Grocery Shopping Tips: Shopping Smartly & Eating Healthy

Friday, May 4, 2012

Grocery shopping can be very overwhelming and expensive! This blog post is dedicated to giving you great strategies to make grocery shopping more cost effective and help you make better decisions in regards to healthy eating. It's going to be a long post but one worth reading for sure! 

The Best Way to Save Money at the Grocery Store Starts Before you Even Arrive!
Supermarkets are designed to stimulate shopping and to encourage you to buy and eat more food. They're not particularly interested in whether you eat healthy or not but that you buy, buy, buy.
"2/3 of what we buy at the grocery store are impulse buys"
There are many great ways you can prepare yourself to not fall victim to this before you even arrive:

  1. Don't go grocery shopping while hungry. Sounds silly but psychologically you're more likely to make impulse buys when you shop on an empty stomach. So fuel up!
  2. Try to do your grocery shopping on less busy days. This is because it will create a low stress environment, you'll have better access to aisles and items you want to purchase, and you'll be less likely to try to grab something because it's easier to get to. You also might feel more rushed and not give yourself enough time to read labels because you're trying to get out of the way! Typically, government holidays and weekends are busiest. Monday through Wednesday tend to be less busier! In fact, according to Progressive Grocer, Tuesdays are the least crowded day of the week!
  3. Create a shopping list! There are many different ones out there, find one that works for you. Here's a good one:
  4. Set a budget beforehand of how much you want to spend and STICK TO IT! (see next tip)
  5. A good way to stick to your budget is to only bring that much cash with you! Leave your credit and debit cards at home and then there is no way to over spend :)
  6. Keep your cabinets and pantry's organized at home. This will allow you to quickly see what items you already have to so don't double purchase things and waste money!
  7. Dedicate shelf in your cabinet or pantry to key staple items that you need for many recipes (baking products, beans, canned tomato products, nuts, herbs, oil, pasta, rice, vinegar, etc.)
  8. Going off tips 5 & 6, do LOOK through your cabinets and pantry before going grocery shopping, even if you think you remember what's there.
  9. Give yourself plenty of time to grocery shop! Don't squeeze it in on a busy day. Food is important! Devote the time it deserves! When you rush to grocery shop you spend more money and don't give yourself enough time to read labels to buy the healthiest options!
  10. Try growing your own herbs. They're very easy, can often times be grown indoors, and you can use them in so  many recipes! Think about it--they're expensive in the store.
  11. Bring your own reusable bags because often times they'll earn you a .5-.10 cent discount!
  12. Filter your own water or drink tap water. Makes no sense to buy bottled water!
Now that I've given you some tips before you actually get to the store, lets talk about what you can do IN the store! First, did you know that pretty much all grocery stores have the same strategic layout and shelf design? They're designed with the produce and flowers in the front, followed by the bakery somewhere in the front of the store. The back is devoted to "staple" items such as meat and dairy. The middle isles have conventional products. The check-out isles have convenience items to attract  convenience  store shoppers and to get you to pick up one last thing you "need". Obviously, the bank is located at the front so you can get money (but remember tip #4!). The produce is located at the front to communicate that it's fresh and it creates a sensory experience. The bakery smells create a warm and inviting feeling. The flowers enhances the image of the store. Milk and dairy are located in the back of the store to make sure they can catch you all throughout the way to the back. 

  • The top shelf is dedicated to smaller, regional, and gourmet brands
  • The part of the shelf a eye level is called the "bulls eye zone" and it features the best sellers and name brands
  • The lower section of the shelf a kids eye level to appeal to them. You'll notice colorful items!
  • The bottom shelf contain store brands, over size, and bulk items! Be a bottom shelf shopper!
So now that you know what to do before you go grocery shopping and now know all the tricks of the grocery store, here are some strategies for while you're IN the store.

First there are many advantages and disadvantages to buying fresh, canned, and frozen produce. Special thanks to Shopping Matters, a program of Share our Strength for these great tips.
  • When it comes to fresh, you'll find great variety and the ability to touch and smell before buying. However, you have to use it quickly before it goes bad and you need to know about ripeness and proper storage.

    Tips: Save money by purchasing produce that's IN season. Not only will it be healthier for the planet but save you money and be fresher. Consider substituting in season produce in your recipes. Also, if you're unfamiliar with how to pick something out, ask somebody in produce for help! Try to only purchase enough for no more than a week! Don't forget that it's in the fridge!

