Whenever I’m unloading my groceries in the checkout lane, I always scan my selections and pretend I have to justify my purchases to an imaginary nutritionist who’s writing an article called about how to shop smart for Shape magazine.
Weird, I know.
But years ago, I actually read an article just like that in Shape magazine, where a nutritionist was ambushing real shoppers and analyzing their purchases. Talk about pressure. How much would it suck to have to rationalize those cans of sweetened condensed milk (“Duh- it’s homemade ice cream season.”) or that fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt (“That’s for my boyfriend. I know better.”) or all those blocks of Havarti dill cheese (“Back off, bitch. You’re not the boss of me.”)
That article’s stuck with me all these years, not only because I have a pathological need to be judged and found worthy (thanks, Mom!) but because it challenges me be shop smart and be mindful about my purchases. (Thanks, Shape.) Here are my five favorite ways to feel morally superior about your shopping cart.
1. Buy ingredients, not meals.
Growing up, I remember standing in front of our open pantry and complaining to my mom, “There’s no food in here. It’s all … ingredients.” But actually that’s a good thing. Buying fresh, whole foods, rather than prepared dishes, automatically slashes the amount of chemicals and crap we put into our bodies. And we automatically eat more mindfully if we have to shop smart, assemble our ingredients, chop them, heat them, savor the aroma of cooking foods filling our kitchens, plate the food and enjoy it. Food writer, Micheal Pollen (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food) says that we can make a huge impact on our health, not by counting calories, curbing carbs or going gluten free, but by eating food made by humans rather than corporations. I love that.
2. Have your weekly go-to’s
Chances are, if you see me at the grocery store, you’ll spot some combination of the following in my cart: hummus, mini peppers, dark chocolate covered almonds, spinach, eggs, chicken thighs, bananas, raspberries, cucumbers, Greek yogurt, flank steak, salsa, sweet potatoes and peanut butter. Decision fatigue is real. When faced with aisle after aisle of delicious food, it’s easy to be worn down by all the ways we’re marketed to in grocery stores. (19 Supermarket Mind Games That Get You To Buy More Junk Food). To shop smart, I have my weekly go-tos, and more importantly I have a PLAN when I go to the store. My cart isn’t a yawning crevasse begging to be filled. I know I will eat and enjoy those foods. And the imaginary nutritionist will be pleased.
3. Put the meal in chameleon
That flank steak? Those chicken thighs? The eggs. These are the culinary equivalent of my work uniform. They’re versatile, easy to cook and satisfying – making them the basis of several healthy, protein-packed meals. What are your chameleons? Tofu? Chickpeas? Grouper? Learn to cook them flawlessly, then do so often.
4. Savor simplicity … but be adventurous
For the love! Must everything we eat be a smothered, covered, chunked, stuffed, super-sized, triple-deckered, endless, bottomless, bacon-wrapped bonanza of fat and calories? I mean this SNL spoof could be a real commercial.
Funny, not funny, right? Our poor little taste buds don’t stand a chance against the onslaught of flavors and textures (chemicals and crap) we drown our food in, then consume in monster portions. Lately I’ve been encouraging my niece Emmi to eat much more simply – a well-seasoned piece of chicken with some fresh veggies and some roasted potatoes. After my test week of Whole 30, simplicity feels remarkably liberating. And food tastes more delicious. Especially in summer. (Will I feel this way in winter, when I want cozy casseroles? Let’s hope so.)
But simplicity doesn’t have to be boring. You can also be adventurous with herbs and seasonings, cooking methods or with discovering new foods and different cuisines around the globe. When you think of cooking – and eating – as a creative outlet, your meals are much more satisfying.
Let me be clear: my moral superiority on the subject of healthy food isn’t directed at anyone but myself. I keep my eyes on my own plate and don’t the judge the totchos (tater tot nachos – so good) on yours. In fact, I may steal a few of your totchos because everyone knows food stolen from someone else’s plate has no calories. Or I may order my own totchos when I feel like it. I don’t live in deprivation. I’m not sanctimonious about carbs or calories. And what I jokingly call moral superiority is really that light, positive feeling I get from doing right by my body. That’s the feeling I crave even more than Havarti dill cheese.
Or almost as much.
Let’s call it a tie.
What about you? What’s your favorite way to shop smart? Do you have go-to healthy foods you buy every week? What are your chameleons?