What would you think if I told you that you could get all of your shopping done without going down the aisles of the grocery store, and that you could get everything you need from the perimeter of the store?
Would you think “Emily, what the hell do you even eat?”
Or maybe you would think “Well, that makes sense, but how else would I get X food item for my kids/partner/meal?”
Let’s talk about it, and why it’s actually a great way to hack into your best nutritional self.
If you’ve never really looked closely at your shopping habits, you may not notice how easy it is to be persuaded to buy something that you didn’t mean to. It’s easy to do, too. For one, many of us take on the shopping habits of our parents or significant others. Some of us don’t even do the grocery shopping– maybe another member of the household is in charge of that domain.
Outside of our own societal norms and the habits we’ve acquired with little critique, there is also a whole industry surrounding the way the supermarket is laid out, helping to corral you into a certain flow and appeal to your deepest, darkest desires.
Most of us have heard about impulse buys at the cash register, but the temptations start long before you get to the check-out. For instance: have you ever noticed that most of the products you look at on the shelves are by the same companies, and all those smaller “health-food” products are somehow contained to just one aisle? There’s a good reason for that:
Those large companies actually purchase shelf space for their products. For the most part, they’ll purchase up large amounts of “real estate” so that their products are taking up more space and, thus, more noticeable to you. It’s hard to avoid a bag of chips when they take up twenty feet of shelving in a row!
The same goes for the frozen sections of the store, where you’ll more likely find larger brands of ready-made meals (frozen pizza, anyone?) than gluten-free bread made by a local producer. Good luck finding those! All that visual space eventually seeps in, slowly exhausting your restraint, and you end up buying something that maybe you didn’t mean to.
That’s just a small tidbit of how large food companies can sway your purchasing power in their favour and away from your own. There are all kinds of sales schemes designed to entice you (bin sales, two-day sales, BOGO, you name it!), but when you’re aware of the advertising techniques in the food industry (see my previous post on advertising towards children), you stand a better chance at smart and efficient grocery shopping that is more in favour of your personal health goals (and, easier on the wallet!).
So how can you walk into the store with confidence that you won’t be leaving with something you didn’t mean to? There is one simple technique that you can use to shop for almost everything on your grocery list (with a few exceptions), and that is to…
Shop the Perimeter of the store.
With the help of a meal plan and organized grocery list (stay tuned for more on that), you can get virtually everything you need from the outside of the store, keeping you away from the inner aisles where some of the most processed foods are kept, and where a lot of real estate is purchased by those big-name food monoliths.
It’s not that the inner aisles are only full of bad foods. On the contrary, you will have to venture in there every so often for some dried goods, such as grains and legumes, stocks, or spices. These are important items to have in many pantries, and exemplifies the importance of sticking to a shopping list.
If you have a list, and you stick to it, you can go down those aisles only for the things you need. However, beware! There are many traps along the way. Maybe you want to get brown rice, but suddenly find yourself looking at the many different flavours of ready-to-microwave bags of rice, “perfectly portioned” and just right for your meal size (AND on sale!), But:
Is it really right for you?
There is no such thing as a “One-Size fits all” Portion size.
That bag of flavoured and delicious looking rice-and-chicken may say it’s a meal for two, but depending on your nutritional goals, it may be worth 4-6 servings of carbs and not nearly enough protein (not to mention a near total lack of vegetables!). On top of that, let’s look at the ingredients a little more closely. You may find the sodium content extremely high for your body, and for most people that’s the case with ready-made food items. You’re also likely to find some other sneaky ingredients, all in the name of preservation and economy.
Convenience can sometimes have a higher price than what’s on the tag. For instance, a recent trip to the grocery store had me stunned at the price of a can of ravioli (brand name left out): A dollar! How could something with beef be that cheap?
I looked at the ingredients, and found my answer. Mixed in with the usuals for pasta, tomato sauce and beef (and a million other preservatives), I found it: Textured Vegetable Protein.
Soy. And for anyone with a soy allergy, this hidden ingredient can be disastrous!
Remember that story about the Subway chicken meat that was found to only be half chicken? Well, it can be in your grocery store’s convenience foods too. When we venture down the middle aisles, perhaps tired and looking for something easy and fast to eat, we aren’t necessarily consuming what we think we are.
So your best bet is to stay out of there to begin with. Keep your grocery list limited to real, whole foods, and these can almost entirely be found on the perimeter of the store.
When you first step into the grocery store, depending on the store, you’re most likely to be in the produce section. Shop here–do it all here! And just keep following the outside of the store. You’ll find vegetables, fruit, cheese, breads, meats, meat alternatives- almost everything you need for every recipe can be found in this mode of shopping. And, it keeps you largely away from some of the most processed foods.
And when you need Rice and Spice and other supporting characters for your recipes, you need to do one thing:
Stick to your shopping list!
Having a hard time staying out of the middle aisles? Why not ask for help! A nutritionist can be a great member of your team and help you build a meal-plan and corresponding shopping list that’ll get you started in the right spots. All you have to do is reach out!