Healthy eating starts at the supermarket, and for many of you that seems like a daunting task. Confusing labels and health claims, disguised sugar and GMO ingredients can mean that your apparently healthy cart is not quite so healthy.
As a seasoned shopper for healthy foods, I am here to help you with my 12 rules to negotiate the supermarket. These rules have helped transform my shopping trips into a very quick and easy experience. I hope they help you too.
RULE 1: MAKE A PLAN BEFORE YOU GO.
Have an idea (or even better a written plan) of the healthy meals and snacks you are going to feed your family. Make a list of the specific ingredients, and buy only them. No snap decisions to buy unhealthy food because you are out of ideas.
RULE 2: BUYING JUNK BECAUSE IT IS ON SALE IS STILL BUYING JUNK.
I love a bargain, but when that bargain is going to negatively impact your child’s health…..it is no longer a bargain. Don’t be swayed by that cheap soda stacked up in front of you as you enter the store, or the huge savings on the sugar laden box of breakfast cereal. Remember junk is still junk.
RULE 3: THE FRUIT AND VEGETABLE SECTION SHOULD FILL UP A MAJORITY OF YOUR CART.
A diet high in plant food is what we should all be aiming for. Aim to feed your family at least twice as much vegetables as fruit. I try to adhere to the rainbow principle when shopping for produce: try to by as many different colored fruit and vegetables as possible. This will ensure your family is receiving the full spectrum of minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients (these are nutrients that can only be found in plants). When possible, it is great to head to your local farmers markets to support local farmers. The produce at farmers markets tends to taste better too.
RULE 4: BREADS, CEREALS AND PASTA SHOULD BE BOUGHT IN MODERATION SO THEY ARE CONSUMED IN MODERATION.
Grains can be part of a healthy diet but they can often squeeze out healthier options. Cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and pasta for dinner is not an uncommon combination and many kids can get through the day without eating much fresh food. Most cereals are high in sugar and low in fiber and are a terrible way for your child to start the day. 95% of breakfast cereals have added sugar and 60% are considered to have high sugar content. Bread is also a source of hidden sugars.
RULE 5: MEAT, FISH AND POULTRY SHOULD BE GRASS FED, ORGANIC OR WILD SOURCED WHEN POSSIBLE.
Animal proteins are a great source of nutrition, but the quality of their nutrition is dependant on the quality of the farming. When possible grass fed, organic or wild sources should be used. Processed meats should be minimised because many contain dangerous preservatives and can be high in sodium.
RULE 6: THE FROZEN SECTION CAN BE A GREAT RESOURCE FOR BUSY MOMS
I am not talking about frozen dinner here! Frozen vegetables and fruit can be part of a healthy diet as long as you know what you are buying. Snap frozen produce maintain their nutrient values and are a great way of enjoying the benefits of certain produce year round. Avoid frozen fruits and vegetables with added sugar or salt.
I use frozen fruit almost everyday in my kids morning smoothies. I also have frozen veggies in my freezer for those days that i just didn’t make it to the supermarket. Frozen veggies can easily be steamed as a side dish, used in a stir fry or added to a soup. I love frozen cauliflower rice too. Steaming your frozen veggies as opposed to boiling or microwaving them will also help to maintain their nutrient levels.
RULE 7: DRIED HERBS AND SPICES WILL SPICE UP YOUR MEALS.
Herbs and spices are a great way to jazz up your average meal and also provide many minerals and vitamins. Dried herbs and spices also have a long shelf life and can be used in combination with fresh herbs and spices. Tip: use cinnamon and nutmeg to give the impression of added sweetness.
RULE 8: PREMADE HEALTHY STOCK OR BONE BROTH SHOULD ALWAYS BE IN YOUR PANTRY.
I LOVE fresh homemade stock, but often time limitations mean that I have to reach for a good premade stock. Having a few cartons of stock in the cupboard means that a hearty soup or stew is very easy to create. Stock is also great for adding flavor to quinoa or rice and can also be used for steaming and poaching.
RULE 9: GOOD OILS AND CONDIMENTS MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE.
Having a stock of healthy oils such as coconut oil, olive oil, healthy nut oils and butter are essential for producing delicious healthy meals. These oils provide vital nutrients for brain and hormonal development and are needed for the functioning of every cell in your body. They also help to give you the feeling of fullness.
Organic apple cider (with the mother) is a great natural detoxifier and adds a great zing to salads and sauces. Delicious salad dressings make all the difference to how much salad my kids eat. Avoid added sugar and gmo ingredients (canola oil and soy oil). My fav brand is Tessa Mae’s.
Unrefined sea salt is a pantry essential. Good quality salt, like Redmond’s Real Salt enhances the natural flavors of vegetables and meat while providing you with essential minerals. Always check the labels of condiments for excessive sugar and salt.
RULE 10: BE CAREFUL IN THE DAIRY AISLE
The dairy aisle can be a trap for unsuspecting mums. Flavored milks, low fat yogurts and frozen yogurts are LADENED with added sugar. Pictures of fruit on the packaging does not mean a product is healthy. Many yogurts do not contain significant levels of probiotics. As with all animal products, farming techniques determine the nutritional value of a product so when possible look for grass fed or organic dairy products.
RULE 11: LOOK FOR SNACK FOODS WITH A SHORT LIST OF INGREDIENTS
Processed snacks are a huge source of added salt and sugar and in many cases they are empty calories (no vitamins or minerals). When scouting the supermarket for suitable snacks, I look for snacks with very short ingredient lists. My go to snacks include unflavored, organic corn chips (they go perfectly with salsa, hummus or guacamole), rice crackers, lightly salted popcorn, nuts and nut butters. Our go to snack at home are mainly veggies, fruit, smoothies and homemade popsicles.
RULE 12: WATER ALWAYS, SODA NEVER
Water is THE BEST beverage for kids. Drinking water is a habit that should be fostered as soon as possible before kids develop the taste for highly sweetened beverages. Drinking water makes shopping easier because you don’t need to buy any beverages. Water can be easily jazzed up with a squeeze of lemon or lime, fresh mint leaves or even berries.
Soda is the most common beverage in the United States, and unfortunately there is not many ‘healthy’ sodas. Sodas contain either high levels of sugar or high fructose corn syrup or they are laced with artificial chemicals. Carbonated sodas also contain phosphoric acid which have been shown to lower the pH in your mouth, creating an acidic environment that can eat away at tooth enamel.
Juice should also be avoided and is not always the ideal beverage they try to sell themselves to be. As soon as a fruit or vegetable is picked it starts to lose its nutritional value, but this natural deterioration is accelerated when the fruit is taken from its natural packaging of its skin. Add pasteurization (heating of the juice) and long term storage to that, and premium 100% juice has very little nutritional value and a lot of sugar calories. If your child is on juice, spend the money on more fruit instead. My suggestion is to dilute their juice until they are weaned off.
Feeding your kids is all about what you do most of the time and not what you do on occasion. Follow these tips for healthy eating but do not get stressed about the occasional compromise. Another suggestion is to join co op, or find other like minded foodies in your area to split bulk purchases with.
Changing how you cook and eat will be a gradual journey for you and your kids. Slow changes and educating your kids as you go will make this process much easier and more natural. I am constantly amazed how interested my kids are in the relationship between what they eat and how they feel.