Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., is an associate state specialist with the University of Missouri Extension and Erin Plumberg is a dietetic intern with the KU Medical Center. This article was originally posted on the Mizzou Nutrition Mythbusters blog on June 21.
Myth: I'm too busy to prepare nutritious meals, so I have to buy frozen dinners and already-prepared foods.
You just got home from a long day. The kids are starving, your feet hurt, you're tired, but you still have to prepare dinner. You look through the refrigerator and cupboards for something to cook, but it seems like there just isn't anything you feel like making! So, what happens? You probably end up grabbing a quick, already-prepared food that doesn't have the greatest nutrition for your family.
This is a common occurrence in the American household. Often times, we choose the easier option over the more nutritious option just because it's quicker. We must realize, however, what those food choices are doing to our bodies and our children's bodies over time, and we need to make a concerted effort to feed our families with nutritious wholesome foods.
One solution to making the right choices for family dinners at home is to make the right choices when shopping. Grocery shopping is the first step in choosing what you will feed your family. Here are some tips to help you avoid the not-so-nutritious, yet tempting, foods at your supermarket.
Before you head to the store, think about what meals you want to cook over the next week and make a list of everything you will need. Think about MyPlate as you are planning to ensure you have all of the food groups covered for each meal.
When you first enter the store, go directly to the fresh produce department. Pick out the seasonal items which might be on sale. This will be the most nutritious bang for your buck. Keep snacks in mind. Fresh fruit and nuts are a great way to keep you going during a busy day. Kids love fruit, too! Pick out fruits to always keep on hand, ready for kids to grab when they need a snack.
Head to the meat department next to check out the sales. Fish is a great source of protein, and two servings a week is recommended. Choose lean cuts of beef or pork and choose skinless chicken. You don't have to grab a lot of meat. Meat can be very pricey, and having a few meatless meals throughout the week is never a bad idea. Steer clear of the bagged/boxed meat products, which includes foods like breaded popcorn chicken, buffalo chicken wings and microwavable taquitos and burritos. These are high in fat and salt. It is better to buy fresh whole meats and prepare them yourself with little salt and fat.
When shopping for pastas, tortillas or bread in the dried goods aisle, look for the whole grain options. When looking for a sauce (like spaghetti), steer clear of this aisle because they are loaded with salt. Instead, look down the canned goods aisle for a basic tomato paste and experiment to come up with your own sauce ideas. It's easier and quicker than you might think (and will have less salt).
The canned goods aisle is also loaded with salt, but there are many options today that are healthier for you. For example, if you choose to buy canned vegetables instead of fresh, look for the "no salt added" varieties. When looking for beans, try the dried beans instead of canned; they are cheaper and the only salt will be what you add at home. (Quick tip: Rinse canned vegetables and beans before using to remove some of the salt.) Many other foods you will find in this aisle are also loaded with salt, including baked/BBQ beans, olives, pickles, relish and condiments like soy sauce, BBQ sauce and ketchup. Eat these foods sparingly.
The frozen food aisle is one that should be avoided altogether (for the most part). Choose frozen vegetables and fruit from the frozen food aisle if they aren't available fresh. Of course, the occasional tub of ice cream might find its way into your basket, but overall, the frozen food aisle, consisting of entrees and other prepared foods, contain preservatives, salt and sugar. Steer clear of already-prepared frozen foods — if you make these foods yourself, you control how much salt, sugar and fat go into them.
The dairy aisle is pretty basic. The main concern here is fat/cholesterol content. Choose low-fat milks, low-fat cheeses including cottage cheese, reduced-sugar yogurts, low-fat cream cheese, etc.
As always, avoid the checkout line candies and soda pops. Avoid the drink aisles too. Soda pops and juices have so much sugar and so many empty calories that they shouldn't be in your food budget. It's money you could spend on fresh, filling, nutritious foods.
Making the right choices at the grocery store will help you be better prepared in your home. You won't be tempted to grab that frozen dinner because you didn’t buy it. Filling your kitchen with only nutritious foods will leave you no choice but to eat healthy. When you feel too tired, think about the fact that if your food choices are more nutritious, you will feel better and more energized!
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