Shopping the Center of the Store

Woman shopping in a grocery store
Image by prostooleh on Freepik

One of my favorite things about the Guiding Stars program is that it refutes the myth that you must only shop the perimeter of the grocery store in order to find nutritious foods. Before I joined the Guiding Stars team, I worked in community nutrition education for low-income families. Like most shoppers, price was an important factor in my clients’ grocery shopping decisions, along with healthy foods that their family would enjoy. I led healthy shopping tours at stores with Guiding Stars and would use the program to highlight how you can find nutritious foods that fit your budget throughout the store. From this experience I learned that the center of the store is where Guiding Stars really shines. Let me explain why. 

Guiding Stars in the Center

Shoppers can find a wide variety of packaged, shelf-stable groceries in the center of the store. This is where, early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, many pantry staples sold out quickly. Thankfully, out-of-stock items are less common now, but from this experience we all grew a greater appreciation for the value these foods can provide. Our team is proud that Guiding Stars was an especially helpful tool during this time, helping shoppers find more nutritious choices when less familiar products were the only options. 

It is true, that just like in the perimeter of the store, there are plenty of foods that do not meet the nutritional criteria to earn Guiding Stars. However, when combined with fresh and frozen foods, you can find options in the center of the store to fill nutritional gaps and help you stretch out your grocery trips. Guiding Stars shines in the center of the store because products there often have confusing marketing or health claims and labels with lengthy ingredients’ lists. The program reads nutrition labels so shoppers do not have to, measuring how nutritious a food is, and assigning an easy to follow star rating. By choosing a star earning item, shoppers can trust they are making a nutritious choice. It is as simple as 1, 2, 3.

Here are a few common center store staples and what makes star earning versions a more nutritious choice: 


By looking for Guiding Stars earning breads, you can ensure that you are choosing an option that not only has less added sodium and added sugar, but also contains more whole grains, vitamins, and minerals. The more stars a bread earns, the more nutritious a choice it is.

Canned Vegetables

If possible, we should choose canned vegetables without added salt. You can do this by looking for cans with just the vegetable and water in their ingredients list. However, Guiding Stars takes points away from foods for added sodium, so looking for canned vegetables that earn 2-3 Guiding Stars is a good way to quickly choose the most nutritious options. 


Many cereals now include whole grains, higher fiber and are fortified with vitamins and minerals. Those that have these nutrients and limit added sugar and salt will often earn one or more Guiding Stars. The cereal aisle offers lots of choices, and while roughly 65% of cereals earn stars, there are still plenty of no-star items with very high sugar levels.