Outsmarting the Grocery Store

English: Shelves of packaged food inside a Ral...

Aside from small trips to Trader Joes, and occasional treks to Whole Foods, we have given up almost all grocery shopping. Occasionally, I find the need for something I can only find in the standard grocery, but that is pretty rare anymore. I have learned that I can make my own powdered sugar, self-rising whole wheat flour and buttermilk, so why buy them off the shelf?

Now, in full disclosure, I have never loved grocery shopping, but since we started shopping primarily at our local farmers markets, going to the grocery has become even more frustrating and stressful.  First, no one seems to know anything about the produce or meat sold in the grocery. I’m not dissing 16 year olds, but why oh why would I take produce advice from someone who has never cooked? Second, the things I need seem to be hard to find. Is it me or are steel-cut oats almost impossible to see on the shelf? And lastly, I continue to be amazed at how expensive processed food is. Sure, a box of Hamburger Helper is only .99 with a coupon, but you’re paying for mostly salt and pasta. Plus you still need to add meat and maybe canned tomatoes. Not a good deal when a whole box of pasta might be .99 and you get two or three times more than is in the box of Hamburger Helper. A loaf of bread might be $1.99, but for $3.99 you can get a 5 lb. bag of whole wheat flour that will make you 5 or 6 loaves of bread.

So I was intrigued this morning when I saw a Twitter posting from Earth Eats about the geography of a grocery store. None of this is really new information, but it is a good reminder that when you enter a grocery store, you (and most importantly, your children) are being carefully manipulated to make choices that are good for the grocery stores profits, but not good for the health of your family.

Case in point: my daughter went looking in Trader Joes for peanut butter. Just plain ol’, no sugar added peanut butter. She grabbed a jar and off we went. Until I noticed during checkout that what she thought was peanut butter was some kind of cookie butter. WHAAAT? What the hell is cookie butter? We went back to the shelf and there were two entire rows of cookie butter at chest level, and the actual peanut butter was waaaaay down at the bottom. GRRRRRRR. Cookie butter, by the way, is cookies, fat and sugar. Now, maybe this is your favorite food in the world (I won’t judge), but it’s not what we want in our diet. And it is not a sub for peanut butter in Thai spicy peanut sauce.

Check out this article–maybe you want to print it out and take it with you to the grocery store? It’s eye-opening, for sure! Here are some takeaway tips:

  • Shop the perimeter–the outside aisles is where the fresh food is.
  • Look up–and down. The healthier, less processed food is often not at eye level.
  • Buy ingredients, not packages.

Here is a wonderful mantra to keep in mind (this is from Michael Pollan).

“If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t. ”

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