BEFORE HEADING TO THE STORE…
- Always make a shopping list. This list should include: the meals you plan on making, all the ingredients needed for those meals, and favorite staples that need restocking. Why bring a list? Grocery stores can feel like a major sensory overload (which is overwhelming) and they are strategically designed to get us to buy, whether it is a product we need or not! When we wonder aimlessly through the store, we are more likely to forget something we need and to impulse buy random things we will not use.
- Think of your shopping cart as a preview of your plate. Are you filling at least half of your cart with colorful fruits and vegetables? Did you buy healthy protein and fat options? Picture the protein + fat + fiber + flavors/seasonings plate model we outlined in a past blog post and fill your cart this way as well!
- Don’t go shopping when you are hungry. Eat a protein snack with some fresh veggies and healthy fat before you go. This will help minimize impulse buying, especially the last-minute buying at the cash register. For example, snack on some almonds or pumpkin seeds, a handful of strawberries, and cucumber sticks with hummus before going to the store.
- What we buy is what we will have easy access to when we are home. The easiest way to make healthy food choices is to make them the most accessible and convenient options at home. Stock your shopping cart with a colorful variety of whole foods and that is what you will eat!
NAVIGATING THE DIFFERENT SECTIONS AND AISLES OF THE STORE
Start by shopping the perimeter of the store. This is where you will find most of the perishable whole foods that must be refrigerated. We are talking about fresh vegetables, fruits, meat, seafood, and dairy. You will do the majority of the shopping in the perimeter of the store when you follow a whole foods dietary pattern.
After you get these sections off your list, move on to shopping the aisles. Here is where you will flex your label reading muscle! There is a lot of goodness in the grocery aisles, but you will find the majority of the ultra-processed foods here as well. We have to learn to be discerning and to lean into the healthy, less processed foods such as canned veggies, whole grains, legumes, whole grain pasta, nuts, certain flours, and spices.
- I recommend buying a combination of fresh fruits and vegetables: some that will be used early in the week (because they spoil quickly) and some to use later into the week (because they can sit in the fridge for longer without spoiling). For example, some leafy greens and thin-skinned berries spoil faster than root vegetables and fruits like pears and apples.
- Rotate your greens, change things up every week. You can buy spinach, kale, mustard greens, arugula, and other seasonal greens. Follow the seasons and try new recipes each month! Eating a varied diet is key for our gut microbes and for our nutrient status. The more varied the diet, the more diversity of nutrients we consume.
- Stock-up on crunchy veggies for snack time. Carrots, celery, cucumber, and bell peppers are great options and they go very well with hummus and a nut/seed butter.
- Stock up on berries when they are in season. Go to your local farm store and buy them in bulk. Freeze in bulk for the rest of the year.
- Consider shopping for fruits and veggies at the farmer’s market or inquire about purchasing a CSA though a local farm.
- Local and seasonal produce offers more quality and better pricing. Browse for seasonal, local, and organic when possible.
- You may use the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen guides to decide which foods to buy organic.
Eggs and dairy section
- Whenever possible, purchase organic pasture raised eggs and dairy.
- Choose unsweetened yogurt and simply add fresh fruit and a teaspoon of honey or maple syrup. Most flavored yogurts have large quantities of added sugars (10-15g added sugars). As a reference the American Heart Association recommends no more than 24g of added sugar for females and 36g of added sugars for males each day. This being the upper maximum and ideally a lower amount is to be consumed.
- When buying non-dairy alternatives do not assume that they are “healthier” by default. They may also contain large amounts of added sugars as well as emulsifiers such as carrageenan. Reading the ingredient list will be very helpful here.
- Frozen vegetables and fruits are a very healthy and handy option to have at home. You can turn to them when you run out of fresh foods or during the winter months.
- Frozen shrimp and wild caught fish are also very handy and can be easily used in last minute meals.
- Frozen precooked brown rice, cauliflower rice, or quinoa are widely available nowadays and can be major time savers in the kitchen.
The bulk section is fantastic for trying new foods without committing to large quantities and for saving money! These are some examples of nutritious foods you can find in the bulk section.
- Dry beans are cheaper than canned beans. You can reduce their cooking time by soaking them in advance or cooking them in a pressure cooker.
- Whole grains can also be cheaper when purchased in bulk. At home they need to be kept in a dark and cool space such as the fridge. This is because they can spoil more easily than processed grains since they contain vitamins and fats that are light and heat sensitive.
- Flour can be purchased in bulk. Nowadays there is large variety of flour. You can find wheat, corn, quinoa, buckwheat, coconut, almond, millet, and garbanzo flour, among many others. Flour should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge.
- Dried fruits such as prunes, mango, cherries, coconut and pineapple can be found in the bulk section. Check for added oils, added sugar, and preservatives such as sulfites which can have negative effects in some individuals.
- Herbs and spices are also found in the bulk section and can be stored up to six months at home.
- Raw nuts and seeds can be purchased at a lower cost in the bulk section. I recommend raw or dry roasted nuts and seeds since most times the roasting oils are canola, sunflower or soybean oil, which are high in proinflammatory omega 6 fats.
Meat and seafood section
- Whenever possible purchase organic, grass fed meat and wild caught seafood.
- Check for possible fillers, additives, nitrates when buying deli meat.
- Consider a meat share from a local organic farmer and purchase once or twice a year, then store in the freezer for the year.
WHAT TO MINIMIZE (OR COMPLETELY SKIP) WHEN GROCERY SHOPPING
- Minimize foods with added sugar (especially High Fructose Corn Syrup)
- Minimize foods with added artificial sweeteners
- Minimize refined carbohydrates in favor of whole grain products. For example, minimize enriched white flour, sugar, fruit juice and corn syrup found in breads, cookies, pasta, white rice, frozen meals, potato chips etc. When consuming meals that contain refined carbohydrates remember to pair with green leafy vegetables, a healthy source of fat and some protein. Eating refined carbohydrates with other food groups will slow down the digestion and absorption process, decreasing the post-meal spike in blood sugar levels.
- Completely skip partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) which can be found in processed packaged food and fast food.
- Strongly minimize foods high in proinflammatory omega 6 fats such as corn, soybean, sunflower oils, safflower oils. These are found in processed packaged food and fast food (reading the food label will be very helpful here!).
- Spiced salmon kabobs
- Key lime mousse
- Grilled pineapple and chicken salad
- Strawberry brownie cake
NUTRITION FUN FOR THE KIDDOS
- You can put your child in charge of one recipe for the week. Ask them to make a list of the ingredients and help you find them at the store (or online if shopping this way).
- Help your child practice scouting ingredients lists for signs of unhealthy processed ingredients.
- Help your child take the lead cooking the meal they chose for the week. They must read instructions ahead, get all the measuring tools, etc.
- Buy a vegetable that contains multiple edible parts such as beets, carrots, or fennel. Then get creative to use the parts of the plant that are not normally used. For example, beet tops can be used in salads or in a vegetable stir fry. Carrot and fennel tops can be used to make pesto and they are delicious!