Healthy Eating Starts at the Store

Michela Kruse, MA, RDN, LDN talks about developing healthy grocery shopping habits for the new year. Listen to the audio or read the Q&A below.

How do we make our grocery shopping trips healthier?
First, it starts with preparation. That means you need a good meal planning system at home. I find that people who do not have an efficient meal planning system in place are more likely to fall off of their nutrition eating plan because of the burnout from constantly needing to plan and prepare healthy meals. You need to set up the systems to make meal planning and preparation easier for you in the long run. That means don’t reinvent the wheel at every meal. Take the time to organize a recipe system for your favorite recipes/dishes and continue to add to your collection regularly.

Create meal plans using these recipes and you keep them. Recycle them to use another time you are too busy to plan a week of meals. Create the grocery shopping lists to go with them, and the next time you use that meal plan, you will be ready to pick up and go.

How do I know if my grocery trips could use improvement?

  • If you always need to look up new recipes because you don’t have your “own” recipes to turn to
  • If you make the same things over and over because you don’t have ideas for meals
  • If you make multiple trips to the grocery store each week
  • If you start planning what you are going to eat for a meal when you get hungry
  • If you go to the grocery store without a list
  • If you buy random foods at the grocery store instead of a collection of ingredients to make a recipe
  • If you frequently find yourself missing foods in your fridge or pantry to complete a decent meal
  • If you frequently throw away foods that have gone bad before you eat them. 

How can someone get help developing their own meal planning system?
A Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist such as myself can help. At Mettler, we've started offering in home services so I can come into your home and help you implement these changes. I love sitting here and talking to you and others about nutrition and healthy eating, but many times, we need more than talk.

We need help getting it done. So this new services offers a hands-on approach to making nutrition changes in your life.

What are some key things to consider during a healthy grocery store trip?
First, bring a list! A list serves many practical purposes including keeping you organized so your trip can move more efficiently and making sure you have everything you need (and nothing you don’t!). It can help you control impulse buys. If you go after a meal or when you are not hungry, that further controls poor impulse buys. Have you ever noticed how everything looks good when you’re hungry? Get only the size grocery cart you need and buy only the things on your list. Pay attention to where you spend most of your time. The perimeter of the grocery store is where most of the produce, meats, dairy, and bread is kept. The middle aisles are mostly processed foods. So, spend most of your time in the perimeter of the store. Finally, do a lot of label reading. Don’t rely on the information on the front of the package; you need to turn the product over and read the food label.

Can we trust the information on the front of food packaging?
It’s important to critically evaluate health food claims on the front of a package. Many claims such as “natural,” “balanced,” and “healthy” are not regulated. These labels can been used to describe any food product because they are basically meaningless. Even labels that are approved by the FDA for use may be misleading. For example, plenty of candy may have a big fat-free stamp on the front, but it’s still loaded with hundreds of calories all from sugar. A bag of caramel puffcorn has the first 3 ingredients listed as sugar, butter, and sugar, yet the front has four different approved food claims on the front as well as the word “natural” describing it.

There are an overwhelming number of products in the store. Even one food like yogurt has a lot of different brands and varieties. Greek yogurt vs. regular. Fat free vs. 2%. Sugar-free vs. fruit on the bottom. Sweetened or artificially-sweetened. 

How do we know which foods to pick?
Obviously, that answer is not the same for everyone. Yogurt is one of those especially confusing foods because we choose yogurt for a variety of reasons. Some people add it in their diet for the protein – in which case they would want the Greek yogurt which is highest in protein. Some want it for the probiotics – those healthy bacteria that help regulate your digestive system. In that case, they may choose the Activia or high probiotic yogurts. To help make label reading easier, you need to prioritize the food label. Not every number on that label is important for every food. If you try to take into account every ingredient and every nutrient listed, you will easily get overwhelmed.

For example, meat is a good source of protein but it can also be high in that artery-clogging saturated fat. So, when reading labels of lunch meat, hotdogs, frozen fish, etc., focus on protein and fat. Meat doesn’t have a significant source of fiber or carbs or sugar. By adding those numbers into the mix will only make your label reading more confusing. Grains are a significant source of fiber, so read labels for fiber and whole grains.

Don’t get too wrapped up in other details like protein, sugar, or sodium.

Above all, remember that your needs are individualized to you. Specific product recommendations are not likely to be helpful unless considered in the context of your diet and lifestyle. An individualized grocery shopping trip with a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist can focus more on reading labels and choosing products specific to your needs. If you have a busy schedule or don’t know how to cook, you may need to focus on healthy convenience foods. If you have specific diet needs such as low sodium or high protein, you can find products that meet those needs.

If someone doesn’t know where to start when it comes to healthy eating; what’s your best piece of advice?
Ask for help! We offer a complimentary 30 minute nutrition consultation where you can sit down with me and we can explore options that might be right for you. At Mettler Center we believe in accountability and social support so whether your hitting up a group exercise class or trying to overhaul your diet we believe we are stronger together than alone. Often times, people just need someone to help get them started and once they have the proper tools they can then maintain on their own and check in as needed for extra accountability.