Now that you’ve got your kitchen tools and toys in place- it’s thyme to get to the store! The advice of shopping the perimeter for the most nutritious food is as old as Jane Fonda’s leg warmers.
While the produce, meat and dairy departments are along the perimeter, so is the deli and bakery departments. I have nothing against a pound of turkey or an occasional cupcake, but if you spend your dollars only around the perimeter, you’re missing a whole lot of great food in the middle.
Health gains with whole grains
While there are plenty of processed foods in the middle aisles, all food is “processed” in some way to get it safely on the shelf. The difference is with ultra-processed grains such as bagged snacks, cookies or other treats is the high fat, sodium and sugar content. Frozen meals and treats may also be high in the same.
Whole grains, on the other hand, like rolled oats, brown rice, whole grain bread, pasta and other grains have been found to a play a role in reducing obesity, cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Studies suggest we include them daily in our diets.
When buying boxed cereal, use my 5 and 5-rule. Look for no more than 5 grams of added sugar and 5 grams or more of dietary fiber. A good example is shredded wheat or bran flakes. Try quinoa for breakfast with ginger and cinnamon for something new.
Beans, beans the magical fruit
Another middle aisle favorite are beans and lentils. This nearly fat-free source of protein and fiber is affordable and versatile. Dried, bagged beans cook up quickly if you’ve got an instant pot or could be made on the weekend if you need more time.
If you’re in a hurry, use canned beans packed without salt. Most canned liners no longer contain BPA. Beans can be added to just about anything- soup, salad, stew, wraps and more. Pair them with tomatoes, peppers, broccoli or other produce high in vitamin C to improve iron absorption.
Embrace the cold
Nothing beets fresh produce for taste and texture, but don’t diss frozen produce. Frozen berries, avocados or mangoes can be used in smoothies or yogurt while frozen vegetables are perfect for soups, stews or side dishes.
If you’re looking for easy to prep meals, try frozen chopped onions or peppers. These can be used in fajitas, pasta or other grain dishes. Look for frozen fruit packed naked without sugar and veggies packed without cream or cheese sauce.
Make mine spicy
Dried herbs and spices are must haves to make the most of your meals. Cumin and chili powder are great in Latin and Indian cuisine while turmeric and curry can be used in Asian dishes. Oregano, basil and rosemary spice up Italian and other Mediterranean meals.
Spices need not be expensive. You can find them at big box groceries or the dollar store. Buy them in small amounts as the flavor tends to fade after 6 months.
Here are some additional tips for stocking your kitchen:
• Save on dying produce. As stores stock a variety of produce that may not sell, fruits and vegetables will go on sale, be donated to food pantries or be pitched.
• Buy what’s in season when possible. Produce will be more affordable and at its peak of flavor.
• Purchase only what you’ll use. Think about what you’ll use in a meal before you buy it.
• Think twice about coupons. While coupons are tempting, they’re more likely to be on processed food. Don’t buy things for the sake of using a coupon.
• Plan some meals around plants like beans, lentils, and tofu. They are less expensive options and better for your health in the long run.
• Think of how food can be used as a “next-over”. Extra chicken could be used in soup or tacos while beans could be added to salad or soup. The possibilities are endless!
Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD