How to improve your food shopping starting today!
Food shopping will never be the same for you!
I did not appreciate the difficulties of shopping in a grocery store until I was medical director of Lifestyle180 at the Cleveland Clinic, a lifestyle modification program to treat chronic disease. There, our nutritionist and chef took groups of patients to the grocery to teach them how to shop intelligently and healthily.
Yes, that’s right: teach.
It’s not intuitive, afterall, and the odds are stacked against us. All those aisles, all those labels. It can be overwhelming to say the least. Now, however, there is a guidebook for those of us who can’t actually walk the aisles of a grocery store with an expert. Bonnie Taub-Dix, a registered dietician nutritionist, has recently released the 2nd edition of her book Read it Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label to Table. Food shopping will never be the same for you!
I recently spoke with Bonnie to discuss some her accessible advice that we all can appreciate as we navigate the aisles.
Why is food shopping so confusing? Food shopping can befuddle all of us, even those of us who should know what’s on the shelves. Bonnie was inspired to write this book because there was no one-stop easy explanation available. So, why confusing? First and foremost, she explained to me how we don’t make the time to shop. The irony with that, though, is that most of us spend more time actually shopping! (I can be guilty of this!) It’s difficult to be efficient when you don’t know how to be more efficient. And grocery stores don’t make it easy, do they? Often times, the marketing and packaging are purposely deceptive and difficult to understand. Just even having a cursory understanding of what’s on a label can make the process so much easier. In her book, Bonnie breaks down the label, line by line. (This was one of my favorite take-aways!)
Which food labels are misleading or downright deceptive? Food labels can be so misleading that she wrote an entire chapter just focused on this…and gives it away for free on her site because she feels so strongly about it! Between our own preconceived ideas and biases and the media and product marketing in general, it’s extremely difficult to know what’s what. For example, we talked about wheat bread. All wheat bread is not created equal. The first ingredient that you want to look for is “whole grain.” Yet many of us look first for “multigrain” because we erroneously believe that multigrain is healthier. However, if the bread in question is not comprised of “whole multigrains”, then it’s not actually healthier! Most wheat is enriched, and has been stripped of its’ nutrients, some of which have been added back. Whole grains retain their nutrients.
What are some tips to help people shop for the healthiest foods without it taking hours to shop? Bonnie and I discussed her five top tips to shop for healthy food. Underlying all of this is an understanding that foods should not be lumped into black and white categories, i.e. this one is not good for you, and this one is, etc. It’s more nuanced than that; and we would all benefit by having a more positive relationship to the foods that we eat!
The top five:
1. Take one day up front, and spend time – a lot of time! – to walk the aisles of your most-frequented grocery store. Compare products, develop your own personalized food preferences, and learn where what you tend buy is located in the store.
2. Now, make a grocery list based on the configuration of that store. For example, my most-frequented store starts with fruits and vegetables, then meat and dairy, and then the individual aisles. Then, print it out, and leave it out on your kitchen counter or in a favorite spot where everyone in the house can fill it out.
3. Bring this list to the grocery store; you’ll be shocked at how fast you speed up and down the various aisles.
4. Don’t forget to look for what’s on sale, and to look in the frozen food aisle. Frozen fruit, for example, is sometimes both healthier and cheaper: this fruit is often picked at its peak freshness, flash frozen and then shipped.
5. Don’t go to the store hungry! It seems so obvious and yet when Bonnie mentioned this, I had to laugh as I often go to the store hungry. As she reminded me, I’d save time, money and calories if I ate something beforehand!
What’s the best way to get kids to eat healthfully? Getting kids involved early and often with food shopping helps to make it just a normal part of their lives. Bonnie spoke of thinking of the grocery store like a giant classroom, and also of making it more of game. Kids love to cook, so involving them in shopping for a favorite dish or even a meal that they want to make is empowering. Although I don’t bring my kids to the store enough with me, I do show them labels at home. Even small steps like this add up.
What are some ways to make old family favorite recipes healthier? Bonnie loves to cook, as do I. Both of us believe in simple swaps for easy, delicious and super-healthy food. She prefers realistic ingredients that can be easily obtained. For example, she suggested that I could swap out butter with mashed avocado (Have any of you tried that yet? I didn’t know about this swap!) She also swaps out AP (all purpose) flour and uses whole wheat pastry flour instead. It’s so liberating to just work with what you have, rather than feeling constrained by a recipe!
Don’t be fooled by adages, and out-of-date slogans: And finally, I had learned the adage “Just shop the perimeter” (this is often where the fresh fruits and vegetables and proteins are). Bonnie had a new one for me instead: “Make the most of the middle.” Afterall, the aisles in the middle of the grocery store are replete with healthy items, too, like nuts and canned beans and lentils.