It seems so simple. Make a list, go to the grocery store, buy what is on said list, go home, unpack, have food. Use food to make healthful meals for yourself and/or your family. It should be that easy. And yet, more often then not, it isn’t. People are overwhelmed by the supermarket. How to navigate it, which is the right product to buy. So today I present to you, the top 10 ways to better your grocery store experience:
1. Plan your menu
How many meals are you planning on making from this grocery trip? 3 a day? 2? Take the time to write down every single thing you will be eating that week. It sounds annoying and complicated but it’s easier then getting home, looking in the fridge and saying, “What the heck are we eating tonight?” Go on Pinterest for inspiration. Scour food blogs. Ask your friends what they like. Ask your partner, your kids. If you are single, ask yourself what you love and need to make you happy. Think about foods that go more then one meal. Cook once, eat twice or thrice. Brown rice can be a side with chicken, then turned into a veggie stir fry the next day. Quinoa can work with roasted veggies and then combined with zucchini and mozzarella to make a veggie lasagna on the ‘morrow. Remember there will be a night you are all running late so think of a meal that can be made quickly. I like taco night or lemon pasta with olives and swiss chard. Slow cookers are also good for those late nights.
2. Make your list
So now you have your meals laid out. List the ingredients that you need for them. Remember to check if you are low on spices or sauces. Don’t forget to grab the staples that everyone in your family eats. In my house, that’s bananas, gluten free quick cook oats, string beans, grapes and apples. We also stock up on almonds and cashews. If you go to the store without a list, you will walk out of the store with bags full of nothing to eat. If this is your first trip in a while, add in some staples like black beans and rice or tuna fish. I like to eat black beans and rice with salsa sometimes when it appears I have no food and just need something.
3. In making your list, be sure to stock your condiments and pantry staples
If you have these and learn how to shop correctly, you will have the tools needed to throw together a meal at the last minute. Last night I took zucchini, squash, ginger, onion, garlic and carrots that were all left over from various other meals, seasoned with soy sauce, 5 spice powder, a little honey and sesame oil, tossed in some tempeh and cooked some rice and voila! Dinner for 4. Spices I go back to again and again are salt, pepper, basil, cinnamon, garlic, oregano, thyme, tumeric, cumin, cayanne pepper, red chili pepper flakes. I also keep on hand sweeteners (like agave and honey), oils (like olive, grapeseed, coconut), vinegars (red wine, balsalmic, apple cider) and soy sauce.
4. Save your sanity
Think about when you are going to grocery shop. Put it in your calendar as an appointment. If you can, lean towards earlier in the week when things are freshest. However, things are craziest on Monday mornings, lunchtimes, and the weekends so if crowds, stress you out plan a different time. If you can avoid bringing children, do so. If you must bring children, for little ones bring a snack. Don’t meander the aisles. For older ones, put them to work. Have them put produce in bags, and practice reading on labels.
5. Shop the perimeter
All grocery stores are laid out the same. The freshest food is along the perimeter. Most often, the first section you walk into are fruits and veggies. This is where the bulk of your shopping should take place. If you continue around the perimeter you will find meats and dairy. These are all items that will eventually go bad. If you can, buy organic or local. This will ensure there are less pesticides, GMO’s and other nasties in there. If you can only afford to buy some organic, try to follow the Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen which lists the foods most and least contaminated.
6. Only enter the aisles you need to
Now it’s improbable that you can do your entire shopping trip on the perimeter only. Sooner or late you will enter the aisles. But be mindful of what you are buying in those aisles. Try to avoid pre-made, pre-packaged meals. The aisles are to supplement what you can’t buy on the perimeter. Here is where you will find your condiments, your spices, your baking goods, and your cabinet staples like grains and beans. Breads are also in the aisles but more often then not, they are in the first or second aisle by produce. The middle aisles are the killers. That’s where the cookies, crackers, and snack food are. If you don’t want to buy those, don’t go down those aisles.
7. Read your labels
Try not to buy anything with more then 5 ingredients. If you can’t pronounce something on the label, don’t buy it. Know that “natural” is not organic, or even natural for that matter. If it says “whole grains” on the package but the contents have things that are purple (I’m talking about you, Lucky Charms.) don’t buy it. Know that sugar has many different names. So does MSG, and so do a myriad of additives and preservatives. And also bear in mind that additions to “healthy” things like yogurt in the form of fruit, honey or vanilla essentially turn them into ice cream due to the sugar content.
8. Learn about advertising and marketing
Be aware that advertisers spend millions of dollars to have their products positioned at eye level. So look up and below. If you saw a commercial for that product, you’re probably better off not buying it. Read this article about how food companies train us to crave junk and then market it. Teach your kids that Dora or Spongebob are there just to have them ask you for the food. I started doing this with my daughter when she was 2. Now at almost 6 she yells “Marketing!” every time we pass something with a cartoon character on it.
9. Talk to the people behind the counter.
If you are unsure about a cut of meat, or a fish to buy, talk to the vendor. They are a wealth of knowledge and usually will also give you recipe tips and ideas.
10. Forget the freezer (mostly)
For the most part, most of the food in the frozen food aisles are loaded with salt and other additives to make it stay fresh. Yes, you might save time in short term by nuking a meal, but in the long run, it isn’t doing you much good either health or weight wise. However, I make an exception for frozen fruits and veggies. I use organic frozen fruits in smoothies each day (much more cost efficient then fresh) and I do keep organic frozen vegetables in my freezer as well to use as a side to a dish or even a quick snack.
So there you have 10 tips for successful shopping. Let me know if these work for you and if you have any other ideas to make the trip even better.
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About the Author: Courtney Abrams is a Health Coach and Founder of Roslyn Wellness. Trained at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, she helps clients work within the realities of their day to day lives to find ways to make small and manageable changes to their health that can maintained over time. Her clients include people trying to lose weight, beat sugar, increase their energy, cook simple healthful food and reduce stress to name a few. She also shares a passion for food policy and educating people about the foods they are eating and the governmental role behind much of it. You can learn more about Courtney and Roslyn Wellness at http://RoslynWellness.com.