Grocery Shopping: Quicker, Smarter and Healthier

The following post was written by Chef Dave Fouts for Obesity Action Coalition’s Your Weight Matters magazine.

Grocery store shopping does not have to be difficult. Believe it or not, the grocery store is set up in a way to get you to purchase what they want you to place in your cart. Whether you want to or not. Some of these items can be healthy but, unfortunately, most are not.

Grocery stores are paid to support a specific product line and to advertise. For instance, if Keebler is promoting a new cookie, they will market and pay the grocery store for space at the front of the store or on an end-cap (space at the end of the isle). This is where the food is most noticeable to the consumer. As for product placement on the aisles, it is about the grocery store making the most money. So anything within eyesight and where no reaching or bending is involved is where the most popular and most profitable items are located.

It is no mistake that cartoon characters on cereal boxes are located at your child’s eye level while the healthier cereal is located at yours. Grocery stores spend money on research which proves that product placement is where most of the money is made. This article is going to give you the ammunition to shop quicker, smarter and healthier.

Let’s Start with Quicker

Before stepping into your local grocery store, you need to make a list of items needed. This list should be made on a full stomach (pouch … a little humor for those weight-loss surgery patients). When you are hungry, your list goes from being 40 items long to well over double the size because your cravings start to set in and somehow end up on the list. In addition, I recommend having a simple meal plan for each week and sticking to it.  When you plan to eat sandwiches, salads and soups for lunch at work or school, and chicken, fish and beef dishes for dinner throughout the week, it will help you make your grocery list and keep it concise.

Your pantry should be treated like a commercial kitchen dry storage area with certain par levels (amounts that should always be in your cupboard) maintained. I always keep three cans of chicken stock, two jars of tomato sauce, two one pound packages of whole wheat pasta and so-on. When I go to make my grocery list, if I only have one can of chicken stock left, I know I need to get two more. This keeps me from over buying or not having it at all. This may take a few minutes to set up in your kitchen, but will save you time in the long run.

Next, on to Smarter

Now that you have your grocery list, don’t be fooled by everything you see … meaning all the paid advertisement spots I spoke about in the beginning of this article and the box fronts stating “low-fat, no fat, no sugar added, new formula,” etc. Not everything is as it may seem. Remember, if they take fat out they normally replace it with another product that is probably not good for you, such as more sugar or even food additives I cannot pronounce. As a rule of thumb, if you can’t pronounce the food additive, do you want to eat it?

Look up! Look down! This is where the healthier and a smarter consumers shop. It may require a step stool to get to or you may even have to get down on your knees, but the nutrition you get will certainly be worth it. This is where your whole grain and whole wheat items can be found.

Whatever you do, no matter how tempting it is, DO NOT deviate from your list. A grocery store is set up like a candy store for kids but with grown-ups at the top of the list.

Did you know that up to 25 percent of the grocery store profits can come from the deli and bakery area? These foods are marked up because they are considered convenient foods and can cost upwards of double the price of making it yourself. Not to mention the fact that they do not really have your health in mind.

Most of all, Healthier

Read, read and read the food labels on the back of the packing. Nutritional claims on the front of the package can be misleading. They are designed to make you buy products with their bottom line coming first.

The best advice I can offer was given to me by a great friend of mine, Chris Corcoran, MS, RD/LD of the WeightWise Bariatric program. “Choose foods that have the shortest ingredient list.” A good example is peanut butter. One peanut butter may indicate it is low-fat but have more than six ingredients listed while another product may have only two – salt and peanuts. The choice is obvious.

Produce is another area where most will think fresh is better than frozen. This may have been true 10 years ago; however, now most produce and fruit is frozen within hours of being harvested and therefore keeping the nutrients within each item. Whereas the fresh produce may have been picked over two to three weeks ago and may not give you the same nutritional benefits. So, shop healthy without breaking the bank and check out the items in the frozen section… especially if they are not in season.

When dealing with meats that are packaged for cold and hot sandwiches such as cold cuts and hotdogs, they need to be chosen carefully. Cold cuts should resemble the meat it came from not round or square. Also, note that items such as salami and bologna contain a lot of processed materials and have very little protein in them. Hot dogs are processed as well, so choose the ones that are made of all beef or turkey.

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