Recent cultural trend data indicate that September has overtaken January as the month most people choose to make new life goals and begin changing their behaviors in order to achieve them. Added to the up-tick of people looking for new jobs and cleaning out garages, gym attendance increases, diet centers and programs receive scads of new clients and the average grocery store receipt increases, indicating more people are swapping out calorie-laden restaurant and take-out meals for healthier, homemade fare as fall approaches.
Since it appears we’re trying to grocery shop smarter and prepare healthier meals at home right now, I’m offering the following ABCs for healthy food shopping.
A) USE A LIST
Studies show grocery shoppers make healthier choices, purchase fewer impulse items and spend less money if they use a list and avoid shopping when they’re hungry. Which translates to planning ahead for what you will buy and when you will buy it.
I have a white board magnetized to my fridge for us to keep track of pantry and perishable items that we’ve run out of since the last grocery run and need to purchase on the next run. This way, I always know I have important go-to items on hand to make quick weeknight meals and healthy breakfasts, lunches and snacks. Before heading out, I come up with a general plan for the week to add to my list the proteins and produce I’ll need to round out primary meals so I won’t have to keep running to the store every day.
Keep your list in the format you find most convenient so you’re more likely to use it. I prefer old-fashioned paper and pencil but there are plenty of apps out there to make it fast, convenient and user-friendly to keep your list on your phone or tablet. Or, if you use a white board like I do, snap a photo of your latest list before heading out the door.
If you find yourself tempted to impulsively purchase non-list items, shop with only enough cash to cover your list items and leave the debit and credit cards at home.
B) SHOP STRATEGICALLY
Most grocers have dairy, meats, fish, eggs and produce along the perimeter. These tend to be healthy, whole forms of foods and should make up the bulk of your list and your cart. The lion’s share of empty-calorie processed products and convenience foods are in the aisles. If you have a list and group your list according to like-items, it will make it fast and convenient to shop the perimeter and then go down only the aisles that contain pantry items you need. Skipping aisles that don’t have list items means a quicker, less expensive trip as well as fewer temptations to purchase less healthy foods.
C) READ LABELS
While the strategy of shopping the perimeter and avoiding the aisles in an effort to minimize exposure to highly-processed foods works in a general sense, it’s not true to say that all foods on a grocer’s perimeter are healthy or that all aisle foods are unhealthy. Putting an apple in your cart is fairly straight-forward. But, if it comes in a package of any kind – bag, box, carton, can – you can’t know what’s in it unless you read the label.
Is this time consuming? At first, yes. The first time you search through a cereal or yogurt aisle scanning labels is laborious. But, once you’ve done it, you know what brands are best and you can skip the label reading on subsequent visits.
Be especially mindful of processed meats and boxed convenience foods that contain packets of sauces or dehydrated ingredients. Also, be wary of food categories that appear to have healthy images – like yogurt, hot and cold cereal and bars of all types – but may actually contain unwanted sugars and processed ingredients. It’s possible to get healthy versions of all of these foods but you have to be prepared to do your research and, possibly, pay a little more for them.
Ignore marketing-oriented terms like natural, organic and light on the front of packages and concentrate only on the nutrition and ingredient labels. If you don’t have experience with reading food labels, read my post “Making Good Food Choices” for a detailed overview. Here is the Cliffs Notes version:
- Maximize – fiber, protein and 100% whole grains, such as wheat and oats
- Minimize – salt/sodium, processed (not whole) flours, added natural sweeteners (sugar, honey, syrups) and artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose)
- Avoid – All hydrogenated oils and industrial oils (oils we don’t readily have in our kitchens) such as soybean, safflower and sunflower oil
If you’re among the millions actively working to make health and happiness a priority this fall, be sure to plan, strategize and be informed at each food shopping run. It’s as easy as ABC.