Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Food Shopping Primer

Can't believe it's Wednesday already. I was in bed as soon as I got home from work last night so I was awake about an hour earlier than usual. Blake-time wasn't until 9 so I got up, out and got the food shopping done that I had planned for after the gym. I made it to the gym with 15 minutes to spend on the treadmill as a warm up. Fat brain could have stayed in bed for an extra hour or blew the time on the Internet, but fit brain looked ahead to the wonderful free day that would come after training. Fat brain likes instant gratification but I'm really liking the fact I can do what I want for the rest of the day. Like soak in a super hot, salty tub for an hour like I just did (trainer was on the warpath, can't lift my arms) and watch Brideshead Revisited after lunch.

Yesterday's food was pretty much the same as Monday except I had leftovers rather than a frozen meal and today will be the same again. I had my bar before the gym and my parfait right after. Had a mug of tea while in the tub and will head downstairs to fire up the juicer in a few minutes. Wrap for lunch and supper will be turkey meatloaf, spicy and vinegary turnip greens and mashed cauliflower. I'm feeling a bit of grill fatigue and thought meat and two would be nice and comforting.

Ahhh, the supermarket. I love supermarkets, especially when I travel. Whenever I go anywhere new, I want to visit the local supermarket. I think that was my favorite part of our last trip to Puerto Rico. But at home it can get pretty boring but you gotta eat and to do that, you gotta shop. The modern supermarket can be both friend and foe a healthy lifestyle. With some good strategies you can make your local market your friend.

1. I'm sure you've heard this before but it's the most important thing. Never and I mean NEVER set foot in a supermarket if you are hungry. Just don't do it. You'll sabotage all your good intentions before the first item goes in the buggy. I shop with a bottle of cold water or a travel mug of green tea so I have something to sip on while I shop. Thirsty shopping is almost as bad as hungry shopping. I shopped thirsty once years ago and came home with nothing but Snapples and Popsicles.

2. Always have your list prepared in advance and don't forget to take it with you. I never used to shop with a list, I'd buy whatever the heck I wanted and still had no idea what I was going to prepare for supper that week. This is why I plan my menus in advance and make a shopping list. Remember, prior preparation prevents piss poor performance!

3. Read the labels! I've said it before and I'll say it again. Read the labels of anything that comes in a package. You want the least amount of the best quality ingredients. Check out this article for more information on what to avoid.

4. Shop the produce aisle first. That buggy should be filled with at the very least 50% fresh fruits and veggies. I used to leave the produce until last and have enough room for a token apple or a bag of salad. We know where that got me.

5. Shop the perimeter of the store and only venture into the canned, processed and packaged food aisles if you need something specific. This is why it pays to get to know the layout of your local market. Don't be a supermarket grazer!

6. Stay out of your trigger zones! The candy aisle, the ice cream freezers, the cookie lane and the salty snack sections don't exist if you don't walk down them. You are in charge of what goes into your buggy. This is especially helpful if you're shopping with small children. If you don't pass by it, they won't be screaming for it.

7. Stay out of the baking needs aisle as well. Bake brownies and cookies with your kids on special occasions. I know I'll be baking huge amounts of my favorite cookies leading up to Christmas but I don't do it any other time of the year. It's much more festive and special that way. If you need a kitchen activity with your kids, have them help you prepare a bright and colorful fruit salad in a carved watermelon basket. Kids don't need to have cookies and brownies to have a good time and it's a bad precedent to set for them. Making fruit fun for them early on is one of the best things you can do.

8. Planned indulgence. Of course, you have to treat yourself a little bit so add a treat to your list. Maybe a nice bottle of wine for Saturday evening or a gorgeous gourmet chocolate bar to have in the tub on Sunday morning or perhaps a single piece of pastry in the supermarket bakery to share with your favorite person after a light and lovely supper on Friday night. Just don't buy a large stash that might trigger you into a binge situation.

Making these strategies second nature has made my food shopping work for me, I hope they work for you. If you have any strategies that you use, please share them and always your comments and questions are always appreciated.


  1. Great tips! And, I just love "fat brain" and "fit brain" - I am going to start thinking that way too

  2. I don't necessarily make lists every week, but I have a good idea of what might be coming from the CSA (our main source of veg) and have some go-to strategies for making them into meals. Whole wheat or other grain pasta, quinoa, and brown rice are staples. I buy then in bulk when they're on sale or every week in smaller quantities when when they're not. Salty olives, feta cheese, parm (or romano), capers, olive oil, fresh garlic (I refuse to buy the jarred stuff -- I enjoy chopping it!), onions, various vinegars, jarred curry paste, red lentils (which cook faster than the other varieties), canned beans of all varities, light coconut milk, vegetable and chicken bullion, and canned tomatoes are always stocked.

    My eggs come from my milk man once a week.

    With those things I can whip up bright pasta dishes, curries with or without meat, crock pot simmers of meat and veggies, soups, salads, eggs and bean dishes with greens. I've found that following recipes result in my spending more money. If I have to use what I have on hand, I'm more creative and usually healthier! The CSA is the best cooking tool and teacher I've ever had.

    For example, last night we came home with zucchini, basil, a ton of kale, cabbage, carrots, and broccoli. Last night I made pasta with kale, zucchini, basil, kalamata olives, garlic, olive oil and half a block of feta. Tonight, I'm having kale tacos (the kale serves as the shell) with cabbage, carrots and a little chicken in a peanut sauce I'll throw together from peanut butter and red pepper. The next night I'll do more kale cooked with white beans and three slices of bacon...

  3. another great post, Andra! I just have to say that I'm so happy that you called a shopping cart a "buggy" in this post. When I first moved to MD from PA and went shopping with some friends, I casually said to "grab a buggy" and they all looked confused and then started laughing at me. what can i say, I come from the land of soda "pop". (Although i don't drink it, for sure!! :)

  4. I love grocery stores too! I love discovering new ones, preferably independent. But I know what you mean about shopping hungry. I often make that mistake and come home with more food than I can consume (and it doesn’t have to be junk…in the past I’ve bought too much fruit and then had to watch some of it rot just because I couldn’t eat all of it in time). Or come home with food I don’t even know if I like, just because I was there, hungry, and it looked interesting (those vegetable chips I was telling you about earlier is an example, so were the whole wheat, healthy cinnamon rolls I bought…disgusting). But I rather like impulse buying and trying new things, as long as a.) I don’t spend too much money b.) I accept the fact that I might have to throw it out…if only to avoid putting the calories in my stomach. I know it seems like a waste, but it’s what has to happen sometimes. I think your thirsty story about Snapples and Popsicles is hilarious! LOL

    Kaki – you’re making me hungry!