How many times have you gone to the grocery store and spent more money than you planned, buying foods that you didn't need, and forgetting the few key ingredients that you actually did need? And how many times have you had to take extra trips to the store during the week to buy one or two ingredients? Oh, and what about forgetting veggies that are in your fridge and having to throw them out because they went bad?
These things happen to all of us, but there is a better way! I promise! Doing a bit of planning, making a good list and shopping strategically can save you money, time your health. It's National Nutrition Month and Registered Dietitians across Canada are teaching the public how to "bring healthy home" by planning, shopping for, cooking and enjoying food in a healthier way.
Here are 7 tips for smarter grocery shopping:
1. Plan your week: Ideally, making a weekly meal plan is best, but if you're like I am, having too much structure doesn't always work. We often plan most of our suppers (because those seem to be the most challenging meals) and then use leftovers for lunches and have lots of healthy breakfast and snack options so that we can choose on the fly. This strategy might work for your family too if you're not into planning every single meal and snack, but still need a bit of structure. If you know what you're going to have for supper, you can plan to take the meat out of the freezer to thaw the night before and get your veggies ready (washed, cut) so that prep time the next evening is minimal. Planning ahead will also save you at the grocery store. Knowing what you need for suppers and then taking inventory of your breakfast, lunch and snack foods before you make your list, will help you shop efficiently.
2. Make a list: Most of us make a list before we grocery shop (67% of us Canadians, according to a Dietitians of Canada 2012 survey), but the key is making sure that we write it stratgically and follow it while shopping. Take stock of what you need for the week (breakfasts, lunches, snacks, baking ingredients, frozen produce, supper items and household items) and stick to it while shopping.
3. Don't shop on an empty stomach: If you go to the grocery store hungry, you'll be more tempted to purchase items that seem appealing at that moment (and those foods will likely not be the best choices). You'll be more likely to make spur of the moment decisions and buy foods that you don't need and forgetting food that you actually DO need for the week. The best time to shop is after you've eaten a healthy meal or snack.
4. Plan out your route: Plan to start on the periphery of the grocery store first so that you gather the most important food items—fresh whole foods like veggies, fruits, fresh meat, poultry, fish, dairy, whole grain bread and the bulk section for nuts, seeds, dried fruit, dried beans/lentils, grains etc. Then, check your list and head down the isles that contain the food that you need only. Although tempting, avoid the isles that contain foods that you don't need (candy, cookies etc.) when you can. As soon as you see a food that looks delicious (but isn't healthy), you'll be tempted to buy it and eat it (the See-Food Syndrome).
5. Read labels and compare food products: When you're shopping for foods that have nutrition labels, read them when you can. Sometimes nutrition labels can be confusing and even misleading, so make sure that you look carefully. Compare different brands of the same item (for example, yogurt) and look first at the serving size that they are basing the nutrition information on (two different items may have different serving sizes). Remember, the serving size listed on a food item is not necessarily the recommended serving size, it's just a reference serving. When comparing food products, compare amounts of sugar (choose the lower one), sodium (choose the lower one), protein (choose the higher one), saturated fat (choose the lower one), trans fat (choose the one with NONE), and dietary fibre (choose the higher one). When you read the ingredients list, choose an item that has fewer ingredients and ingredients that you recognize to be healthy (ie. rolled oats or wheat bran vs. hydrogenated palm kernel oil or gelatin).
6. Cut corners in a healthier way: If you are someone who needs quick and easy options, don't opt for frozen TV dinners, or processed packaged foods that are full of fat, sugar, sodium and preservatives. Instead, choose convenient foods that are healthier, such as pre-cut, pre-washed veggies or fruit, ready-made hummus, canned beans or lentils (you can rinse and drain), individually wrapped cheeses, cottage cheese and fruit cups, frozen fruits and veggies, and pre-marinated fresh meats.
7. Prepare certain foods as soon as you get home: Give yourself some time when you get home from the store to wash, cut and divide your veggies and fruit so that it's ready to grab before you head out the door, or to add to a salad or stir-fry. This way, you'll be more likely to eat the veggies and fruit (it's easier) and there will be less waste. Also, divide up your fresh meat and poultry as soon as you get home and marinate it and or slice it up before packaging it and freezing it for future meals. This way, you won't have to defrost 10 chicken breasts at the same time when you only need 2 or 3 for a meal.