Healthy Grocery Store Challenge

Welcome  It seems I am always on the lookout for ways to make my family’s diet a little healthier.  It’s not easy, either.  It’s expensive and it requires planning.  That, and I’m a sucker for baking rich chocolate desserts!  Sometimes, though, you just gotta grit your teeth and do what needs to be done.  Today I’m going to share how this looked on a recent supermarket trip.

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Do you think I can feed my family of three for the week by shopping only the “healthier” outer perimeter of the grocery store and stay under budget?

 

Food For Thought  Several years ago, I was pretty gung-ho about nutrition and exercise.  Those were my running days and I was successful at losing weight and getting healthy.  I’m less successful these days, for a list of “excuses” I won’t go into right now.  Even though I can’t run anymore and my weight is increasing with my age, I still work hard to feed my family meals and snacks that are more nutritious than not.  This healthy cooking and eating quest starts at the supermarket!  The best tips I can think of for a healthy grocery store experience include: don’t go shopping when you’re hungry (this was a pitfall of mine if I went to store after work), plan your meals ahead of time, and stick to a shopping list made according to those pre-planned meals.  Don’t forget to plan for healthy breakfasts, lunches, and snacks, too.

When I was working on improving my nutrition a few years ago, I read so many books, including all of the Eat This, Not That! series.  One of these books was “The Supermarket Survival Guide” (Rodale; 2009) There were many helpful tips and tricks for navigating the grocery store and still making mostly healthy choices.

If you would like to read the full 316 page guide, you can order an updated version from Amazon here.

The number one tip in the guide, right there on page 3, was “Work the Edges.”  This was not the first time I had heard or read about limiting grocery shopping to the outer edges of the store.  The original layout of grocery stores was to keep the fresh produce, meat, and dairy around the outer edges of the store, while more processed boxed and canned items filled the inner aisles.  By sticking to these “whole foods,” I don’t have to worry about that lengthy ingredient list of additives, chemicals, sugars, etc.  These items are bound to be healthier for us, right?

For today, I’m not going to get into organics, chemical additives, or portion distortion.  While all great topics, these will just have to wait for another day.  No, today, I’m talking about the “healthy supermarket challenge.”  I challenged myself to shop for my family by sticking just to the outer edges of the store and focusing on whole food products for preparing our family’s meals.

First, to note, I already had staples in the pantry, such as flour, sugar, dried spices, potatoes, peanut butter and condiments.  There was no need to venture to the center aisles for these products.  Second, I thought this wouldn’t work at Aldi because of their different layout.  But as I contemplated my shopping trip I realized that Aldi, too, keeps fresh produce, meats, and dairy on the outer edges of the store.  Surely it wouldn’t be worse than our large local supermarket.  The outer edges of this much more expensive store includes Starbucks, a deli, a comprehensive bakery department, specialty and seasonal items, and a very long freezer case with lots of ice cream and refrigerated desserts.  Third, I was nervous about not going up any aisles, since this would limit my access to things like pasta, rice, beans, and cereal.  On the upside, coffee is on the outer edges at our local Aldi store!  Finally, I’m doing my shopping challenge at Aldi, but the same principles can be applied to any true grocery store.

So what happened?  Well, I had some surprises, some victories, some challenges, and a pretty frugal shopping receipt.  For starters, I can get out of the store really fast when I’m only shopping the outer aisles!  That’s a victory!  And guess what?  I did not cheat, not once, by visiting an interior aisle.  This made me nervous about meal and recipe planning, but with some altering (remember last week’s posts about alternatives?), I came up with five days of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.  One of my biggest surprises/challenges was that it became a quest for frugality more than good health choices, but I’m still guessing that not buying chips, cakes, cookies, sugary cereals and toaster pastries, or highly processed packaged meals is going to have me come out ahead on the nutrition game.  Shopping the outer edges only does not guarantee only healthy choices and I was guilty of buying some items that are definitely not “whole foods.”  Our meals weren’t terrible, but they weren’t spectacular, either, at least in the nutrition department.  The total cost of our five days (almost a full week) of meals and snacks came to $87.53.  That included buying coffee and hot chocolate pods for our home beverage machine.  So what are we eating this week?

This Week’s Recipes  It’s a balanced mix from all the food groups–fruits, veggies, meats, dairy, grains, a little salty and a little sweet.  Fifteen meals, plus snacks, for less than $90 is a sweet deal in my book!

PB Apple Waffles
My daughters favorite breakfast-whole grain waffles or toast with peanut butter and apple slices

Breakfast this week is frozen whole-grain waffles with milk and fruit.  I also bought a gallon of skim milk and a selection of fruits: grapes, strawberries, bananas, and apples.  Eggs and bread are also available.

My husband and daughter take their lunch to work and school, so they need lunch-box-friendly items.  I usually eat leftovers or something from their lunchbox items.  Lunches for this week is: turkey and spinach on whole grain bread, fruit, and carrots, with the option of cottage cheese, yogurt, or crackers and hummus.  All of these items were part of my “shop the edges” challenge.  I bought whole carrots that I will prep ahead of time.  This saves money and we think they taste better.

