Let’s face it, when you go to the grocery store, there are so many choices, so many options, so many different things to look at, it can be overwhelming. How do you know what to choose, and what are the best foods to buy?
Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer since it varies based on the way you and your family like to cook, what they like to eat, and what food restrictions you may have. Without hiring someone to do all the shopping for you (wouldn’t that be nice?!), you have to learn what works for your family.
Over the last few years, we have really changed the way we think about food. After being gifted the book 100 Days of Real Food a few years ago, we have started to shift the types of foods and meals that we have in our house. That being said, here are the top 3 things we have done to try to be the healthiest grocery shoppers we can.
Know Ingredients to Avoid
Before you even hit the grocery store, know what ingredients you want or need to avoid. If you have someone with celiac’s disease in your house, then it’s important to learn what foods are considered gluten that will cause a reaction. Same as if you are buying foods for someone who is lactose intolerant or a nut allergy. Knowing the ingredients to avoid is the highest priority when dealing with allergies.
Sometimes, though, ingredients aren’t avoided because of a medical necessity, such as an allergy, but more out of preference. For those who want to limit how much sugar they consume, know the different names that sugar can go by. Or if you want to follow a vegan diet, then make sure to do your research ahead of time on what products are best.
For my family, we try to eat mostly real or whole foods as outlined in the 100 Days book I mentioned earlier. One of the main things I try to avoid is High Fructose Corn Syrup, so we look for options that don’t include it. At first, it wasn’t easy. It seems like HFCS is in almost everything, but as we have gotten better at making meals without processed foods, we have noticed it’s also easier to avoid.
Don’t forget to write your grocery list so you know what you are getting. Or if something you want/need to avoid is new, also write down a list of the items to avoid that you can reference.
Read The Labels
And I don’t just mean checking how many calories are in something. If you want to shop healthy, you need to really take the time to compare your options. Yes, the first time or two you do this, it probably will take you a little longer at the store than usual, but once you start to figure out which brand you like, it will go quicker again.
One example: I had a hard time finding some blackberry jelly that doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup in it. For most of the ones on the shelf, that’s either the first ingredient (meaning a high amount) or one of the first few. If HFCS is one of the first three ingredients, it goes right back on the shelf for me.
Make sure to read the whole label. If you are avoiding high salted foods, look both at the sodium content on the nutrition facts label, and look through the ingredients list as well. We have learned over the last few years that it’s more useful to check the ingredients before the nutrition facts. For the most part, an item that has good ingredients is pretty well balanced on the nutrition amounts.
Shop The Edges
When in doubt, shop the edges of the store. Have you ever noticed that most grocery stores are laid out in a fairly similar way? When you enter, either to one side or the other is all of the fresh produce, fruit juices, the deli, and the bakery. Then along the back of the store and sometimes wrapping to the other side is the milk, cheese, eggs, and other dairy foods as well as the uncooked meats.
In other words, almost all of the unprocessed foods can be found without actually hitting most of the aisles. Try to get as much of your food from these edges, and you should generally be getting most of the healthier foods in the store.
Yes, I know eating the fresh, healthy foods is a little more work when it comes to preparing dinner, but your health is worth it. The costs are sometimes higher, but if you can do some of the cash-back grocery apps it greatly helps offset the cost. And besides, how can you put a monetary value on your family’s health?