Monday, January 7, 2013

A New Way to Grocery Shop

Now, we all know about my love affair with the grocery store. Whether I'm looking for the perfect sale, my favorite product's new flavor, or something different to spice up dinner, cruising those aisles is my version of crack. Hey, I don't smoke, I don't drink, I don't watch soap operas; I need some kind of excitement over here.

After we did our real food challenge last year, I will admit my family went back to eating some processed foods. Too many, in my opinion. But we had so much food and in today's times, we simply couldn't justify throwing it away. With the New Year and all the good intentions it inspires, I have been gradually switching us over to mostly real food. This has always been my plan after the processed stuff was gone from the pantry; January 1st just gave us an actual start date.

After all these years of stalking, I mean studying, I mean shopping at the grocery store, I have learned one very important thing. The crap is in the aisles. I'm sure you've heard it before, but it's worth repeating. Most of the real food can be found along the perimeter of your favorite grocery store. Think about the one you shop at - what's on the outside walls? The produce, the dairy, the bakery, the deli, and the meats. Now don't get me wrong, there are still pitfalls in the perimeter, like yogurt that has more sugar than a candy bar and "fresh" store-made bread with over 40 ingredients. But if real is what you're after, avoid the aisles.

Here's how I do it - I start in produce because it's the most expensive and I want the bulk of my budget to go to wholesome fruits and veggies. Then I move on to dairy, eggs, cheese, and meat. I hit the freezer section only if there's a good sale on frozen produce or an all-natural ice cream the boys have been craving. Then I hit the aisles. I know, I know. I said avoid the aisles like the plague. But, there are a few natural items you can get in the aisles that are definitely worth checking out.

By now you're probably thinking I make no sense because smart people get their cold stuff last so they have time to peruse the aisles and look at all the pretty boxes and bags and chocolate-covered everything. I do it this way for a reason. Because I have the cold stuff in my cart, I know I won't hang out in the aisles. I know the few foods I can grab and I get them and get out. I may be in the store for an hour, but only 5 minutes of that is spent in an aisle. (Half of it is comparing this apple to that one, or trying to find the best looking lettuce.)

I'm sure you're wondering what real foods can be found in the aisles. Because I love you, I spent A LOT of time reading A LOT of labels and doing A LOT of research and I compiled this list. Take a picture, print it out, write it down; do whatever you have to do, but make sure you keep this list handy so you don't have to lose hours and hours of your life reading every label in the store trying to find something that doesn't have 16 different additives and preservatives.

Now, I'm sure stores like Whole Foods and Earth Fare and Trader Joe's have a much bigger selection than my list here, but this is just to help you navigate your local mega-mart. (One day I will do more research at Whole Foods, but the closest one to me is an hour away. I love you, but not that much.)

Here are the things I will go in an aisle for:
  • Rice (brown, white, wild - you decide)
  • Whole wheat flour (or white whole wheat if Andrew lives with you)
  • Sugar
  • Quinoa
  • Plain raw nuts
  • Raisins (organic to avoid the sulphur)
  • Popcorn (the kernels in a clear bottle, not microwave bags!)
  • Triscuits (3 ingredients - wheat, oil, salt!)
  • Larabars (Banana Bread, Apple Pie, Cashew Cookie, Pecan Pie, etc. Most have only a handful of ingredients, some have just 2. Our favorite is Peanut Butter Cookie, with just dates and peanuts, but it tastes just like the decadent treat it claims to be! Or you can get the Peanut Butter and Jelly one with the addition of cherries. They are amazing and K gets one for snack every single day.)
  • Freeze dried fruit
  • Fruit leathers (actual fruit puree, not brightly colored roll-ups)
  • Applesauce on the Go (those cool pouches - they come in lots of flavors like banana and strawberry - great to pack for trips - no spoon required!)
  • Ak-Mak whole wheat crackers
  • Whole Wheat Matzo (surprisingly good for open-faced PB&Js)
  • Maple Syrup (the real stuff, not pancake syrup which is basically liquid sugar and HFCS)
  • Honey (again, the good stuff, not honey syrup - honey should be the only ingredient)
  • Kettle Brand Baked Chips (actual potato slices that are baked - other brands are dehydrated reconstructed potatoes with crazy ingredients to bind them together - scary!)
  • Brown Rice Cakes (put natural fruit yogurt between two cakes, like a sandwich, and freeze - cool snack for kids who stick their nose up at plain cakes)
  • Oats (the ingredient list should say something like 100% whole grain rolled oats, or  steel-cut oats - nothing else!)
  • Whole wheat pasta (make sure it is actually whole wheat, not a 51% blend, or "made with" whole wheat - you want the real deal)
  • Beans (canned or dried in bags, try my Slow Cooker Red Lentil Soup)
  • Peanut Butter (read the label, should just be peanuts, no oil or sugar or honey or high fructose corn syrup or anything else)
  • All-natural fruit spread (like jam or jelly, but no funky ingredients)
  • Shredded wheat cereal (not frosted - whole wheat should be the only ingredient)
  • Brown Rice Crisps cereal (slightly sweetened with organic fruit juice, no need for sugar)

Do you have anything to add to this list?

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