Out of all the things we do associated with food — shopping, cooking and eating — shopping is the least enjoyable for many. Driving to the store is the easy part. Once you get there, you white knuckle your cart around, trying to avoid hitting the children running around and being patient when someone parks their cart in the middle of the aisle. When you find everything you need, you wait for a while, then cough up your hard earned money before you drive home. Shopping is not the easiest food related task, but it is a necessary one. Below are some tips for what to purchase, and how to avoid doing what the store wants you to do.
Avoid the Middle Aisles
This age old piece of advice is helpful for the inexperienced shopper. Heavily processed and sweetened foods are often concentrated in central locations, with the more familiar food products such as fruits, vegetables, grains and breads located on the perimeter. However, there are healthful choices in central locations, such as whole grain pastas, nuts and grains. There are also items on the outside of the store that are unhealthy. Processed meats, sweetened juices and baked goods that some perceive as healthy should be consumed in moderation. This rule of thumb, however, is useful for starters, with the main idea being to avoid walking down each aisle. This bad habit takes more time and could lead you to buying something you won’t eat.
Purchase more frozen foods
Frozen foods can be a great addition to a healthy diet — if you buy the right ones. Vegetables and fruits can be thawed easily, and then used for snacks, desserts or smoothies in a pinch. Contrary to what you may believe, frozen fruits and vegetables may contain more nutrients than their fresh counterparts. Fresh options, which are picked and transported great distances and displayed until sold, can quickly lose nutritional value. Frozen options are picked at peak ripeness and frozen shortly after, maintaining optimal nutrition for months on end. Also, because they do not go bad for long periods of time, they are student friendly (canned foods are too but have less nutrients). This means if that bag of frozen corn resurfaces months after you buy it, you can still make an appetizing side dish with it.
Enter the store with a plan
Shopping with a list is an excellent start, but you should stick to it with few exceptions to have the most successful grocery run. Avoid sale items you would not otherwise purchase unless you recognize them as healthy options. Think critically about new products you see and decide how you could use them before buying them because they catch your attention. Failing to have a plan to stick to is only going to result in more money spent and more food wasted in the long run.
Shop at grocery stores if possible
It’s easy to fall into the trap of convenience stores, but they frequently cost far more than regular grocers. Avoiding purchases at gas stations and corner stores is a great way to reduce food costs. However, do not eliminate farmer’s markets and similar venues where you can buy fresh produce and support local farmers. These options ensure you are getting a quality product while supporting your immediate community. They also offer foods you may not see at your grocery store, which you can use to experiment with for new meals.
Stick to basics
Fruits and vegetables are always good choices, as are most things you could recognize as natural. As a student, stick to ones you don’t need to prepare to eat, such as potatoes, bananas, apples and carrots. For meal bases, look at rice and pastas for filling, tasty options that go well with most vegetables and proteins. As for proteins, pick something that is quick and easy to make. Maybe use peanut butter or eggs for breakfast, beans for lunch and a low fat cut of meat like chicken or turkey for dinner.
If you’re looking to maximize your food dollar and your time, try to go to the store once a week and buy many of the same things each week, varying your seasonings and sauces to keep things interesting. Once you get to the store, stick to your list but allow yourself a choice product or two that you did not have on your list if you want to keep a variety of options for meals.
Grocery shopping is a vital part of healthy eating, but it takes time to become acquainted with what stores have to offer, what to look for and learn what products you like best. Creating a list of staples to always have and swapping herbs/seasonings in and out is a simple, cost-effective way to have flavorful meals you won’t get tired of eating. Stick to foods you like and are familiar with but allow yourself some freedom to try new foods when something catches your eye. Buy foods you know you like that will last for a while and can be used in different dishes — dishes that can be found on websites like Pinterest or through online recipe sites. By following these rules, you can become comfortable with a handful of recipes that are fast, healthy and keep your mind and body running smoothly.