Grocery Shopping Tips: Down the Sides & Out Back

Father and daughter in produce section


Need some grocery shopping tips?  This post will give you some easy guidelines to go by.

Take a mental stroll in the front door of your grocery store.  Think about the location of categories of items.  Take a right, go along the side, and follow the side aisle until you reach the back.  What do you see in that corner?  Now walk along the back wall.  What do you see?

Go all the way around the sides of your grocery store and you’ll notice goosebumps on your arms.  Not from excitement (this is the grocery store, after all) but from . . . refrigeration.  And what does refrigeration signal in a grocery store?  Fresh, raw foods like produce, meats, and dairy.

Processed foods have been dehydrated, preservatives (tons of salt) and fat added, churned, shaped, colored, and boxed.  They are there for your convenience but not your health.  So we suggest shopping “down the sides and out back” when you visit the grocery store.  As much as possible, stay away from processed foods in the middle of the store.

Buy from the least processed ingredients and build meals from that.  Of course, it may not always be possible with your work and home life and the resources at hand, so we suggest visualizing a continuum of meal ingredients.

The Continuum

The continuum starts with no processing — picked from the field, washed, and shipped.  Then you have frozen foods, boxed foods, restaurants, and lastly fast food at the worst end of the continuum.

Take chicken, for example.  Your best choice is to buy fresh chicken and cook with other spices besides salt.  Your next stop along the continuum might be frozen chicken, cooked at home.  Then you might have rotisserie chicken from the grocery store.  Your last option would be KFC.  You are still better off eating rotisserie than KFC.

Fruits, Veggies, Meats

If financial resources or cooking skill or time don’t line up to cook from raw, you’re still better off eating processed fruits and veggies. In the case of fruits, juice packs would be the next step down from freshly squeezed orange juice from fresh oranges.   If you get processed veggies, pick low sodium.

In the case of meats, pick lean meats. Include fish two times per week (that’s the current recommendation from the American Heart Association). Get fresh meats, not frozen, if you can. If resources don’t allow it, pick up frozen. You might have more time on the weekend, so cook totally from raw on the weekend. During the week, you may pick up some processed ingredients, and do additional work with them.  (Processing can add cost, especially in the case of meats, so that’s another good reason to shop around the sides and out back.)

We’ll talk more to individual food categories in later posts, but put your sweater on and spend more time around the sides and out back the next time you visit the grocery store.

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Author: Carla Spencer

Carla Spencer is a Registered Dietitian and founder of 2 Your Health. Her extensive career working with individuals with health challenges led her to create this site dedicated to helping people enjoy their lives while working to prevent or minimize the impact of kidney disease.

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