While shopping recently I realized there are many people who have no idea about much of what they are putting in their carts. Healthy food can be deceiving and it has taken me along time to get to where I am at and I have a lot of growing to do, but I believe these few tips for healthier grocery shopping and a few simple changes could make a huge difference for people and help people actually start feeling better.
Now I know some of these things might seem like common sense but sadly nutrition isn’t really about common sense anymore, it is about advertising. People may see a product like Nutella, for example, and think of it as a healthy start to the morning based on advertising, when in fact it is nothing but sugar and no better than handing your child a candy bar in the morning. If you find that you make a habit of the below, then great, you are off to a good start, but if you don’t, no worries because it is never too late to make some changes.
Get a Plan
The old saying about not shopping hungry is very true, but not anymore so then going grocery shopping without a plan. If you already meal plan, then you are well on your way, but if you don’t, you need to start. Knowing what you need and when it will be used, will avoid impulse buying or buying too much of something.
Having a shopping list based on meals and snacks, rather than an individualized list of what your family likes, is a must. For example, I would go shopping with an idea of what we needed, you know the usual milk, bread, eggs and so on, then notice pork chops on sale.
Well, my husband loves pork chops, thinking I was saving money and buying something we surely would eat, in the cart they would go, but when we got home they went into the freezer and sat there for a while because I didn’t have a plan, would forget to defrost them and in turn we would order pizza, actually spending more money.
If you have meals planned, you will use what you buy, save money and be able to begin to see what you actually eat, and then hopefully see some areas that might need a nutritional boost.
Start by making a list of 7 days worth of meals (14 if you shop biweekly) and have a plan. This will keep the “extras” out of the cart. Realize that many meat can substitute for others, so if pork is on sale you can buy it and use it in the place of chicken in some meals. You can swap ground beef for ground turkey and vice versa, if one is on sale, but never buy simply because it is on sale… know HOW you will use it.
Now that you have a plan of what you need and what it is for, look at it and see where we can do better. Rome wasn’t built in a day and you aren’t going to become the healthiest family on the block overnight (we still aren’t). The easiest way to transition and make changes that will stick, is to replace what you already eat with a healthier option. Start by swapping your junk foods with healthy food, like replace chips for air popped popcorn and ice cream with fruit and cream.
Replace your bleached white flours and sugars with wheat flours and raw sugars. If you feel comfortable you could go a step further to brown rice flour or coconut flour and using honey or stevia instead of sugar. Perhaps someday you will decide being Gluten-Free is right for you, but today, make the decision to replace your white bread, that is full of chemicals, high fructose corn syrup and many ingredients you can’t read, with a whole wheat choice that has no high fructose corn syrup and fewer ingredients that you can understand.
The same is to be said with everything on your list. If you buy canned tomatoes then check the labels to make sure you know what the ingredients are. A good rule of thumb is the shorter the list the better it is, but also know that just because you can’t read it doesn’t mean it is terrible for you, it is more likely, but not always the case. This is where some research comes in handy. Take a label, type an ingredient into a search engine and figure out if it is something you want to eat.
Again, avoid all high fructose corn syrups, artificial sweeteners and preservatives, items with sugar listed in the top 3 ingredients, unless it is a dessert, and all diet foods (low-fat sour cream, diet coke, fat free cheese, lite juice and so on), replace the items you would normally eat, that have those ingredients, with new ones. When I did this, I was surprised that many of the healthier options were camouflaged with the less healthy ones and only a few cents more. I was also surprised how many name brand items were loaded with junk, when some store brands were not.
Our country (US) eats out of too many boxes and bags because of convenience, but the health content is almost nonexistent. Prepackaged, boxed foods are so high in sodium, preservatives and other chemicals that whatever convenience you are gaining, you are losing in nutrition. Boxes usually don’t equate healthy food. Things like Hamburger Helper should be avoided.
Also, certain ingredients should be avoided. As I mentioned above, all high fructose corn syrups, artificial sweeteners and preservatives, items with sugar listed in the top 3 ingredients, unless it is a dessert, and all diet foods should be avoided. I would add to that list artificial colors in your day to day diet, however, in my opinion, I think a few jelly beans at Easter, and certain treats during other like times, have their place. Remember it is all about balance.
Not everything needs to be organic but upgrading the staples like eggs and dairy is a great start. Organic eggs are 6 times less likely to be contaminated with Salmonella and organic milk will be free of hormones and aspartame, not to mention you will be getting what you are paying for, as some whole milks are actually cut with skim.
Upgrade your fruit and veggies. Apples, cherries, grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, raspberries, strawberries, bell peppers, celery, potatoes and spinach are usually high in pesticides and buying organic would eliminate that. While avocados, bananas, mangoes, papayas, pineapples, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, corn (sweet), onions, and peas (sweet), are very low and if money was a concern, you could forgo buying them organic.
Upgrade your meat
The practices of raising the meat animals actually harms the nutritional standard, not to mention that the feed that many animals are eating are full of pesticides and GMO foods. Buying organic meat can get costly but if you cut your meat dishes down, reduce amount in dishes, buy from a local butcher or go in with other families to purchase an animal, then the costs are cut by over half sometimes.
Buying organic packaged and canned foods is less beneficial than fresh, though they still are better than those that aren’t organic, however, if money is tight, skip organic packaged and canned foods. If you already eat organic staple foods this could be a time for you to upgrade as well.
Upgrade your organic, cage-free eggs to soy free eggs, your organic milk to raw milk (do research on raw milk, it is a hot topic), and your organic meats for grass-fed meats. Also, checking into a certified humane product is always a step up too!
Do labels scare you? Check out my post on labels and how to read them.
Don’t buy… grow it
Plant a garden, which is something that can be so beneficial even if you live on a small lot. Not only can you learn something new, have fun with your family, but you can gain the actual fruits of your labor. You can buy seeds at minimal cost, put in your time and gain a wonderfully organic product, assuming you don’t use regular pesticide methods. Buy organic milk and cultures to make your own yogurt and you will actually save money. I make about 80 ounces of yogurt at a time for about $4 and I can’t find organic yogurt in the stores for that price.
Making yogurt is easy, it’s fun to show your kids and isn’t something you have to babysit. There are many things you can make like cheeses, sour cream, kefir, breads, all can be cheaper and healthier than that in the store and you can spend some time with your family learning something new.
If you have room and are zoned for it, get some backyard chickens for eggs, rabbits for meat and a goat for milk. Read more about meat rabbits here. I would try one at a time, taking on too much will result in failure, but buying a couple chicks or rabbits might be a good place to start.
The important thing is that you take a look at your food and do your best to make changes to healthy food, but changes that will last. Try to have fun with it and enjoy the effort of trying new things and new recipes. Any suggestions or new recipes you want to share, please do in the comment section. All my best and enjoy your next shopping trip!
🙂 Bem + fam
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