Change Starts at the Grocery Store

Besides cutting back on eating out and grabbing a pre-packaged, processed food here and there, change truly starts at the grocery store when we decide what we place in our carts  We eat what’s around, plain and simple.  If there are cookies in my house or homemade sweet potato pie, I will eat it.  Perhaps, you have stronger will power, but most of the time we eat what’s around.  

So we know we need to avoid processed foods, but where to start?  Below are some helpful tips to use when you are in the grocery store, because that is where the change begins!

A good rule of thumb is to stay in the perimeter of the supermarket where you will find the fresh produce, dairy products, eggs, meat, fish, and frozen fruit and vegetables.  These are whole, real foods.  Although herbs, spices, dried beans, and whole grains such as brown rice, oatmeal, and popcorn are in the interior of the store, there are some aisles which you shouldn’t even go down, especially if you have children.  The nagging and “will-you-buy-this-for-me” questions come rolling in if you go down the chips, cookies, and cereal aisles.  And personal cravings may kick in if you see your favorite Keebler cookies or bag of Lays potato chips.  Unless you have an extremely good reason to go down these aisles, it’s best to avoid them all together.  Of course what is best, isn’t always going to happen! Soooo if you see yourself wandering to these aisles, only get 1 or 2 of your favorite snacks instead of your normal 3 or 4.  We all start somewhere, and it’s a matter of cutting back from what you currently eat!!!  

Another general rule of thumb is to limit foods with health claims plastered on them (of course you might have a few items here and there, but make it an exception and not the rule).  These products are merely advertising that they have a good marketing team on their side.  Being healthy is the trend now and key marketing words that are used include: natural or nature, antioxidants, fiber, whole grains, omega-3’s, sugar-free, and in some circles, low-fat and gluten-free  So, I say it again, BEWARE of these marketing ploys which are used to lure in health-seeking consumers such as yourself.  With trends come marketing ploys; just think, artificially-colored Froot Loops are made with Whole Grains now and Trident has a new line of gum made with real fruit (I checked on the label and not a fruit in sight!).  Read for yourself and look more closely at the Nutrition Facts labels.

If only fruit and vegetable producers had the funds to get creative with their labeling and marketing strategies.  I think they will need more than Popeye to boost spinach sales, however!  Relating to the first recommendation of staying on the perimeter of the grocery store, perhaps the most important rule of thumb is to stock up on fruit and vegetables.  

Having a lot of vegetables around will force you to use them to clear out space in the refrigerator and freezer.  If you pay $1.99 or more for a head a broccoli, 9 times out of 10, you will make use of it! Plan ahead and pair up your vegetable side dishes with the meals that you will be making throughout the week.  If you have broccoli, fresh spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, green beans, and sweet peas in stock, you should be going through a mental checklist:

  • Monday–spaghetti, broccoli and spinach salad, check;
  • Tuesday–baked chicken, brown rice, green beans, and sweet potato, check; and  
  • Wednesday–salmon patties, sweet peas, carrots, and whole wheat rolls, check; and so forth….
If you don’t have one already, get a fruit bowl to place in a visible location in your kitchen.  So, when I previously said stock up, I really meant stock up!!!  If you have three people living in your household, this means getting 2 bunches of bananas, about 10 apples or so, and another large batch of fruit that your family enjoys.  Placing the fruit in a visible location is key, so when heading out for the day you and your family members can grab 2 or even 3 pieces.  One of my co-workers even has a fruit bowl at his desk.  

A common argument is that fruit and vegetables are too expensive for how much calories you get from them.  This is certainly a valid point, but considering the natural fiber content (and this is an appropriate use of the word natural I might add!) along with the essential vitamins and minerals, fresh fruit and vegetables are worth the investment.  Compared to any other country in the world, Americans pay the smallest percentage on food costs.  Estimates suggest only 6% of our income.  Given the importance of food for our health and survival, I would certainly say that we have lost a sense of our priorities and what is truly important.  We can easily spend $15 on parking or $12 or more to go see a movie, but cringe when we see $2.99/lb for apples (of course this is a generalization, but I am using this for the sake of argument).  

So the next time you go to the grocery store, think of eating real and mostly plants.  The idea is that with each successive grocery store visit, the conveyer belt will look less and less like an advertisement for Kraft, Nestle, Pepsico, Kellog, and General Mills (they produce a good bit of our pre-packaged foods).  If you have a few processed, convenience foods sprinkled in, no worries and no guilt, because change is a process!  

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