With the emergence of food delivery apps like Grubhub and Postmates, many people have shifted their food budget from buying groceries to restaurants, takeout and delivery. But when it comes to making healthy choices and knowing exactly what’s going into your meals, nothing beats hitting the grocery store.
Healthy eating involves a little extra planning, but it’s well worth it. Finding and purchasing ingredients to make your own meals and snacks gives you greater control over the nutrition you put into your body. When you prepare your own food, you know exactly what’s in it.
A week of healthy meals starts with a trip to the grocery store. There’s no hard-and-fast rule about what you should and shouldn’t buy, but these tips can help you stick to a plan and make healthy decisions:
- Make a meal plan before shopping – Don’t decide on your weekly meals at the store; plan it out before you leave. This allows you to create a list of exactly what you’ll need from the store and keep you from feeling tempted by food items not on your list.
- Shop the perimeter of the store first – This is where you’ll find the freshest foods, such as fruit and vegetables, lean meat and dairy. These foods tend to be whole foods with minimal processing.
- Find healthy staples in the aisles – It’s easy to be tempted by crackers, cookies and chips that line the inner aisles of your grocery store. Remember – these items don’t need to be off-limits and aren’t “bad” foods; they can be enjoyed in moderation. If you’re looking for an alternative, try snack-size packs of mixed nuts, dried fruit, veggie crisps or air-popped popcorn. You can also find whole-wheat versions of some of your go-to side dishes, like pasta and rice.
- Read labels – A food item isn’t necessarily nutritious just because the packaging says healthy or organic. Reading the nutrition label will tell you how many calories, types of fat, grams of sugar and healthy fiber are actually in it. It’s also important to keep in mind the fewer ingredients listed on the package, the less processed the food is. Try using an app, such as MyFitnessPal and MyPlate Calorie Counter, to scan barcodes and better understand food labels.
- Buy in-season produce – This is a great way to get the freshest, tastiest produce as well as save a bit of money. When growers harvest produce at its peak freshness (peaches in the summertime, pumpkins in the fall, etc.) it has more nutritional value than it would had it been picked out of season. It contains more nutrients and can have the biggest benefit for your health. It also means less preservatives. A great thing about eating in season is that produce is easy to find and affordable. Visit your local farmer’s market or grocery store and take your pick. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a full list of what’s in season right now.
- Try a new type of produce or healthy food every time you shop – Trying new foods will help keep your meals and snacks interesting so you don’t get bored. Get creative with the types of food you include in your meals and snacks and incorporate fresh, colorful foods whenever possible. And don’t forget about including fresh herbs – they’re a great way to add a lot of flavor to your food without adding salt.
Even if you’re always on the go it pays to grocery shop. Instead of hitting the drive thru for a quick lunch or snack, you can find easy-to-pack items at the grocery store. For example, pre-cut produce, yogurt, a hard-boiled egg or a small container of nuts are simple, healthy foods that are easy to pack and eat. Many grocery stores also offer shredded rotisserie chicken as a base for a healthy soup or salad or sides like mashed sweet potatoes or steamed broccoli to save you time after a busy day.
To get more tips for healthy eating, make an appointment with a Main Line Health primary care provider or dietician or call 866-225-5654.