Show of hands, here: when shopping, who gets to the grocery store, readies their cart, and then feels totally overwhelmed with all of the different selections? I know I used to, back before I learned how to shop! It is no secret that a healthier you starts with a healthily-stocked kitchen. It is much easier to have will power in the grocery store than to force yourself to have it at home, at 8 PM, when your inner snack junkie rears its head!
In hopes of helping you shop successfully, I have put together this list of the eight things that I do, every time I make my (usually weekly) trip to the grocery store:
- Make a list. Think of this as your battle plan. The purpose here is twofold: one, you want to leave the store with everything you need, to avoid return trips. Two, having a list will actually help you to avoid making impulse buys—think sweets that are on sale, or junk food. If you didn’t need it when you were making your list, you don’t need it at check-out.
- Stick to the outsides of the store. In general, this will help you to avoid the processed, packaged foods that are kept primarily in the interior aisles of the store. Up to 80% of packaged foods now contain added sugar, and it may be lurking where you least expect it! I have found sugar on the list of most canned sauces, most yogurts & cereals, and even in some canned veggies and basic kidney beans. The tip here is to thoroughly read your labels, and select only those foods that have a few simple ingredients that you can pronounce.
- Fill your cart like you want to fill your plate. Start with the type of food that you want to eat in the largest quantity. www.eatchicchicago.com offers some great guidelines on how to fill a plate:
- Fats: 1-2 servings per meal (1 tbsp. is a serving) Think: butter, ghee, coconut oil, palm oil, olive oil, avocado oil
- Starches: 1 serving per meal (a serving is ½ cup) Think: potatoes, sweet potatoes, squashes, peas, root vegetables
- Green Veggies: at least 2 servings per meal (a serving is considered ½-1 cup) Think: broccoli, lettuce, leafy greens, cabbage, green beans, cauliflower, peppers
- Protein: 1-2 servings per meal (a serving is considered 3-4 oz.) Think: salmon, eggs, beef, lamb, bison, venison, pork, shrimp, lobster, eggs, chicken, turkey As you can see here, you probably want to fill your cart with primarily vegetables and meats. But don’t forget to consider snacks! 1-2 servings of fruit per day (a medium-sized piece, or a fist-sized portion), an ounce of cheese, if you tolerate dairy, a handful of nuts or seeds are all healthy options!
- Be selective with what items you pay more for! Big-name companies will slather their products with words that they think you, the consumer, wants to hear. It is your job to avoid their gimmicks! How? You need to educate yourself on what these words truly mean.
- Sugar-free: This label usually means one of two things. Either the food didn’t contain added sugar to begin with, or the manufacturer replaced the sugar in the food with something else. Hint: it is probably chemicals.
- Cage-free: Do your research when it comes to this word. With most companies, cage-free does NOT mean that the chickens are actually free-roaming. Also, this qualification speaks more to their living environments than their diets.
- Grass-fed: This is a label that you will see primarily on beef. Why is the diet of the animal you consume actually important? Because it can affect the optimal balance of fats in the animal.
- Organic: Now HERE is a word with actual USDA regulations and requirements. If you’re going to pay more money for something, make sure it is certified organic. The easy tip on what is important to buy organic, in terms of produce? If you eat the skin, opt for the organic option, if that is within your budget. Foods that you peel, you can probably get away with conventional.
- Fat-free: Again, either the food probably did not contain fat to begin with, or they have stripped it of the fat and added something else in to make it taste good. Hint: it is usually sugar. Side note: It is no longer 1980, and fat is not your enemy!
- Natural: There are almost NO qualifications for a company to label their food/product “natural”. Don’t pay more for anything under this premise.
- Take your time. This might sound funny, in a world where time equals money. Why “waste time” at the grocery store? Because building a healthy shopping cart is actually an art. If you are rushed, you’re going to throw foods in haphazardly, without reading labels. Make your shopping trip about the experience. Yes, I realize this is next to impossible to do when the kids have to come along. 😉 That is why I save the bulk of my shopping for a time when someone can watch my kiddos.
- Don’t shop on an empty stomach. This one is not new advice. Once again, it leads back to resisting the impulse to buy something because you are starving. We have all been there! Seriously. Step away from the Snickers Bar. If you HAVE to buy something to devour the instant you get to the car, grab some jerky, or some nuts, or an apple.
- Buy foods you like. This seems like a no-brainer. But if you buy spinach, just because you think you should eat it, but you actually hate it…guess what?? Odds are, it is going to sit in your refrigerator until it gets slimy. The same goes for foods that require a lot of prep work just to eat. If you know that cantaloupe is going to sit in the back of fridge until it spoils, buy apples instead.
- Save the treats for special occasions. Think birthdays, anniversaries, and major holidays. The plus side here, is that this will reduce the amount of candies, cookies, etc., that you are consuming. Which means that when you DO buy treats, you can afford higher-quality ones! In fact, at our house, we try to make treats about an experience together.
In terms of this vs. that quality, here are some examples:
Blue Bunny Ice cream three times per week, vs. a local creamery twice per month
A Hershey Bar daily, vs. quality truffles on special occasions
Pizza Hut Pizza every weekend, vs. homemade pizza or a local pizzeria once per month
Whenever we choose to have pancakes, waffles, muffins, cookies, or cakes, we make our own. I started doing this because I don’t tolerate refined sugars and my son and husband don’t tolerate gluten/wheat. Now my son, who is six, loves to help in the kitchen! When we make a birthday treat for ourselves or someone special, he feels like he contributed.
I realize that this is a lot of information to take in all at once. My intentions aren’t to overhaul your diet in a day, but if you are able to gradually implement a few of these pointers into your shopping and change your bad habits, you will improve your health, along with the health of your family. Remember, it is easier to have will power in the cookie aisle! Better yet, avoid the cookie aisle altogether.
Yours in Health,