    If you find yourself unable to eat what you have before it goes bad there are things you can do to salvage it! Including: combining fruits to make a salad, use it for dessert after dinner, add it to your cereal or oatmeal, freeze fruit for smoothies at another time, use overripe produce in muffins, breads, pancakes, etc., add vegetables to soups, stews, casseroles, pastas sauces, or omelets, save any vegetable scraps to make a vegetable stock for soup!

    Always remember that the closest your produce is to it's original form the more nutrients it retains. Through freezing and canning you loose some of these (but not all!)...and even through cooking. Also, read the PLU codes...the further it traveled the less fresh it is or the more things that were done to it to preserve it's freshness!

    Did you know that the PLU codes indicate if a product is organic or not? If it starts with a 9 it means it is organic. If it starts with a 4 it means it is grown conventionally!
  • Canned is another great option that can often save money when purchasing produce. Produce is froze at peak freshness, allows you to eat cheaper out of season, has a long shelf life (2-4 years), little prep, and available year round. However, it may have added things such as sugar, sodium, and fat. Additionally, the texture changes with canning.

    Tips: Choose canned vegetables that are low in sodium and fat and canned fruit hat is in light syrup or juice. Rinse canned vegetables to reduce sodium and rinse canned fruit to reduce calories.
  • Consider buying fresh produce and freezing it for future use. Keep in mind that there are freezing procedure:
  • Know what's in season:
  • Make sure you properly wash ALL fruits and vegetables before consuming. They may not only carry pesticide residue but tons of bacteria from transport. Even produce such as watermelons and oranges should be rinsed because pesticide and bacteria may reside in the rhines and when you cut with a knife or peel with your nails it can be transferred to those surfaces and than consumed by you. E. Coli and salmonella are serious bacterial threats that you can easily avoid! See next tip to know how to make a produce wash.
  • To make a produce wash, simply buy a dollar store water bottle and fill it with 3 cups of water and 1 cup of distilled white vinegar. You should spray the produce and let it sit for 5 minutes then run it under COLD water rubbing it with your hands or a brush. Then voila, all clean and safe!
  • It makes sense to buy some produce in bulk, such as onions and potatoes, as they have long shelf lives.
The meat industry can be very confusing to understand as it is flooded with often misleading labels that are added as a marketing tool. This is a GREAT resource that better explains what labels mean: For example...seeing "family farm" may make you more comfortable in buying a package of meat really means nothing other than a majority of the business is owned by the operator and individuals related to the operator by blood or marriage. It says nothing about the moral practices of the farm, it's production standards, sustainability, or size. Additionally "cage free" might seem great but there is no legal or regulated definition. Just because they were cage free doesn't mean they were raised outside in uncramped quarters and beak cutting is still permitted. So the moral of the store is really know what those labels mean! Here are some more pointers:
  • Think of meat a luxury to be consumed maybe once a week. Many people believe meat should be consumed with every meal. By consuming meat less frequently, you'll save money!
  • Know the proper portion sizes of meat. We often eat way larger portions than recommended. One serving of cooked meat is 3oz. which is the size of a bar of soap. A hamburger patty should be the size of a hockey puck. A serving of fish should be the size of a check book.
  • Try to purchase lean cuts which will have "round", "loin", or "leg" in he name (ex. tenderloin, sirloin, etc.). If it says 90% lean that means 10% is fat.
  • To consume meat in a healthier manner, try to prepare your meat in healthier ways. For example, instead of fried chicken bake it to retain a crispness.
  • Compare unit prices! The unit price shows the cost of an ounce, pint, a pound, or other amount of food and can help you compare the cost of food in different sized containers. Before you buy in bulk, think about the amount of people in your household, if you have enough space to store it,  and if the bulk size cost less per unit than the smaller sizes. For example, a 32oz. can of green beans (Can A) is $1.69. The unit price is 84.5 cents per pound. The other can of green beans (Can B) is 14.5oz. and cost 89 cents a can. It's unit price is 98.2 cents per pound. So even though Can A cost more, it's 13.7 cents cheaper per pound and is the better value.
  • Also consider that meat and dairy significantly increase your chances for chronic diseases and you might want to think about severely limiting your intake or cutting them out of your diet completely. I great documentary you can watch as a starting point to learn more is Forks Over Knives: And it's streaming on Netflix!

