Before the Grocery Store
Before you head to the grocery store, there are a few things you should do first to make your shopping experience quick, easy and well on your way for making healthy purchasing decisions. Which foods you buy at the grocery store will largely determine your dietary success.
Organize Your Food Pantry
Go ahead and organize your pantry. Throw away any out dated food and bring the oldest food to the front to be used first. Put commonly used food in clear large jars, so you can easily tell when you are running low on a certain food and have to replenish it. These jars are great for holding nuts, dried fruits, cereal, lentils, beans, rice etc. Next toss out any lurking junk food– you cannot eat what is not there, plus you will reduce any visual triggers for temptation later. Instead, consider making healthier versions of these “guilty pleasure” foods and stocking up on healthy snacks.
Now that you have made room in your pantry for healthy whole foods, it’s time to plan your meals and snacks for the week. Things to consider are: How many meals will you prepare at home? How many times will you dine out? Are you OK with eating left overs for lunch? Keep in mind that if the meals you are planning are not nutritious, you will be consuming calories but it will probably leave you wanting to eat more. However, if you chose nutritious meals that you do not enjoy, you are less likely to eat it. Fortunately, healthy versions of your favourite meal are very easy to find on the internet these days. You may also consider making double batches of these meals and freezing half of them for later weeks to save on time or if certain ingredients were particularly inexpensive that week.
The most important thing to remember when planning your meals is to be honest with where you are at, it is better to make small dietary changes that you will adhere to than to make drastic changes that do not last. For example, if you are finding the transition into a whole foods diet overwhelming, then start simply by adding either a fruit or vegetable to every meal you would otherwise be eating. Be sure to eat the fruit or vegetable first to ensure that it gets eaten and your body is receiving some nourishment from a whole food. Once that becomes a habit, then make one or more simple healthy substitutions—swap white bread for whole grain bread, French fries for a baked potato, etc. until you are eating a whole food diet.
The key to maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is to never deprive yourself of nutrients because that will lead to cravings, and cravings most often lead to binge eating and feelings of defeat. To avoid this make sure your meals are comprised of lots of leafy and root vegetables, grains and pulses, seeds and nuts.
After you plan out your meals and snacks for the week, you can write a grocery list and try to organize it by department (ie produce, grains). Shopping with a grocery list and sticking to it will prevent you from making impulsive purchases; allow you to buy all of your ingredients in one shopping trip; reduce food waste; and help you to stay within your budget. It is important to buy local and seasonal produce. While you may be able to buy broccoli in the dead heat of summer or buy grapes from Mexico, the broccoli won’t be as flavourful without cold weather and many other countries have more lenient restrictions on the use of pesticides and herbicides—neither of which are part of a healthy diet. Instead when you buy local, seasonal produce you are more likely to ensure quality while at the same time you’re helping out with local economy and decreasing your carbon foot print. In fact, you may want to consider doing your produce shopping at a nearby farmer’s market if it’s available.
For staples and dried foods with a long shelf life (ie grains and pulses), it is best to buy in bulk when you can. Not only is it more cost effective, but it reduces packaging waste and ensures that you always have those foods on hand. You may also want to consider buying spices in bulk or at local ethnic markets for a more economical choice. Often times at grocery stores they capitalize on a food being exotic and therefore charge more outlandish prices.
Whether you’re new to a whole food diet, wanting to lose weight or would like to take more control of your eating habits, planning ahead can ensure your dietary success.