Healthier for You and Your Wallet
The grocery store often feels like a necessary evil. We go there every week, sometimes every day. One-stop shopping offers convenience. Some shoppers show loyalty to their local store, memorizing the layout and joining membership programs. Familiar or not, the abundance of items is overwhelming, leaving us with empty calories and wallets after checkout. Jerry Seinfeld captures this familiar experience, describing how even the most determined shopper soon ends up wandering the aisles aimlessly. It’s no coincidence that many of us get off track in the store. By playing up-beat music and placing pricier items at eye level, big grocers entice customers spend and buy more. Having a little bit of knowledge and preparation goes a long way when navigating the aisles.
These five simple hacks can help make the grocery store work for your health and budget:\
Bring a List (and stick to it!)
Like Seinfeld’s distracted shopper, we’ve all had shopping plans fall apart as we see the tempting products lining the shelves. These items add dollars and calories, not to mention wasted time and food, to your diet. How can you avoid this situation? Make a shopping list and stick to it. If handwritten lists don’t work for you, use a free mobile apps made to help you manage your grocery shopping. Grocery iQ and BagIQ allow you to enter items by text, voice, or barcode scan and cross them off as you shop. You can also find coupons and recipes right in the store and share your shopping list with family and friends. Use apps like Fooducate to scan for nutritional information and find the healthiest option available in the store. Many stores also offer online shopping services, another great way to help you resist buying things you don’t need.
Shop the Perimeter
It’s easy to get lost in the aisles of the grocery store. You walk in for one item and end up weaving through every aisle on your way. Designers intentionally set up grocery stores this way. They place essential items like milk and eggs in the back. That way, the customer has to walk past every temptation to get what they really need. But you can use the store’s layout to your advantage if you remember to shop the perimeter.
Shoppers will find colorful fresh produce, lean meats, and low-fat dairy around the edge of the store. Processed foods loaded down with salt, sugar and fat crowd the inner aisles, singing jingles and calling out your name. Avoid the inner aisles and pick up healthier choices along the outside - like substituting low-fat Greek yogurt for mayo. You do have to venture inward sometimes to find healthy items located among the sea of processed foods. Reserve the smaller section of your cart for these items, such as whole grains, and the main compartment for perimeter goods.
Buy in Bulk
Consider buying in bulk to save money and trips to the grocery store. Stocking your kitchen with healthy, versatile ingredients makes it much easier to cook nutritious meals at home. Look for cheaper store brands, which are usually the same quality minus the flashy label.
Check the meat counter for sales on lean protein, like fish and poultry, to throw in the freezer for future use. Pick up some low-sodium chicken, beef, or vegetable stock for an easy way to add flavor without extra calories. Root vegetables (onions, garlic, potatoes, carrots) stay fresh for months and are mainstays in a wide range of healthy meals. Canned beans, tomatoes, and veggies are great to have on hand, just check the labels for added sodium or oils. Buy your favorite spices in bulk and make spice mixes at home to save time on meal prep. Stock up on fresh herbs and freeze them in ice trays to extend their life and portion them for cooking. Keep whole grains, like brown rice and barley, and whole wheat pasta in your pantry for a healthier carb option.
Frozen is Fine
Not all frozen foods are created equal. Luckily, frozen vegetables and fruits are just as good for you as their fresh counterparts. Flash-frozen items typically retain all the original vitamins and minerals. Just check for added salt, sugar, or fat. Look for colorful medleys for a wide variety of nutrients in one package. Buying frozen produce also means spending less and reducing waste from overripe fresh items. Many items are pre-chopped and simple to use, like frozen spinach and carrots. Use mixed frozen fruits for quick smoothies and guilt-free desserts (blended bananas make delicious and nutritious one-ingredient ice cream!).
MYOB: Make Your Own Beverage
What you drink matters just as much to your health as what you eat. Beverages like soda and sweet tea are loaded with sugar and chemicals that can derail diets full of healthy foods. Don’t spend your money on these unhealthy drinks, use fresh ingredients to make better tasting drinks at home instead! Pick up fresh herbs, like mint and lavender, or citrus fruits to make easy infused water. Use tap water or seltzer water for a soda-like taste and keep a pitcher in the fridge for easy access. Have your kids help tear the leaves and squeeze juice into the pitcher so they’ll be more excited to drink their creation.
And, of course, don’t shop on an empty stomach (same goes for kids tagging along). Happy shopping!