As a parent, you’re always keen to present your children with a good variety of healthy foods. Going food shopping with them is an important step in this process. The items you put in the cart week after week can affect their health and attitude towards nutritious food.
Shopping for food can be a learning experience for your children. Talk about the different foods you see and encourage them to pick out a new fruit or vegetable to try. With older children, explain why you are looking for whole grains or fresh produce, and read food labels together.
Is that cart full of fruits, vegetables and other healthy choices? Or is it overloaded with drinks and snacks that don't offer much nutritional benefits? If you'd like to upgrade your family's diet, start by upgrading what you're buying.
Here’s how you do it.
Make a list
A list can keep you on track, especially if you base it on a meal plan for the week. Focus your week's menu on wholesome, nutritious ingredients such as fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meat and poultry, fresh fish, whole grains and low-fat dairy products.
Families with children are encouraged to keep these guidelines in mind:
- Eat vegetables and fruits every day.
- Use vegetable oils (especially those high in monounsaturated fat such as olive and canola) and soft margarine low in saturated fat and trans-fatty acids instead of butter, shortening, or most other animal fats.
- Eat whole-grain rather than refined-grain breads, cereals, pasta, and rice products.
- Restrict sugar-sweetened beverages and foods.
- Eat more fish, especially oily fish that is steamed rather than fried.
- Reduce salt.
Obviously fruits and veggies are a ‘must’ on the list of staples. Here are some additional staples to consider:
- Meats and beans: Fish and lean chicken (no skin); lean hamburger and beef; lamb chops occasionally. Non-meat choices include soy products, lentils (dahl), nuts and seeds.
- Grains and cereals: Whole-grain bread, thosai, idly, pasta, oatmeal, brown rice, porridge and barley.
- Dairy and eggs: Low-fat dairy products, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and calcium-fortified soy milk.
Follow a healthy path in the supermarket
If you shop in a supermarket, focus your shopping on the store's perimeters. The outer aisles usually contain the healthiest foods i.e. fruits and vegetables, dairy products, fresh meat and fish.
Next, move to the inner aisles where you'll find important items like canned and frozen fruit and vegetables, cereals, sauces, and baking supplies. However, these inner aisles also contain more expensive and less healthy processed foods and snacks. By visiting the inner aisles later in your shopping trip, you reduce the chances of overdoing it on unhealthy snacks and processed foods.
Choosing and storing fresh foods
When you don't pick it off the plant yourself, how do you know the fruit or vegetable is fresh? From green beans to bananas, all fruits and vegetables give hints about their ripeness and freshness.
- Choose vegetables that look fresh and colourful. Most should be crisp and firm. With vegetables such as green beans, for example, don't buy them if they are limp or showing signs of decay.
- When choosing fruits, avoid bruised ones, but remember that a perfect exterior doesn't necessarily mean the best quality. The best cantaloupe, for example, will have a yellowish cast and may be misshapen, but it will smell pleasantly sweet.
Careful storage will help fresh produce last longer. Most vegetables will keep in the refrigerator for two to five days; root vegetables, like carrots, will keep even longer. Store potatoes and onions in a cool, dark place for maximum freshness.
Make room for a treat
As you focus on a healthy lifestyle for your family, you might be tempted to declare a ban on all foods that are high in fat or that contain sugar or chocolate. But completely eliminating sweets and favourite snacks can backfire if children feel deprived. The result could be that they will overeat the off-limit foods whenever given the opportunity outside the home.
Instead of taking a hard line or completely giving in, strive for moderation. Try not to talk about food as ‘bad’; instead use words like ‘healthy’. Don't be afraid to let your kids choose a treat when food shopping or at home but try to be smart about it. For instance, a child who likes chips and dips could choose a lower-fat bag of chips and a jar of salsa at the store. Then when you get home — olé! Put out small bowls of chips and salsa and it's happy snack time!