Monday, April 26, 2010

Grocery Fatigue

Research confirms what you already suspected: We tucker out when faced with too many choices. Including at the grocery store where the number of cereal flavors, liquid soup fragrances, juice combinations, pickle varieties, rice mixes and canned tomato types slows us down to consider, reconsider and finally either choose or walk away to the next aisle, also replete with choice.

Combat this with a list you can stick to and get out of the store faster and less exhausted. Spending more time around good food does not mean spending your precious hours shopping by wandering aimlessly through the aisles in search of direction. It means investing your energy on the activities that count: meal preparation and its enjoyment. Selecting pure foods as your ingredients is simpler than you think and will buy you time for more pleasant and group oriented meal-making and dining.

First make a list. If you’ve never shopped with a list give it a try. You will find it liberating since most families repeat many of the same stock items every week. Make a good list once and you won’t have to change it much to use it repeatedly and effectively. Some items can be broad like fruit, green vegetables, salad fixins’ or dried pasta. Some will need brand/size notes (which also makes it easy to send others to fetch items).

Organize your list in the order of the aisles in the store you frequent. Here are broad categories to get you started that will keep you on a pure foods path. You’ll find most of what you buy is in one of these departments or aisles and you can customize this basic list to suit your tastes. Fill in how many of each type of food you need to cover a week and you will have eliminated another thing to think about:

Produce Department- select sale items that look and smell delicious
Fruit 2-4 choices (bananas, pears, berries)
Green vegetables 4-5 choices (broccoli, asparagus, green beans, kale)
Root vegetables 2-3 choices (sweet potatoes, beets)
Salads including lettuces, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, avocado, nuts and seeds

Meat, Fish, Ready-to Eat Meals departments
6-7 protein choices for week’s worth of dinners- plan for leftovers to cut back on meal prep time or to carry over as enviable brown bag lunches.

Dairy, Eggs
Milk, cream cheese, hard cheeses, cottage cheese, eggs, butter, yogurt
Be selective, choose low fat where possible provided additives and additional sweetening are not added as a substitute for flavor.

Supporting Aisles
Rice, grains, pasta, dried beans
Canned and jarred low sodium vegetables and beans
Canned and jarred fruits, applesauce, dried fruits
Condiments: mustard, hot sauce, pickles, international sauces
Frozen foods: fruit, vegetables, prepared healthy meals and desser, etc.
Bakery: whole grain bread products.

Cereals- cut back on the number of flavors you buy at one time; this is not the candy aisle
Juices, teas and waters- read the labels and consider mixing your own juice-teas from herbal tea bags and 100% juice.
Cookies, crackers, snacks- some people bypass this aisle. If you do not, try cutting back on the variety you buy and select something you can serve with fruit. Enjoy but be selective.

Keep Some Options Open
Try something new, but have parameters. The part of choice you may not want to abandon is finding new favorites and sampling foods you’ve heard about or seen advertised. If you toss the overwhelming aspects of consumer choice, you can keep the adventurous part as long as you stay in command. Stick to your primary list which includes brands that have passed your quality standards and pricing and explore within range to improve your home pantry.

Try something new each week and keep the rest of your list simple. For example, if you want to add more fruit to your diet pick something new for the fruit bowl or build a fruit salad out of old favorites and one new item. It can be a different variety of pear or melon or a fruit you’ve never eaten before. Farmers markets provide lots of opportunity to learn about a new fruit or vegetable and most vendors are very helpful with recipes and serving ideas.

The following week you may want to experiment with some lower sugar cereals that you can serve with fresh berries. Dietary news on sodium means we’ll be seeing new and hopefully healthier formulations of soups, shelf stable and frozen meals, snack foods and more. On another visit, take a trip abroad and check out the international foods aisle to sample a new flavor profile. You might even pick out a vegetarian meal from fresh and prepared ingredients to add to your repetoire.

The key is to keep the kinds of choices you want to make focused so that you minimize fatigue. Go home with a little more spring in your step, less exhausted in both mind and body.