Like eat, consuming dairy past a certain age is certainly a hot topic and one you can decide upon for yourself. Similar to meat, dairy consumption is known to increase your chances for chronic diseases so once again I suggest watching Forks Over Knives. The milk industry is a giant monopoly that constantly runs campaigns (ever heard of "Got Milk?") to convince people that we need milk for calcium and it's essential to a healthy life. Notice the "Got Milk?" campaigns never advertise a particular brand of milk. Also, they are huge lobbyers that promote and encourage government agencies such as the CDC to encourage dairy consumption! Here are some pointers:
  • Purchase low-fat dairy products for adults and children over the age of 2
  • Yogurt packaged for children contains high amounts of sugar! Instead, purchase plain and low-fat yogurt and flavor it yourself. You can do this by adding things such as: fruit, granola, cinnamon, or honey. Get creative!
  • Plain yogurt is a great healthy substitute for sour cream in recipes.
  • There are many great non-dairy products that you can get calcium from. They include: calcium-fortified orange juice, soy/rice/almond milk, leafy greens, etc.
  • Compare labels for butter and margarine. Butter contains more saturated fat but many margarine products contain saturated fat AND trans fat which both have negative consequences on our health.
  • Remember that eggs are an economical source of protein. If kept refrigerated, they can last 4 to 5 weeks after you purchase them. Often times, they are still good after their "expiration dates" and there is a really easy water trick you can do to figure out if your eggs are still good or not:
  • When it comes to cheese, again compare unit prices and labels but also take into consideration if whole blocks or shredded versions are cheaper for what you need. Sometimes, it may save you money if you grate it yourself. Plus, it makes it more versatile as you can have it in both forms!
Always shop for WHOLE GRAINS. They have the most nutrients and vitamins which are often lost in the refining process. They contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants!Here are some more pointers:
  • Just because the bread is brown does not mean its made with whole grains!
  • Whole grains should be the FIRST item listed on the ingredients. You may see: whole, whole grain, bulgur, buckwheat, millet, oatmeal, quinoa, or brown rice.
  • Any whole grain that is listed after the first ingredient may be a tiny amount! So don't be fooled when it says "made with whole grains" always, always, ALWAYS read the label.
  • To save money, look for bread baked on the previous day. It's still good but they will mark the price down.
  • Stretch your bread products by using it for things like french toast, stuffing, croutons, bread crumbs, etc.
  • Bread can be kept froze for up to 6 months. So if you think you won't use it right away, leave out however much you need and freeze the rest.
CerealBreakfast cereals are often high in sugar and are geared towards appealing to young children. However, we all know that at no matter what the age we all fall victim to this sugary sweet stuff. Here are some great strategies:
  • Purchase low-sugar cereals and add sweetness by topping with fruit like bananas, berries, etc.
  • Try to purchase store brands to save money
  • Don't be fooled by labels on juice. "100% Vitamin C" doesn't mean it's 100% juice. Only if it's labeled "100% Juice" is it really that.
  • Again, pay attention to serving sizes on your snack foods. We often consume way more calories than necessary.
  • Don't buy bottled water. Drink tap water or filter it yourself. Additionally, you can add flavor to it by adding things such as slices of citrus, other fruits and berries, or herbs like mint!
  • Instead of throwing out leftovers, save them so you can "snack" on them.
  • Make your own snacks instead of the high calorie and processed snacks in the middle isle. Ideas: cheese and a piece of fruit, whole wheat crackers, raw vegetables with peanut butter, slice of deli meat rolled around a piece of cheese.
When Reading Labels
The % daily value helps you determine if a serving of food is high or low in a nutrient. Keep in mind this rule: 20%+ is HIGH and 5% or less is LOW. So you want foods HIGH in fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium and Iron. They are key nutrients that help fight disease and support a healthy body. You want foods LOW in fat, cholesterol, and sodium because they increase your risk for many chronic illnesses including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

I hope that this little guide has been of help to you. Please comment with questions and general comments and if you disagree with something! This is solely my opinion, experience, and research. I am by no means a dietitian, just an informed consumer! Ultimately, what you choose to consume and how much you choose to spend on it (in both time and money) is your decision. What works best for me may not work for you so it's important to think about what strategies you can incorporate into your lifestyle. On a closing note, I'd like to suggest a great book that is a terrific resource and guide into the confusing world of food. What to Eat by Marion Nestle, a famous foodie and scholar in the field (she teaches at NYU), is wonderful! Go read it.

Last, but not least, I'll leave you with this short video of a grocery store tour I did recently. The quality isn't great and it's only snippets. All the important stuff is in this post :)


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