Grocery Shopping Woes? Four Tips for A Healthier Cart

Making changes towards a healthier diet is not easy. And for those living in low-income areas, healthy eating may be particularly challenging.

For the last five months, I’ve been working with researchers at Johns Hopkins University looking to improve the way consumers purchase food at a supermarket in a low-income neighborhood in Baltimore. Our study seeks to promote healthy purchasing based on findings from focus groups and interviews in the community.

Although many people seem set on their eating patterns, surprisingly, we found that many shoppers want to buy healthy foods for their families. However, they face many constraints that lead them to purchase more unhealthy foods and fewer nutritious foods than they would prefer.

The constraints the authors identified are similar to issues that many people face, to some degree. Here are suggestions for overcoming some shopping challenges so you can still have a grocery bag full of healthy, cancer-fighting foods.

1. You need to purchase foods that will keep you feeling full and last a long time (until you are able to make your next grocery trip, which may be up to a month later).

Solution: Although most packaged foods are high in sodium and low in fiber and other beneficial nutrients, there are better options. For example, low-sodium canned beans last a long time on the shelf and are a good plant-based source of both protein and fiber.

 2. The supermarket layout often places unhealthy foods in highly visible and convenient places, making them easy to buy in a hurry.

Solution: Enter the store with a grocery list and a plan of what you want to buy so you aren’t tempted by the high-calorie, low nutrient foods on display. Plan ahead to find the best sales on healthier products.

3. You aren’t sure that you and your family will like a new food.

Solution: Try it before you knock it. Look up recipes for an unknown type of produce, like a rutabaga, or cook a known recipe with healthier ingredients. You may be surprised at how tasty coleslaw made with white vinegar is (in place of mayo), for example.

4. You aren’t confident that your supermarket’s produce is fresh.

Solution: If the fruits or vegetables don’t seem at their peak freshness, you can bake them so you don’t have to throw them away. For example, apples that aren’t as crisp can be halved and baked with a little cinnamon sugar to make a nutritious, slightly sweet dessert.

The bottom line: there are ways for individuals living in all settings to follow recommendations to eat well for a cancer-protective lifestyle. Check out AICR’s Test Kitchen for recipes made with ingredients you may not have tried before!

How do you make healthy foods fit into your grocery shopping trips?

Reference: Zachary, D.A., Palmer A. M., Beckham, S.W., & Surkan, P.J. A Framework for Understanding Grocery Purchasing in a Low-income Urban Environment. Qualitative Health Research, in press.

Sonja Goedkoop, MSPH, RD, is a research program coordinator at Johns Hopkins leading a supermarket intervention study. She has a passion for promoting a healthy lifestyle and reducing obesity through improved nutrition and physical activity.


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