How often you shop may impact what’s in your cart

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Have you ever noticed that the less food you have in your house, the more likely you are to have cheese and crackers for dinner or order take out food? A new study evaluates how the quality of our diets is affected by how often we grocery shop.

A recent study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics looked at information from the Study on Children’s Home Food Availability Using TechNology from 2014 to 2016. Nearly 100 low-income African American and Hispanic families joined the study. Using home food inventories and 24-hour recalls, diets of individuals in the households were scored. Grocery shopping frequency- monthly, twice per month, three times per month or weekly was matched to household food quality. Investigators wanted to see how overall diet quality, specifically in young children, was affected by the frequency of grocery shopping. 1

According to the co-author of the study, Angela Kong, Ph.D., MPH, RD, based on the Healthy Eating Index Score, less frequent grocery shopping was associated with poorer diet quality.  The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey done from 1999 to 2016 showed that while eating habits overall have improved with time, most Americans still have poor quality diets. Those with higher incomes fared better, but more work needs to focus on young children who eat most meals at home. 1

Higher consumption of fruits and vegetables is linked with more frequent grocery shopping, but not much else is known in regards to diet quality. Grocery shopping patterns were evaluated and found the following:

  • Sodium scores were higher in children in which households shopped for groceries twice a month.
  • Fruit and vegetable intake was higher in households that shopped three or four times per month versus once per month.
  • In homes where grocery shopping was more frequent, diet scores in that household were better.

More Black/African American households reported shopping only once per month. Not surprisingly, shoppers able to drive shopped more frequently than those that could not, though adjustments were made in the study for these variables. The study didn’t look at food availability or those impacted by food deserts. The authors believe transportation access could impact the ability to shop more frequently. 1

Barriers to shopping more frequently were not evaluated either. Questions about transportation, schedule, and budgets still need to be investigated. The authors concluded that less frequent shopping caused households to bring inf foods of lower diet quality. More research needs to examine this relationship more as well as transportation access. 1

Health professionals can get a glimpse of their client’s diet quality by asking the following questions:

  • How do you obtain your groceries (in person, online or delivered)?
  • Do you have reliable transportation to the grocery store?
  • How often do you shop? Do you have adequate time to get to the store?
  • Do you shop at Farmer’s markets, large co-ops, or regular stores?
  • Does anyone else in your home do the shopping?

In addition to inquiring about barriers to frequent shopping, encourage your clients to purchase affordable, nutritious food such as:

  • Carrots, onions, and potatoes- have a long shelf life and are versatile in many dishes.
  • Seasonal produce- follow the seasons for the best price and nutritional quality!
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables- these last much longer and can add variety to your diet.
  • Canned beans and bagged legumes- inexpensive sources of protein and fiber.

This is the first of a series on how to stretch your health dollar at the store. Next week, we’ll check out the produce department.

Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD


  1. Banks J, Fitzgibbon M, Schiffer L, et al. Relationship between grocery shopping frequency and home- and individual-level diet quality among low-income racial or ethnic minority households with preschool-aged children. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2020;120(10):1706-1714.e1. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2020.06.017

Download healthy shopping list PDF hand out

This article is part of a series on healthy shopping and shopping and nutrition research.

  1. Frequency of shopping means a healthier diet
  2. Fruit
  3. Vegetables
  4. Meat
  5. Grains 
  6. Dairy
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