Reader John asks a great question: what's in the shopping cart of someone who's making healthier food choices but isn't about to join a CSA or start drinking wheat grass juice?
Here are 6 easy first steps for a smarter, healthier shopping cart--without, as he says, "going so far as to claim that tofu with cottage cheese and salsa is a legitimate substitute for chicken Parmesan."
1. Eat Real Food
Michael Pollan wisely advises us not to "eat anything your great-great-great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food." Things that might make that list are margarine (the kind that's full of hydrogenated oil, aka trans-fats), cheese-dusted crunchy snack foods, and candies whose first ingredient is a form of high-fructose corn syrup. Try choosing just one of these to skip at the market this week. Substitute real popcorn, high-quality (dark) chocolate, or even (gasp!) butter for the food-impostor.
2. Ratio Your Plate
When you think about your week's meals, think of the plate-proportioning system known as the Idaho Plate Method (IPM), where your dinner plate is filled 1/4 with protein (meat/fish/cheese/eggs), 1/4 starch or grains, and 1/2 vegetables (and the meal is supplemented with fruits and dairy).
Peek into your cart: does its contents make this ratio even remotely possible? The IPM is meant for diabetes management (check out this CDC study vouching for its efficacy), but is also a smart nutritional guideline for non-diabetics who want to stay that way.
3. Respect the Dirty Dozen
Organics aren't always worth the extra money, so if you're taking steps toward a greener lifestyle, start with "the dirty dozen," those foods that are most vulnerable to pesticides, hormones, and chemical fertilizers. The Environmental Working Group has a cute downloadable pamphlet so you can keep the list in your wallet and glance it in the produce aisle! To get you started: choose only organic stone fruits (peaches, plums), lettuce, and potatoes. Don't worry about buying organic onions, avocados, or bananas.
4. Go Veg Once a Week
A study released last month from John Hopkins found that having one day each week of all meatless meals reduces the average person's saturated fat intake by up to 15%. It also can lower your grocery bill and cut down on your consumption of industrial-raised beef and chicken (if you don't regularly eat organic meat). So try joining the "Meatless Monday" movement and save the steak for Tuesday!
5. Ditch the Soda
Calories from beverages make up almost a quarter of the daily calories Americans consume, and soda is the main calorie-giver of choice. It also costs moolah, offers zero nutrition, and it takes 2,200 calories of energy to create one can of of it, according to Cornell University's David Pimentel (go Big Red!). Drinking iced tea, water, or club soda/sparkling water jazzed up with a squeeze of lemon, lime, or a splash of fruit juice can make a huge difference in your health, your carbon footprint, and your grocery bill.
6. BYO Bag
Think about it - how many bags do you leave the grocery store with each time you visit? What happens to those bags 15-30 minutes later, when the food has been put away and you've gone back to living your life? Re-use sturdy grocery bags (I've gotten dozens of uses out of Whole Foods' handled bags), pick up some reusable bags (super cute ones here!), or collect old tote bags from the back closet and start the habit of bringing your own.
More ideas welcome - how do you "green" your trips to the supermarket?