Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Check your pantry, make a list and stick to it

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It's a maze of aisles and flashy labels that often lure you to buy without thinking.

The grocery store. Even though you've been shopping there a couple of times a week for years, you know you're not getting all you can out of the experience. You're spending too much money on items that aren't good for you. And at the end of it all, you often don't have much food in your fridge.

The Free Press recently busted the popular myth that healthful groceries -- fruits, vegetables and lean meats -- can be more expensive than chips, microwave popcorn and frozen dinners.

We found numerous nutritious foods that were, in fact, cheaper. We even compared their costs and nutritional value to their junkier counterparts.

Even so, shopping for groceries can be a battle. You need to go in with a plan.

Here's some advice on how you can ensure your shopping trip leads you to better health:

Make a grocery list prior to shopping. This ensures you won't aimlessly wander from aisle to aisle overfilling your cart with items you don't need.

Before you make your list, do an inventory of your fridge and pantry to see what you need. Move perishable items to the front of the fridge so you end up finishing them before they go bad.

Start your grocery shopping excursion in the produce section. That way, if you have to leave earlier than you expected, at least you'll walk away with some of the most nutritious foods in the store: vegetables and fruits. (When you get home, cut your veggies in to snack-size sticks and keep them in a see-through container in the fridge where you and your family can easily access them in place of chips and cookies).

Look out for nutritious items that are on sale. This can make your shopping easier on your wallet and allow you to cook in bigger batches so you can freeze the leftovers or eat over the course of a week.

Make sure you purchase pantry essentials. These are foods that will ensure you always have the tools for quick, tasty, nutritious meals. (Keeping whole grain pasta, canned tomatoes, onions, olive oil and dried oregano on hand, for example, means you can always cook up a simple, high-fibre spaghetti with sauce in a pinch. Top with a sharp cheese such as Parmesan so you use less).

Take a calculator and/or a pen and paper with you. That way, you can do some math to ensure that your groceries don't exceed your grocery budget.

Scan the labels of your favourite packaged foods for recommended serving size. Often, a food may appear to be low in sugar, saturated fat or calories based on what the company lists as a serving size. Meanwhile, the average realistic serving size -- what you would normally put on your plate -- could be twice as much.

Be wary of "all natural" or "organic" claims. These are terms that don't necessarily mean there is less salt, saturated fat or sugar in a particular food.

Look for foods with short ingredient lists. This generally means the food isn't laden with chemicals and unnecessary ingredients. (Keep in mind that food companies are supposed to list their ingredients from most to least. So, if sugar is listed as the second ingredient, you can bet that item is high in sugar.)

Know that "low-fat" isn't always better. Don't let a low-fat item fool you into believing it's better for you. Many lower fat items contain extra sugar to make up for the lack of fat. Read the nutrition label and ingredient list to get to the truth.

Be cautious of foods labelled as "low cholesterol." That's because the cholesterol you get in your food doesn't have as big of an impact on your blood cholesterol levels (and therefore your heart health) as saturated fat, say medical experts.

Don't shop for groceries while hungry. Doing so means that you'll me more inclined to overfill your cart with foods you don't need. As well, you'll likely be tempted to tear open a big bag of chips during your shopping.

Do most of your shopping at the periphery of the store. These outer areas usually include the produce, dairy and bread section, while the interior of the store often houses pop, chips and candy.


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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 15, 2013 D1

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