Tips for saving shopping time and improving your nutrition
It’s very easy to make food shopping a last minute exercise. You race in, not sure what you need, grab a few items and rush out. What do you think the result of that is? I’m guessing that over time it results in an increased consumption of packaged, pre-prepared foods or maybe you end up in a “food rut”, eating the same thing week in, week out.
It would be lovely to think we can casually stroll around our nearest market, selecting beautiful produce like they do on those TV shows, but in the world I live in, that doesn’t happen very often.
The reality is we are busy and shopping for food is just another job on our “to do” list. Unfortunately this may not be good for our short or long term health. So, here’s what I do.
7 tips for improving the health of your shopping basket (and therefore the health of you and your loved ones)
- Set aside 10-15 minutes each week to do a meal plan. That’s all the time you need to think about breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks. If you want to study recipe books it might take a bit longer but otherwise 10 minutes should do it. You might think you don’t have time to do that but it will be worth it. Think about how much time it will save you during the week not having to think about every meal with the same old “what will we have for dinner tonight?” problem. Doing this also increases your likelihood of having balance and variety in your meals, therefore your nutrition improves! If you’re an omnivore, aim to get some vegetarian meals in there along with some seafood to balance out your meat. If you are a vegetarian it’s even more important that you plan your meals to ensure you are getting all the vital nutrients you need.
- Always make a shopping list. It avoids the need to wander around the supermarket therefore saving time and reducing the chances of being tempted by foods you probably don’t need and which are probably not the healthiest choices. (It’s in my nature to organise my list by aisle which saves even more time…but maybe that’s just me).
- Stick to the outside aisles of the supermarket. This is usually where the fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and other fresh food are kept. These are the items which hopefully constitute the bulk of your basket. If you are lucky you can do a whole shop without venturing into those centre aisles full of processed “foods”.
- Only venture into the centre aisles to get specific things on your list like toilet paper, pet food etc. This helps to avoid temptation. (And have you noticed how they always put all kinds of heavily discounted junk food on the highly visible ends of aisles…walk straight past them).
- Try to avoid food shopping when hungry (not always possible I know but if you have a list that will help enormously).
- Look at the amount of GST on your bill. The lower it is, the healthier your shopping basket! (Maybe you can even get out of a supermarket paying nothing in GST).
- For those inevitable items you will buy in packets, learn to read nutritional panels.
Learning to read nutrition panels and labels…what to look for and what to ignore.
- Ignore all the “hype” on the front or back of the packet. Remember, it is just marketing. It’s bright, colourful and designed to be persuasive. The bigger and bolder the hype the more suspicious you should be. Just because something says it’s “cholesterol free” or “low fat” or some other health claim doesn’t automatically mean it’s healthy. Potato chips are cholesterol free (cholesterol is only found in foods containing animal products) but that doesn’t mean they are healthy. They can still be very high in salt and fat which may not be what you need to be consuming. The humble apple, banana, tomato, carrot and other fruit and vegetables generally don’t come in bright packets with lots of health claims but they are some of the most nutritious foods you will find in the supermarket.
Fruit and vegetables don’t need a label or ingredients list to tell you what they are.
- Learn to look at the ingredients list. Ingredients are listed in order of quantity from highest to lowest. So, think about what you would expect to find in that particular food and then look at the ingredients. Where do your expected ingredients appear? They should be the first ones. (How many times have you looked at a packet saying it contains “blueberries” or similar healthy food only to find they are the last ingredient…they’ve practically been waved over the packet!)
- The more ingredients in a food, generally the more processed it is. So, look for options with fewer ingredients.
- Be wary of ingredients lists that contain lots of numbers (additives, flavourings, colourings, preservatives etc) or words you can’t pronounce that sound like they came out of a laboratory.
- Be wary of hidden sugars. Ingredients that end in “ose” such as glucose, sucrose, fructose, maltose are all forms of sugar. Also ingredients ending in “ol” like mannitol or sorbitol. Sometimes sugar sneaks in, in disguise.
- Learn to read nutrition panels and compare products. Make sure you are comparing the same size measure (eg per 100gms). Don’t just look at kilojoules. Consider fibre content (higher is better), sodium (salt) content (lower is better), sugar content, protein, saturated fat and total fat. It can get very confusing, trying to compare and make a decision. Your particular choice will depend on your own health needs and may be different to someone else. You might be focusing on lower salt whereas someone else might be trying to boost their fibre. But don’t give up. It will be worth it, and you will learn a lot for the benefit of your long term health.
There’s no need to get too technical and you don’t need a science degree. It is possible to keep it simple. You might find you take a little longer to do your shopping initially as you spend some time comparing cereals, breads, crackers etc until you find the ones that will suit you best but if you have a list and a meal plan in mind you’ll make up that time easily. You’ll find the variety of what you eat improves and the stress of wondering what to eat decreases. And chances are your health will improve too!