The Great Grocery Store Game

by Dave on October 15, 2009

by Lisa Harkins, RD

One of the services I offer to my clients is a grocery store tour. It’s hard enough to know what to eat, let alone navigate the boundless choices at the market, so my experience as a regular person AND a licensed nutritionist makes me the perfect companion to take along on your next shopping trip. And you, my loyal CSW reader, will get the inside scoop on the information I share on these tours, no charge. But just SOME of the info, since I can’t give ALL my secrets away for free, as much as I love you all! 

So where does one begin? First things first, take an inventory. Before you leave the house, check the cabinets, frig and pantry to see which foods you need. Better yet, plan your menus for the week. Knowing what you and your family are going to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner ahead of time will save you valuable time and money. Second, bring a list. That way you will get what you need, and be less apt to purchase items on impulse (which tend to be high in fat, sugar, sodium and calories). It helps if you organize the list into the different areas of the store (i.e. frozen foods, dairy, produce, canned goods, meats, breads). This is a great way to get the older kids involved by giving them each an area to shop. Third, don’t shop on an empty stomach.  If you can, eat a meal before you go, or grab a granola bar to munch on the way.

Fourth, an oldie but goodie, shop around the perimeter of the store. Foods in the center of the store tend to be more processed and not as healthy as those items found on the outer aisles, such as fruits and veggies, dairy, fresh meats, and fish and seafood. Fifth, don’t forgo frozen!  It can be even fresher than fresh, (I know all my fresh foodies are grimacing about right now- bear with me). Frozen fruits and veggies are harvested at the peak of ripeness and flash frozen to seal in nutrients. Fresh can be exposed to less than ideal handling, shipping and storage conditions, in addition can lose additional nutrients while exposed to light on grocery store shelves. And sixth, contrary to popular belief, canned goods can be good! Don’t be afraid to use canned beans, veggies, tomato sauce, etc…Canned items are super convenient and time-saving. Just rinse beans and veggies in a colander to remove up to 40% of the sodium, and look for low sodium or no-added salt items. But definitely avoid canned soups altogether – even the “healthier” lower-sodium varieties are loaded with the stuff.

Lastly, be sure to patronize your local farmer’s markets and natural food stores instead of cruising on auto-pilot to the closest Mega-Super-Crazy-Crowded-We-Sell-Bikes-and-Will Change-Your Oil-Oh-And-We-Got-Food store. You will be thrilled with the freshness, pleased with the variety, and surprised at the value, not to mention customer-service (remember that?) these markets provide. Maybe you won’t be able to get a haircut and pick up a onesy for little Betsy while grabbing some milk, but at least you can feel good knowing you are getting quality food while supporting your community.

Lisa Harkins is a clinical registered dietitian with Bayhealth Medical Centers and the owner of Ideal Nutrition and Fitness LLC (www.idealnutritionandfitness.com). You can reach her at lisa@idealnutritionandfitness.com.

This column first appeared in Coastal Sussex Weekly, July 23, 2009.

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