Our supermarket trolley holds immense power. Whatever foods wind up in our basket will naturally make their way to our kitchen and then onto our dinner plates - making that time spent at the supermarket very influential of food choice for the week ahead. When we have wholesome ingredients available at home we're more prepared and in control to whip up healthier meals - and avoid temptation before it rears its head!
Navigating the supermarket can be an overwhelming at the best of times - with rows and rows of food options, and many items promising (sometimes questionable) health benefits, it's difficult to know what to pick up and what to leave. Take into account factors that influence our purchasing habits, like budget, convenience, family preferences, taste, and even our mood, getting our shopping basket to 'tick all the boxes' may not always feel like the easiest of feats.So, where do we start on our quest for a healthier supermarket trolley? Here are some tips:
Before you even hit the shops - get prepared with a list
My biggest tip and a great way to keep on track of health and budget goals - arm yourself with a list before hitting the shops! Shopping without a list often leads to:
- an overestimation of how much food is needed for the week, leading to overspending and food waste...
- ...or an underestimation, which may see you doing a few extra trips to the supermarket to fill in the gaps throughout the week (to spend more money!).
Planning your weekly shop also enables you to get food waste down to a bare minimum as you’re only buying the ingredients needed for the coming weeks meals; will minimise the stress and hassle around meal times as you know exactly what’s on the menu each week; and will help keep you committed to your health - when nutritious meals are planned for and ingredients ready-to-go, less temptation tends to creep in. To successfully plan, start by:
Doing a kitchen inventory. It’s easy to spend on new ingredients that we may have forgotten we already have! Before you go shopping, check what food is in your kitchen (pantry, refrigerator and freezer) first. Write down any ingredients you come across that could be used in a meal the coming week e.g. leftover tins of tomatoes or beans, half open bags of rice, or frozen veggies. Then...
Be resourceful. Using the ingredients you have on hand, loosely plan out some meal ideas across Monday-Sunday for the following week. Maybe you have a half-empty bag of rice, a few eggs and some frozen veggies? Bingo, egg fried rice! Or maybe a few tins of tomatoes, a tin of lentils and some pasta? Make lentil bolognese! Next...
Fill in the rest of the day’s gaps. Think up some extra meals for the other days, add to your list any extra ingredients you’d need to turn these meals into reality, and then compile it all into a shopping list. Remember to note down only what you NEED - e.g. if you only need 6 carrots, jot down 6 carrots rather then a whole bag.
Take your list shopping, and stick to it! Take a pen with you and make sure to check off each item as you go. Stick to what you wrote down - this is what you need for the week. Don't be tempted to sway off your list.
Largely shop the perimeter of the supermarket
For a healthier grocery shop, aim to largely shop the perimeter of the supermarket. Many fresh nutritious foods e.g. fruit and veggies, meats and seafood, bulk items and chilled products, will typically line the perimeter of supermarkets. This ensures optimal freshness, storage, and that items can be appropriately prepped (e.g. butchery and fishmonger) and interchanged as needed. On the other side of the coin, more processed goods have much longer shelf lives, e.g. months or in some cases years, so (and to avoid logistic nightmares) they happily sit in the middle aisles for yonks.
It's important to note, many healthy foods sit in the middle too - oats, nuts, tinned tomatoes, seeds and oils. Many healthy foods also have long storage lives. However, those fresh foods on the outside are wonderful foundational parts of a diet, so load up on them wherever you can and then dip into the aisles where needed.
Read ingredient lists
When buying packaged foods, one of the best ways to avoid misleading product claims (or products that may appear healthier than they really are) is to read ingredient lists. A ingredients list will state everything within the product, and so gives us a good idea of what we’re actually eating. Ingredients are listed in regards to quantity, from the largest to the smallest amount used. Therefore, those first few ingredients listed are quite important to take note of, as they’re the ingredients that the manufacturer has used the most.
When reading an ingredients list, remember the shorter the list the better. A long list typically tends to mean the item is quite processed. Aim for a list as short as possible, avoid questionable ingredients (google what something is if you're unsure!) and be mindful that the more processed something is, typically the less nutrition it has. There’s a saying I like which sums up this point quite nicely:
'Real foods don’t have an ingredients list, real foods are ingredients'
Seasonal produce is produce that is currently in season - this means it's the time of the year that it's locally grown and harvested. Because of this, it's at its peak freshness, doesn't need to travel far to get onto our supermarket shelves, and is in high demand - so prices are naturally lower.
Eating seasonal is fantastic nutritionally, environmentally and is great on the wallet - it ticks so many boxes. Shop seasonal wherever you can.
Don't forget frozen
When fruit and veggies aren't available year-round (and can be astronomically expensive when out-of-season!), frozen goods are an excellent, budget-friendly alternative. Frozen fruit and veggies have been frozen very soon after harvesting, helping to lock in nutrients. They're great boiled straight out of the packet, chucked into stir-fries, casseroles or curries, cooked with porridge, or added to smoothies (try frozen spinach!).
Remember, when it comes to fruit and vege just focus on eating more in general then fretting about source - no matter whether frozen or fresh, they're so good for our health!
Don't shop on an empty stomach
Have you ever tried grocery shopping when hungry? It's really hard to fight our biology. When we're ravenous we naturally desire food, often sweet foods with our body knowing these will give us a quick energy boost. And if you're walking around a room filled with an endless array of options to satisfy our hungry urge, what's going to wind up our trolley? I'm betting the number of impulse purchases will rise. It may sound silly, but eat before you shop!