Healthy eating starts at the grocery store, which is why this year’s Dietitians of Canada Nutrition Month campaign is dedicated to helping you plan ahead before you hit the aisles, as well as how to navigate the grocery store like a nutritionist and prepare healthy, home-cooked meals your whole family will enjoy.
According to a survey by the Dietitians of Canada, 63 per cent of Canadians struggle when it comes to making healthier choices in the grocery store at least half of the time they shop. And it’s no wonder: we’re faced with a multitude of choices and often stop to grab groceries at times when we’re feeling tired, stressed or hungry, such as on the way home from work or while we’re out running other errands. Instead of filling your cart with frozen pizzas and granola bars on your next grocery run, set yourself up for nutritional success by following these tips based on the Dietitians of Canada Nutrition Month campaign.*
The first step to healthy eating is to research the foods you plan to buy before you hit the grocery store or farmer’s market. Even though food from the produce section should fill the majority of your shopping cart, pantry necessities—such as olive oil, seasonings, baking supplies, nuts, seeds and dried fruit and legumes—and some packaged foods are also part of a healthy diet. Websites like Eatwise.ca and CalorieCount.com let you look up the nutritional information for almost every food you can find on grocery store shelves, including brand name foods.
The next step is to plan your menu for the week. Use a handy online meal planner like this one offered from EatRight Ontario, or find healthy inspiration from other sources such as fitness magazines, healthy cook books or social sites like Pinterest.
Going in to the grocery store with a list is the next step to ensure your pantry and fridge are junk food-free zones. Once you’ve made a meal plan for the week, make a list of the ingredients you need for your recipes plus other staples, like snacks to take to work and school (carrot sticks, nuts and dried fruit, hummus, rye crackers, whole fruit, etc.) and breakfast items (eggs, almond milk, rolled oats, cereal, peanut butter, etc.).
Another important element to shopping smart is to read and understand nutrition labels. You should be aware of the calorie, fat, carbohydrate and sodium content of the foods you are buying, and understand those percentages based on the serving size listed on the nutrition label. For example, one box of cereal might have 190 calories and three grams of fat per serving, whereas another cereal might have only 120 calories and two grams of fat per serving; even though you might be tempted to go for the cereal with the least amount of calories and fat, check how it compares to the serving size. If the serving size listed on the 120 calorie cereal box is only one third cup, whereas the 190 calorie cereal box lists the serving size as one cup, the box that looks like less calories and fat may actually be more. There is no strict standard for serving sizes, so be aware of this when comparing products.
Besides reading the nutritional values and percentages, you should also be reading the ingredients list. A few general rules when it comes to ingredients are:
- If you can’t pronounce it or don’t know what it is, don’t buy it.
- Ingredients are listed in decreasing order of how much is in the product; for example, if “sugar” is listed
as the second ingredient in a breakfast cereal, it contains a lot of sugar. If you see this, or any other unhealthy
ingredient or additive listed before the whole food, don’t buy it.
- If you see any of the following words on an ingredients list, don’t buy it:
- partially hydrogenated anything (especially oil)
- bleached or enriched (enriched is another word for bleached; bleaching strips nutrients from the
- artificial flavours or colouring
- monosodium glutamate (otherwise known as MSG),
- natural flavours (a general term that includes any flavour that comes from something that can be
found in nature, including MSG)
- nitrates and nitrites (carcinogenic chemicals that are found in highly processed foods like
- Fructose, sucrose or dextrose (also known as sugar) listed near the beginning of an ingredients list.
Click here for a list of great resources that will help you understand how to read nutrition labels on packaged foods.
Now that your kitchen is stocked with the all the fixings for healthy fare, take some time on a Sunday afternoon (or whenever you have a free hour) to get organized. Here are a few tips to make meal prep easy during the week:
- Cook big batches of whole grains and legumes like rice, quinoa, beans and lentils and store them in
airtight containers in the fridge so all you need to do is reheat and serve, or use them in soups and stews.
- Wash and chop up vegetables and fruits and store them in airtight containers in the fridge to take to
work as snacks or to cook up for dinner.
- Last night’s dinner always make a great lunch the next day, so double up on your recipes!
- Not in the mood to have last night’s dinner for lunch? Separate your leftover stews, soups, pasta dishes,
pot roasts and casseroles into serving-sized containers and store them in the freezer for next week’s lunch
*These tips have been modified by yours truly since Loblaw’s, the Dairy Farmers of Canada and Danone Canada are the sponsors of Nutrition Month… I always take any advice or research study sponsored by a company/group of companies who could have a vested interest in the results or outcome with a grain of salt. Also please note I wrote this for something else, hence the non-personal tone. But it’s about nutrition, so I think it should have a home here on Briwifit.com!