We love our snacks here, too, so in addition to the fruit and yogurt, we have a couple of boxes of whole grain crackers and the Hummus Quartet.  I also bought a bag of trail mix that includes dark chocolate and nuts.  The trail mix was the most expensive item for this trip, but it’s one of our favorite treats and located on the aisle as I walked in the door.

Then we have five nights of dinners with a variety of proteins and vegetables.  My dinners serve the three of us, with occasional leftovers.

 

Dinner #1  Pan-Fried Bone-In Pork Chops, Cheesy Hash Browns, Green Beans, and Biscuits

pan fried pork chop dinner
Pan-fried pork chop, cheesy hash browns, steamed green beans, and a biscuit

 

Probably the least healthy items I purchased this week was a can of refrigerated biscuits and a box of frozen garlic bread.  Remember, this is called a challenge, right?  I also thought about making hash brown casserole to go with our pork chops, but I didn’t want to venture to the interior for high-sodium, low-nutrition canned soups and seasonings.  The hash browns were cooked crisp in a nonstick skillet sprayed with cooking spray.  When both sides were crisp, we added about a half cup of cheddar cheese and melted on top.  My family thought this was an awesome side dish.  The green beans were whole from the frozen section.  I just steamed them and added a little salt.

For the pork chop, whisk together one egg and a half cup milk in a shallow dish.  In a separate dish mix together one cup of flour and a package of Italian dressing mix. Heat a quarter cup oil in a large electric skillet to 325 degrees.  Dip each pork chop in egg mixture, followed by the flour dredge and place in hot oil.  My pork chops were thick with the bone in, so I cooked for a total of 20 minutes, turning every five minutes, or so.

Dinner #2 Cheesy Vegetable and Potato Soup with Garlic Bread

I already had the potatoes at home, but I picked up fresh broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots in the produce section.  I also make my own chicken stock, so I had that available at home already, as well.  I picked up the milk and cheese on the perimeter.

Cheesy Vegetable and Potato Soup
Cheesy Vegetable and Potato Soup–heavy on the vegetables, low in fat.  This was our meatless meal for the week.

 

In large stock pot, bring 6 cups chicken stock to boil.  Peel and dice four potatoes and add to the boiling stock.  Reduce heat to medium.  Peel and slice three large carrots and add to potatoes.  Cook 10 minutes.  Cut a head of cauliflower and broccoli into bite size pieces.  Add to pot and cook another 8 minutes.  Add a pinch of salt, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and a few grinds of fresh black pepper.  Turn off heat.  Stir in one cup of milk (we use skim) and a cup (or two) of shredded cheddar cheese.  Remove from heat and stir until creamy.  Serve with garlic bread, if desired.

Dinner #3 Roast Turkey Breast with Mashed Potatoes and Green Beans

Roast Turkey dinner
Roast Turkey breast with mashed potatoes and green beans

 

This dinner is so straight forward, you don’t even need a recipe.  The turkey breast is already cooked.  It just needs to be reheated in the oven for about 30 minutes.  I peel five small fresh potatoes, boil until tender, add a little butter and milk and mash with a hand masher.  We love gravy, but omitting it from a regular meal saves calories and fat.  The green beans can be steamed in the microwave.  Notice that the green beans take up the majority of the plate, while the mashed potatoes is the smallest portion on the plate–another goal in our healthy eating.

Dinner #4 Turkey Sausages on Buns, Sweet Potato Fries, and Bagged Salad

Elevated Bag Salad
Take a bag salad mix of chopped iceberg, tortilla strips, and cheese, but elevate it with fresh baby spinach and chopped cucumber, carrots, and herbs.

 

The sweet potato fries bake in the oven for about 22 minutes, while the sausages go in a nonstick skillet to pan-fry super fast.  The bagged salad kit is put in a salad bowl, added with spinach, carrot, cucumber, and cilantro.  These additional items extend the flavor, the servings, and the nutritional value.

Dinner #5 Scrambled Eggs, Bacon, Hash Browns, and Strawberries

Breakfast for Dinner
Breakfast for dinner is a budget-friendly meal option.

 

About once a week our family has breakfast for dinner.  It’s a quick and economical, two important features most of us look for when preparing meals.  Plus, my family loves breakfast foods, so it’s a safe choice to keep everyone happy.  We used to have pancakes and bacon for most of these meals, but we found that pancakes really spike my husband’s blood sugar, so we opt for higher protein options like eggs.  Health-wise, though, this is probably our least healthy meal of the week, but we did go easy on the oil and kept portions in check.  By the way, if you’ve never added steak seasoning to hash browns, I’d like you to try it.  It really gives a great flavor to this simple potato dish without adding fat.  Use a low-sodium variety and you have another savings!

So there you have it.  Our five days of meals and snacks from “working the edges” of the grocery store.  Budget friendly and less fillers and additives, but not a guarantee health home-run.  Stores have learned how to sneak the less healthy items right in there with our fresh produce and lean meats.  But it’s always a healthy goal to eat as many whole foods as possible.

So what are your favorite healthy grocery shopping tricks?

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