Healthy eating starts with the shopping cart

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 27, 2003

Throughout the past decade, there has been a growing campaign in the United States to encourage people to eat healthy and exercise. The media gladly spread the word – &uot;avoid cholesterol&uot;, &uot;choose low-fat&uot;, &uot;eat more fiber&uot;, &uot;limit salt&uot;.

For parents, the situation is confused by the hundreds of glitzy TV commercials that flash across the screen weekly. Commercials whose main purpose is to convince young, impressionable minds that they NEED a particular product – star-spangled cereal, bubbly soda, cartoon-character snack cakes, ketchup-flavored potato chips. (Yes, ketchup-flavored potato chips!) All in the hopes that these same children will beg their parents until they finally give in just to save their sanity.

Over the same period of time, while various agencies have touted the &uot;healthy eating gospel&uot;, the rate of childhood obesity and related health problems has increased dramatically. Why? In more cases than not, it may have more to do with the fact that while a large percentage of Americans want to at least try to eat healthy, they may be working with only half of the information necessary to make it all work. They have the &uot;what to do&uot; information, but may be missing the &uot;how to do&uot; information.

Email newsletter signup

This is the part that is essential to effectively navigate the local supermarket. One in three shoppers is still confused about what to eat to be healthy. In other words, which foods really meet the criteria for a &uot;healthful&uot; food? Choosing wisely can be an overwhelming task when we consider that the average supermarket is 44,000 square feet and offers over 30,000 different items.

Take heart parents and be armed with the knowledge you need to help yourself and your children easily recognize the better choices. The Healthy Eating and Fitness Task Force has begun offering a program at Farm Fresh called Supermarket Shopping Solutions. It is a 1-1 1/2 hour aisle by aisle tour with a registered dietitian. The tour also includes a discussion on the Food Pyramid and Nutrition Facts labels as well as a packet of helpful information to take home.

The tour and materials were developed by Con-Agra Foods, Inc. and The American Dietetic Association. To participate, all you need is a completed referral form from your child’s pediatrician. There is no charge for the tour.

Here are some of the top solutions for making the most of your trip to the supermarket:

PLAN AHEAD. List meal ideas for the week. Think about which days you will have time to cook from scratch and which days you will be pressed for time.

If you opt for convenience foods on a busy night, shop for salad, milk and fruit to balance out the meal.

ORGANIZE THE LIST. As you create your shopping list, check your menu options against the Food Pyramid to ensure you have included a variety from all groups.

READ LABELS. The Nutrition Label can be a consumer’s best tool. Learn how to identify key nutrients such as fat and saturated fat, as well as determine caloric content and the amount of the essential nutrients the product provides.

KNOW THE TRICKS OF THE TRADE. Knowing how to shop and what to look for in each aisle of the store helps guarantee a cart stocked with nutritious foods. For instance, to choose leaner cuts of beef, look for &uot;round&uot; or &uot;loin&uot; in the name.

Remember, frozen vegetables are often just as high in nutrients as fresh.

And look for &uot;whole grain&uot; when choosing breads and pastas for more fiber.

Other tips to keep you on track at the supermarket:

DON’T SHOP HUNGRY. Leave the decisions to your head, not your stomach. It’s easier to stick to a shopping list if you are not hungry, so plan to eat something before you go.

SET A ROUTINE. Establish a day and time that makes it easy for you to move quickly and easily through the store and stay focused on your shopping needs.

SAVE MONEY. Coupon clipping or finding stores that price match are great strategies for saving money. Coupons are also a great way to expand your food choices.

Use a coupon to experiment with a new meal item that you would not normally buy.

Do you have kids in tow? An enjoyable grocery shopping experience with children is possible. Use it as an opportunity to give your kids a lesson in color, smell and names of new foods. For older preschoolers and school-age children, make it a reading lesson – reading food labels. Pick out one nutrient for them to look for on food labels and have your child tell you which product might be the best choice.

For example, if you want them to choose low-sugar cereals, have them look for cereals that have less than six grams of sugar per serving.

Remember, parents, to participate in the tour program, simply contact your child’s pediatrician and request a referral. For online information on smart shopping solutions or to take a virtual supermarket tour you can also log onto healthy To search for more nutrition information, you may want to try The American Dietetic Association at Just remember, it all starts with the cart – the shopping cart!

Karen Brower is a registered dietitian with the Suffolk Health Department, which is a member of the Suffolk Healthy Eating Task Force. The Task Force is a sub-committee of the Partnership for a Healthy Community. Its mission is to coordinate the resources of the community in a collaborative effort to improve the mental, physical, socio-economic, and spiritual health of all its citizens. Articles written by Task Force members to help promote a &uot;healthy community&uot; will appear in The Suffolk News-Herald on the last Tuesday of the month through May 2004.

For details on the Healthy Eating Task Force, contact Virginia Savage at 934-4933.