Whenever I begin working with a new nutritional client, there is inevitably a moment of hesitation or doubt surrounding grocery shopping. Perhaps it’s a ritual the person is simply out of practice on – turning too often to alternative options such as takeout or delivery. Or, maybe that person just needs a little extra help discerning between which food choices would fall more in line with his/her goals. It’s easy to understand where an individual might step into a grocery store and feel completely overwhelmed by the multitude of available options.
Where to begin? How much do I buy? What to do?
With most people grocery shopping once per week, a trip to the market can be pivotal in setting up your week for nutritional success. Therefore, it’s always best to tackle this weekly ritual with a bit of a game plan. To better prep you for grocery-game-day, here are my top 5 tips to see you safely through a journey to the market.
1. Never Grocery Shop While Hungry
Did your mother ever say this one to you? Look, I know this tip might read as if coming directly from a Cosmopolitan “How to Get a Flat Tummy Before Summer” article (oh how I LOATHE those…), but the science remains sound. If you head into a grocery store hungry, your brain will be looking at every possible temptation and convincing you of all the reasons why that pint of Ben & Jerry’s is the only available solution to your plight.
It’s amazing the things our brains can convince us of. Ever pop over to WebMD to search the symptoms of a common cold? Less than 10 minutes later and you’re probably convinced that your simple, stuffy nose is syphilis. Well, go into a grocery store hungry, and suddenly ice cream is a sound source of all your carbs, protein, and nutritional fats in one convenient carton.
Do you understand what I’m trying to throw down here? No, I’m not implying that ice cream is the syphilis of a grocery store. I’m not even trying to imply that ice cream is in all a “bad” choice. Ice cream is delicious and deserves to be enjoyed at its peak potential; unfortunately, consuming it based off the nagging of a gnarly sugar craving rarely proves to be one of those prime moments.
Beat the cravings before they beat you and make sure to at least have a snack before heading to your local store.
2. Shop the Perimeter
No doubt you’ve heard this one too. Now, if you reside in a big city like NY or LA, you’ve surely seen some odd layouts to one or two grocery stores. Therefore, this rule isn’t always cut and dry, but at its base is a solid guideline.
Most traditional groceries have a layout that keep fresh produce, meat, and dairy along the perimeter. Meanwhile, in the center sit the rows of shelves containing canned and processed foods full of preservatives, sugar, and artificial flavorings. These things are usually packaged with colorful, eye catching labels – making them all the harder to resist.
Regardless of whatever your goals may be – i.e. weight loss, increased muscle mass, or even just building a healthier lifestyle – you can never go wrong with whole foods. No, I’m not referring to the giant corporation recently bought out by Amazon. I’m talking single, solid, original foods. Items that you can look at and name the one ingredient they’re made of – i.e. chicken, cucumber, potato, etc.
Fill your basket and build your plate with unprocessed foods – I guarantee you will already be miles closer to achieving your goals.
3. Read the Ingredients
But what about the few odds and ends from those middle aisles that really help to keep your week afloat?
Yes. It’s true – there are a few solid items found within the middle shelves of a supermarket that can be happily welcomed into a healthy diet. But what’s the best way to weed through what is nutritional and what is junk? Well my dears, it’s all in how you read the label.
Especially for anyone dealing with food allergies or sensitivities, reading the ingredient panel is CRUCIAL to your health and wellness. It’s remarkable what inflammatory ingredients companies will try to sneak into their “healthy” cereals or “low-fat” snacks – so always remain aware. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you – if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
So let’s say you’ve picked up a box of a fancy new product promising a healthy solution to crackers, chips, cookies, *insert favorite snack food here*. Where/how should you start dissecting the nutritional label to see if this product is actually a solid choice for you? Well…
Rule #1…The less ingredients the better – Honestly, seeing a paragraph of ingredients nowadays makes me a little queasy. Who is keeping track of all that filler? You’ll be hard pressed to find me purchasing any item with over 5 listed ingredients. I would choose simple over complicated any day of the week – that goes for my indulgences as well.
Rule #2…You should be able to pronounce all ingredients – Scratch that – an 8 year old should be able to pronounce all ingredients, and you should be able to identify them all. Seriously, pick up a box of a commercial snack or goodie. Read the ingredient list going item by item and let me know how far you get before reaching something you are unfamiliar with. It’s a little creepy, isn’t it?
Rule #3…The order of ingredients matters – Ingredients in any given product will always be listed from most prominent to least. If sugar or one of its derivatives is listed anywhere between the first to third ingredient, I would personally aim to stay clear.
Rule #4…At the end of the day, a gluten-free cookie is still a cookie – I’m sorry, but it’s true. Removing one inflammatory ingredient does not a health-food make. In fact, most of the time, companies making these “gluten-free,” “vegan,” or other niche cuisine solutions have to make up for the lack of a certain ingredient by adding additional sugars or chemically engineered ingredients. Yeah…I’m betting that cookie doesn’t look so tempting now, does it?
Looking at the 3 items below, can you guess which two I’d dare to take home?
Did you choose the two whose first ingredient isn’t sugar? Congrats! How much further did you get down that ingredient list before having to Google something? Be honest now…no one here is judging.
4. Let’s Talk Budget –
I’m not going to get into specific numbers here because everyone’s budget is going to look a little different. What I will dive into instead is how to best structure your spending so you’re getting the most nutritional bang for your buck.
The first focus should be putting about 60% of your funds towards vegetables, greens, and proteins. I don’t care if you’re paleo, vegan, vegetarian, or anything in between – protein and veggies are non-negotiables. The food selections tend to look a little different from diet to diet, but these are staple nutrients that every individual needs to prioritize in their daily routine.
The next 20% of your budget should cover nutritional fats. Good quality cooking oils (coconut, olive, avocado, grassfed ghee, etc) are irreplaceable, so be sure to set aside the appropriate portion of your budget to invest in these items.
Your next 10% should go towards your carbs – grains, fruits, and starches. Never fear, these products tend to run a little cheaper in the food market scheme of things, so 10% will take you far. Also, most of these items tend to have a longer shelf life, so you can really stock up by dedicating this amount per week.
Finally, I’ve left you an additional 10% for the products that fall in between. Perhaps it’s the natural nut butter you just can’t live without or the gourmet cheese that is the perfect snack for you during the week. Whatever it may be, this remaining 10% is your place to indulge without completely stepping out on your goals.
5. Create a Shopping List –
There are few things worse than completing a massive grocery shopping haul only to get home and realize you forgot the eggs, or whatever ingredient staple is crucial during your weekly routine. I’ve done it far too many times myself – I go in, get turned around, and wind up leaving with 5 items I didn’t intend on buying and forgetting the one thing I actually meant to grab. So, to sound like your mother for one last time this post – never forget your shopping list.
Write down even the most mundane ingredients – those are typically the ones you’ll forget in the moment. Then, right before claiming your spot in the check out line, take a second to run through the list to make sure you have everything. I promise, this small additional step can alleviate huge amounts of stress during a busy work week.
So there you have it – my 5 main tips for surviving a grocery haul. Got your own tips that help you during your weekly shopping trips? Be sure to comment below or reach out to me via the contact page.
Until next time,