What Do You Learn in a Grocery Store Tour?
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
LifeTime WeightLoss in Anika Christ, Grocery Shopping, Nutrition, grocery store tour, healthy way of eating


With the average supermarket containing over 45,000 different food items to pick from (the majority of them being unhealthy!), it’s little wonder we’re confused on what to buy as soon as we walk through the doors.

For that reason, a grocery store tour is, by far, one of the best learning experiences you can take advantage of as you adjust your diet.

In fact, as a registered dietitian, it’s my absolute favorite way to engage my clients with practical nutrition advice they can use to make their health journeys easier!

Could your confidence use a boost when choosing the right foods or brands in this environment? Learn some of my best strategies for healthy grocery shopping as well as tips for getting the most out of your food budget!

Lesson #1: Order is Key

You’ve probably heard the “shop the perimeter of the store” recommendation before. It’s one fabulous suggestion for helping you avoid the processed foods in the center aisles.

However, I also encourage my clients to take this strategy a few steps further and help guide them in choosing what specific foods should go into their carts and introduce them to the areas of the store that are most beneficial.

First and foremost, your grocery visit should start in the produce section. Many people stop here last before checkout. Yet, if we know that half of every plate of food should be filled with vegetables, they really should take up most of our cart volume as well as most of our food budget. Plus, if we fill up a generous amount of the cart with produce, we’ll have less room for the treats or misses in our diet.

Here is the order of stops in the grocery store that I recommend. From there, it’s down to details: what exactly to put in your cart (versus reviewing all of the bad options in the store). Each store is a little different, but I’d definitely suggest sticking to the first and last recommendations!

Stop 1:  Produce Section (Vegetables and Fruit)

Let your senses guide you and shop for a rainbow of colors. Choose seasonal produce and items that are the most vibrant.

Strive for organic whenever possible.

Stop 2:  Meat/Cheese Counter 

 Choose organic, certified meats as often as possible. Look for descriptive words including “grass-fed beef,” “free-range chicken,” “cage-free eggs,” “nitrite free deli meat,” and “wild-caught fish.”

Go for organic, aged-cheeses and/or goat cheese.

Stop 3:  Bulk Section (Nuts/Seeds/Oats)

Go for raw nuts and seeds as often as possible, and skip the chocolate covered and/or sweetened varieties. Try making your own trail mix from this section! Limit the dried fruit and choose sulfite-free.

The true whole grains live here – unprocessed and in their natural form. Choose quinoa, wild/black rice, amaranth, oats or milled flaxseed as optimal choices.

Stop 4:  Refrigerator/Freezer Section

 Choose organic dairy foods (e.g. yogurt, milk, etc.), and pick the plain and full-fat versions whenever possible. Choose unsweetened versions of dairy alternatives (e.g. almond or coconut milk, etc). 

Finally, choose frozen fruit or vegetable packages without added flavorings.

Stop 5:  Center Aisles

 Avoid most options in the these aisles, but use them to find spices, oils, tuna fish, natural nut butters, etc.


Lesson #2: Learn to Read Labels

If you stick to lesson #1 and the order of your shopping experience, you’re guaranteed to fill your cart with more whole, natural foods and limit the time you need to spend reading labels. 

Although we want to limit the amount of processed foods we eat, you might wish to include a few for convenience sake. Most of my clients are surprised that I am less interested in the numerical part of the label (e.g. calories, grams, etc) and more interested in the ingredient list - the very best way to judge how healthy a food is. 

In general, choose foods that have a short ingredient list in which you can recognize and pronounce each ingredient. I like the “5 ingredients or less” rule for most of these options. Also, look out for added sugar. You’ll find it in obvious sources as well as less obvious ones (tomato sauce for example). 

If you’re comparing products, see how the sugar content of each measures up against the other. For more guidance on what ingredients to avoid, review and/or print The Dirty 7 | 7 Ingredients You Don't Want in Your Food and take it with you to the store. I also recommend checking out How to Be an Expert Label Reader.

Lesson #3: Learn to Avoid Marketing Ploys

Billions of dollars are spent on food marketing each year, and less than 5% of that money is spent on marketing healthy, natural food. Much of this marketing is found inside of the grocery store. Don’t let it fool you! 

Some of my favorite tips to avoid marketing ploys include:

Lesson #4: Plan to Plan

Shop with a purpose! Not only should you not grocery shop when you're hungry (you’ll end up throwing junk food in your cart!), but you should also not shop without a list and/or plan.

That said, I’m one to show up at the store and alter my list based on the quality/condition of food. For example, I may decide after seeing the less-than-optimal zucchini that my zucchini spaghetti dish is off my menu for the week.

Nonetheless, take the time beforehand to create a list of your needed inventory as well as the produce and protein demands of your menu for the next week or two. You’ll not only be more efficient at the store, but you’ll be able to stick to your list and have less food waste.

Lesson #5: Learn to Stretch Your Dollar

Who doesn’t love to save a buck? No matter how much disposable income we might have, all of us want to spend our dollars wisely. I grew up clipping coupons – a practice I thoroughly enjoy and look forward to on the weekends with my newspaper!

However, there are plenty of other money saving tips to take advantage of! One best practice I encourage is to use social media. “Liking” your favorite stores will ensure you get notified of upcoming deals. One of my favorite stores often posts when their grass-fed and organic beef is on sale – a perfect time to stock up and freeze for the future! Additionally, many stores offer coupons online that are generic or non-brand specific, such as “$1 off produce.”

Remember, however, that coupons help save money but shouldn’t guide your whole shopping plan. Prioritize nutrition and healthy variety. Beyond the grocery store itself, I also order certain bulk food items (e.g. oils, meats, etc.) online from discount sites or from direct-to-consumer farms. For other great money-saving tips, check out 10 Money-Saving Tips for Healthy Eating.

Grocery store tours are an ever-growing program within our clubs, often offered on a weekly to monthly basis and hosted by one of our nutrition coaches.  If you’re a club member, talk to one of our fitness professionals to find out when the next tour is in order to learn more lessons and tips! Thanks for reading.

In health, Anika Christ – Senior Program Manager of Life Time Weight Loss

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

Article originally appeared on LifeTime WeightLoss (http://www.lifetime-weightloss.com/).
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