I’ll admit it. I was that girl. The skinny girl who “indulged” in McDonald’s and Taco Bell. The vegetarian who sustained myself on macaroni and cheese for dinner and an occasional chocolate croissant after the gym or cereal and Fat-free milk if I was being “good”. Even more so, I had no idea how to shop a supermarket.
It goes without saying, I ate a lot of crap in my harried life and rarely cooked a meal aside from pasta and jarred sauce – if you call that “cooking!” For me, a typical lunch was a medium McDonald’s french fry and a large Diet Coke. Sometimes that was my only meal of the day. Or, maybe I’d grab a slice of pizza for dinner. I snacked on baked Lay’s and fat free cookies. One day, I realized my diet needed to change.
Like many Americans, I was confused by nutrition and health. I believed that fewer meals meant a slimmer figure and fat-free meant healthy, but also how to shop a supermarket and navigate the aisles. Moreover, I was falling victim to the games advertisers play and the tricks supermarkets deploy to sell the excess of food available.
Some Background on Supermarkets
Meanwhile, here’s some background: Over the past thirty or so years, farm policy has caused a vast increase in the amount of corn and soybean crops grown in the US. Additionally, the number of calories in our food supply has increased by up to 700 calories per day. The pressure to increase profit in an environment where too much food is available has created a bullish food industry.
Marion Nestle, a researcher in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at NYU and from my take something of a food anthropologist, explains the five basic rules by which supermarkets operate.
One // Produce and flowers first. The beautiful colors entice shoppers into the store
Two // Long aisles pack more product. More product = more impulse buys = fuller shopping carts
Three // Investment in product placement. High profit items go at eye level and cash registers while junk food is assigned to easily-accessible center aisles
Four // Sugar adds value. One supermarket placed soda in 13 different locations throughout the store and priced it to sell in bulk.
Five // Nutrition sells. Because it’s self-invested by food manufacturers, nutrition labeling on products rarely is rarely of any merit.
According to Nestle, supermarkets are a place where anxieties around food are played out. Her book, What to Eat (www.whattoeatbook.com), aims to help the consumer make sense of the food choices in a store.
Personally, when I started consuming more whole foods, the supermarket became much easier to navigate — and my grocery bill more manageable! Furthermore, I eliminated a lot of the anxiety around what to buy and stuck with the basics – more fruit and veggies, fewer boxed items, whole grains and lean protein fill my shopping cart now. In addition to all that, no more soda!
How to Shop a Supermarket with Ease
Knowing what I know now, here’s how to shop a supermarket with ease:
One // Start with produce. Since it’s there to lure you in, you may as well start – and spend most of your time – there.
Two // Locate the bulk bins. I love these for grains, nuts, seeds and dried fruit. You can buy just what you need, eliminate waste if you bring your own bags and jars and save some money. Win, win and win!
Three // Prioritize protein. Shop wild seafood and organic meat. Stock up when there’s a sale and freeze individually wrapped pieces that haven’t previously been frozen.
Four // Remember the extras. Keep a running list of condiments like oils and nut butters that you need to restock.
For more, how to shop a supermarket and to download a handy infographic, see my post Power Shop for Healthy Meals.
So, next time you’re grocery shopping, take stock of what’s going on around you. Ask yourself, “How have I been fooled by supermarkets?” “What habits can I change?”
Today, I’m maintaining my previous one-junk-food-meal-per-day weight, I have more energy to exercise and I’m healthier and happier than ever!