When you go into the grocery store, you can shop like a pro – or not. Getting better food when you shop is not rocket science. Use these 3 easy tips and I’ll bet you’ll soon notice changes in your food-buying habits. When you read these tips, don’t snicker and think to yourself “Duh, I knew that!!” Like a couple of the 10 Commandments, they are simple to read and repeat, but often ignored.
They work whether you are heading into a store for just a few items or a big shop. If you think they take too much time, consider that just a few extra minutes can dramatically improve the quality of what you buy. Besides, grocery shopping shouldn’t be like sleep walking – the more conscious you are about what goes into your cart, the better fed you (and whoever else you feed) will be. End of sermonette.
[As a teenager, I coined the phrase “sermonette” for my mom’s short unsolicited pieces of advice. Although I rolled my eyes when she began one, I have come to realize that mostly they were well-founded nuggets of truth. (I still cringe sometimes when she delivers them, on topics ranging from how you shouldn’t assume that you know what motivates people to why moderation in eating habits is better than complete abstinence or indulgence.) Now, semi-horrified to find that I’ve turned into my mother, I spread my own version of common sense, hopefully laced a bit of her acerbic wit.]
3 Tips to Get Better Food When Grocery Shopping
1. Read Labels. Whether you’re finding hidden sugar in cereal or noticing that some brands of sour cream have just one ingredient, cream, while others contain carrageenan and all sorts of other thickeners and stabilizers, reading labels can tell you a lot. Comparing labels on 2 or more brands, or looking at the difference between the “regular” chicken broth and the “low sodium” version can yield tidbits you didn’t even know you didn’t know. The “unknown unknowns” as Donald Rumsfeld would say, are often more telling than the “known unknowns.” (And speaking of “knowns” – did you know that when manufacturers lower the sodium in packaged and canned food, they often add other ingredients – and not always ones you will be happy about?)
Once you have figured out which brands and types of packaged food meets your standards, it takes less time – I know what sour cream to buy and head straight for that brand now that I did my homework, reading labels, a few years ago. Occasionally I’ll check a new brand on the shelf or make sure the brand I always buy is still made only with cream, but basically I’ve got that purchase down to a quick few moments.
2. Buy In-Season Produce. Even big box grocery chains now publicize which fruits and vegetables they buy locally. If you are flexible enough to vary your shopping list by what is grown in your local region when you shop, you’ll get fresher food that tastes better. If you don’t believe me, remember the juicy deliciousness of an in-season peach; then wait a few months and buy one out-of-season that is hauled in from another continent and then left sitting in a warehouse for weeks before it gets to your store. Same with tomatoes. Case closed.
3. Talk to Produce and Meat Department Staff. Whether I’m at a farmers market or a grocery store, I try to learn from the folks who work with the food I’m about to buy. This tip works best if you are an extrovert, or at least not painfully shy. But even if it takes an act of will for you to walk up to a person unloading a crate or ring the bell at the meet department and ask a question nicely, it’s worth the effort. Most often, you’ll be rewarded with information that will help you on that shopping trip and in the future.
The last time I rang the meat department bell at a local grocery, the butcher not only cut me a fresh piece of the cut I sought, but he trimmed it to the size I sought and gave me a smile that kept me going all afternoon. Yes, I know all about the eye-rolling that this talking-to-strangers can engender from pre-teens and teenagers if you’ve got one along on the shopping trip. But if you can wait a decade or 2, you may well get the satisfaction of finding the erstwhile eye-roller asking a few of her or his own questions when the time comes that they have to do the shopping.
Do you have other grocery shopping tips that improve the quality of what you buy?