Bariatric Dietitian Educator. She received her Bachelor’s and Master of Science Degrees in Nutrition and Dietetics from the State University of New York College at Oneonta. She is a Certified Dietitian-Nutritionist, holds an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Certificate of Training in Adult Weight Management, and is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). Carley is passionate about nutrition and helping others reach their health and wellness goals through individualized counseling and nutrition education. Carley can be reached at (845) 333-2830 or

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