With everything we know about food these days, grocery shopping can be a frustrating and time consuming task, especially if your family has special dietary needs that you have to accommodate. Reading labels and making good choices can be exhausting and pricey! But there are many ways you can quickly weed out the bad stuff and save time and energy, if you do a little research.
I can only speak for the diets that I have to accommodate in my own household, but I wanted to share the top three things I’ve learned throughout my years of learning how to eat healthier and how to grocery shop. It may or may not work for you and your family, but hopefully you will find something helpful.
1) For starters, as a general rule I try to eat as FRESH as possible. This can be more expensive than buying in bulk and freezing, but I’ve had some bad encounters with frozen foods, so this is what works best for both me and my family. It’s also a pretty healthy form of eating, which if you think about it, can save you money in the long run because it decreases future health problems and doctor visits. This rule also requires quite a bit of foot work. A lot of people are shocked when I tell them this, but I go to some kind of a food store probably 5 out of the 7 days a week. I know that seems time consuming, but it really isn’t if you know where you are going and what you’re getting before you head out. It just becomes part of your weekly routine. I feel very lucky that we live near several amazing bakeries, fish stores, and locally grown food stores in addition to our large chain grocery stores, so eating fresh is made really easy for us, but I know it’s not always possible for everyone.
2) Because of certain health needs in my family, every time I pick something up when I am grocery shopping I have to run through “the checklist” in my mind:
1-Is it low in carbohydrates? I have a blood sugar problem where I need to eat foods very low in sugar and high in protein. I don’t avoid ALL forms of carbs because some carbs are good for you (I LOVE bread and will never give it up) but I am mindful of my sugar intake. This is VERY difficult because virtually all food has sugar in it! Even things like pasta, ketchup, fruit, cereal, and honey can make me feel very sick if I don’t eat the low sugar versions or have protein with the sugary item. I always read the labels and try to buy the wheat bread with the least amount of sugar in it, the least sugary kinds of fruits, etc. Even if you aren’t sensitive to sugar, we are learning more and more how bad sugar can be for your body, but it’s hard to avoid it entirely. Also, unfortunately, some items that are low in sugar are then sweetened with artificial sweeteners (like light yogurt) which leads me to…
2-Are there artificial sweeteners added? If so, avoid it. I once tried to replace the sugar in my coffee with Splenda and had to stop after a week because it was causing me to have severe headaches. The minute I stopped using it, the headaches stopped. This experience really proved to me how badly artificial sweeteners can affect your body, but for people with sugar problems sometimes it’s your only choice. I rarely drink pop/soda (maybe once every two months, if that) but if I do, it has to be diet and caffeine free. This is something I always check for.
3-Is it low in cholesterol? High cholesterol runs in my family so I try to buy things that aren’t too high in cholesterol just to be safe (and for my husband’s health).
4-Is it organic? I try to buy as many organic foods as I can. Although I can’t always buy everything organic, I at least try to make sure I buy organic when it comes to the “Dirty Dozen” (which are the most contaminated with pesticides) foods: peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, imported grapes, spinach, lettuce, and potatoes. Some other high pesticide foods include corn, green beans, apricots, cucumbers, raisins, and soybeans.
5-If it is boxed, canned, or packaged, does it have 10 or less ingredients? I try to eat mostly whole foods but it’s very difficult to avoid all processed foods. When I DO have to buy them, I try to make sure they are as “pure” as possible. The least amount of ingredients and preservatives, the better!
So what does that leave us with? Mostly vegetables, but you’d be surprised. There are still many wonderful things to choose from, but I LOVE vegetables so I’m ok with this! They are a HUGE part of my family’s diet. This leads me to…
3) Buy a farm share or CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). We belong to an amazing farm in Easthampton, MA called Mountain View Farm. Each week during the summer, we are able to pick up our “share” of several varieties of fresh vegetables (and fruits occasionally) as well as go out in the fields and pick some of the items. The cost of the share averages out to about $20 a week, but you get WAY more than that in your weekly pickup as opposed to what you would get if you went to the grocery store and spent $20. Sometimes I feel like I am robbing them when I go because I leave with so much food! You can also split a share with another family which can help bring down the cost. Regardless, it is totally worth it!
A few other tips I always try to live by to accommodate my family’s dietary needs: shop in the outer parts of the grocery store where the fruits and vegetables are (avoid the inner isles where the boxed, canned, and processed foods are), make sure your plate has a variety of colors (for example, not too many white things like starches or too many brown things like meats), watch your portion sizes, and eat what your ancestors would have eaten. This means mostly fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, etc. This website http://www.foodtimeline.org/ is fascinating if you are interested in learning more about the history of the foods we eat.
Have you learned any tips or acquired any habits over the years that have helped accommodate a certain dietary need in your family? Please do share!
To find a CSA near you, visit http://www.localharvest.org/. For more information on Mountain View Farm, visit http://www.mountainviewfarmcsa.com/.