Grocery shopping

A&P Grocery StoreThe first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests. It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides. It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard.— Joel Salatin

My earliest memories of grocery shopping with my mother were those trips to the A&P grocery store in my hometown of Carrollton, Texas.  I’m not sure she liked taking me with her because I’m sure I begged for lots of things that I had no chance of getting her to buy.

I remember the meat market counter where a man wearing a white apron and cap would cut meat to my mother’s liking, wrap it in white butcher paper, and marked it with a pen or a stamp with purple ink, labeling it with whatever cut of beef it was.  We would take these home, store them in our deep freezer in our garage, and enjoy it on our table nightly.

I didn’t know that supermarkets had not always existed.  It made sense to me that there had always been stores like these.  Food was easy to come by, and it was taken for granted.

We had relatives however who had gardens, some who lived on farms, and for some of them, especially those in rural areas, a grocery store like ours was probably not very common.  We were suburbanites — city folks — to them, and that’s what spoiled me and made me think of food as something easy to get, always available, thus prone to overconsumption and abuse and easy to waste.

Consequently, it was the perfect setup for learning to eat highly processed foods, prepackaged and ready-to-eat, with no forethought as to the consequences to my health.

This has changed, but it is still a problem for many people.  Weaning ourselves away from “the easy way” to embrace “the mindful way” takes time, patience with our bodies that still crave the bad stuff, and greater knowledge about how to choose good foods that are also healthful and in their most natural, edible forms.

It is a journey, but in a sense, it is a “back to the future” experience that recaptures some of the best memories of childhood when things were simpler, and in a real sense, better.

Source for Joel Salatin quote above: 32 inspirational gardening quotes | MNN – Mother Nature Network


Nutrition planning

Trying to change eating habits without a game plan is like starting out on a cross-country road trip with a quarter of a tank of gas. Enthusiasm is high, but before you’re too many miles down the road, reality hits, and you’re stopping before you’ve even crossed the county line. Does “how much longer, Dad?” ring a bell?

Diet casualties and excuses

I have had many failed attempts at dieting, and one of the most troubling reasons for the failures — there are many others! — is the lack of a good game plan for handling grocery shopping, cooking, and food storage before I started out. If you’ve never thought about the convenience issues, the food prep time and clean-up routines, or how you’re going to feed the rest of the family when they turn their noses up at your healthy meals, you may end up like me, doing one of these three things:

  • eating out, or taking home, foods that compromise your eating plan
  • prepping and eating the same things every day because it’s easiest and you have that one routine down pat, and suddenly it’s all very boring
  • giving up altogether because of the frustration, and perhaps, giving excuses to yourself like, “this takes too much time, I work so hard during the day that I don’t have time for this, or I feel like an outsider in my own family, etc.”

Been there! Many times!

Diet adjustment period

ttplanThe problem is that during the adjustment period, which is obviously the most difficult time to keep the discipline in tow, the routines are not established yet and our brains can fill up with understandable, yet dangerous, excuses. Becoming frustrated is the last thing any of us want. It should be fun and rewarding. Given enough time, it is both! But, in the beginning, it is a path wrought with pitfalls and monsters (why does Gollum suddenly come to mind? Jeez, my brain is wired in the strangest ways!).

The pleasures of diet planning

With every experience I’ve had with nutrition planning, it has become easier. This time, when I committed to Eat To Live again, I knew how to shop, when to cook, what I was going to use for storing foods for the week, and how I was going to make alternative meals for my family if they didn’t like what I was making. No matter how supportive our families are, my experience says their support stops just short of eating the same way, the same foods, we do! People take their food choices very seriously!

A little secret here: it is usually easy to sneak in some healthier foods for your family without them even knowing it! I found that there is a shift toward healthier eating for everyone even if there is not a concerted effort by everyone in the family to eat healthier. The food preparer has a lot of control over how the family eats. Use less salt, or none at all, for everyone. Use less oil, or none at all, by using new cooking methods, like water sauté, steaming, roasting, baking. Use a variety of spices until you find out which ones work best with whom.

Nutrition planning routine

First, before I tell you about my routines, it might help to know a few things about my situation. My wonderful wife is Type 1 diabetic and has been on insulin since 1978. Her condition, after having Type 1 for almost 40 years, is such that just taking care of her insulin schedule, doctor appointments, and mobility issues, is a full-time job. Her endocrinologist requires carb counting as a means for managing her insulin intake, so I keep an app handy on my phone to look up carbs for her foods. She also helps a lot with the chopping, salad making, and other things she can do while seated. It’s a team effort! This has worked well, and is so much easier than I expected. We keep lists of what we know is the right quantities of food to get her carb intake each day. There are only two human creatures in the home now, so really, there are only two human mouths to feed a day.

Here is a rundown on how I manage my own situation.

  • Saturdays and Sundays — big grocery shopping days! I shop at Costco for large quantity items, but I also hit some of the best produce markets in the area, and fortunately, there are many.  Ahead of time, I make some semblance of a list, but when I get to the stores, I just use it as a checklist to make sure the necessary things are brought home. I shop for what looks freshest, in season, and for diversity. Hint: I think back on the previous week and I try not to buy the same produce items week after week. For instance, if I ate broccoli all week, I’ll bring home cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, or something else in the cruciferous vegetables category.
  • Sunday afternoons and evenings — Knowing that “salad is the main course!” I make salad dressings that will keep for a week in the refrigerator. This is a lot of fun to me because it tastes better and because it’s a creative exercise. Also, I make beans and soups as needed for the week. These can be “main course” items, or side dishes.
  • Washing fruits and vegetables is something I do as soon as they are brought home from the store. I use a vegetable and fruit wash in a very large bowl with water, and I dump the tomatoes, apples, peaches, cucumbers, whatever else, in there and lightly run each piece until they are clean. I rinse them off and let them drain in a colander for a few minutes. Then, I store them in large plastic containers or glass jars, in the refrigerator, depending on what each food “prefers” for storage.  Berries and small items like these, I wash them as needed during the week. I have a handy large sieve, rather than a colander, for this purpose, and it takes no time at all to rinse these off. Food storage planning is key, I believe!
  • Since my wife eats meat, and I do not, I repackage meat products for one or two meal servings before freezing them. She’s usually good for one day of leftovers, but two days is pushing her limits a bit, so I don’t try it often.
  • Supplemental shopping days are necessary when eating fresh foods. There is no way around it unless you have two refrigerators. I like to go twice during the week to fill in some gaps, if needed. This also helps me with planning on the pet foods (they do have to eat, too, I’ve been told!). I can stay focused on the big picture on Saturdays and Sundays, and knowing I’ll be going again during the week, lifts the burden of trying to remember everything when I go.
  • Food prep is done nightly, as needed, but having prepared some of the basics on weekends, nightly cooking usually involves side dishes, or that one more veggie that sounds perfectly right tonight!
  • Invest in great, reusable, microwave and dishwasher friendly, plastic ware for storage. As mentioned before, Snapware is what I use, and I love it.

Look here for some of my salad dressings and my Fresh Tomato Sauce recipes:

Salad dressings

Fresh Tomato Sauce

Local farmers markets…challenging our assumptions

highlight03It’s that time of year when local farmers markets are abundant in good home-grown produce, but it is important that veggie and fruit buyers beware of our own assumptions about what we are buying.

Five assumptions about farmers markets:

  1. Just because everything looks fresh and green doesn’t mean it is.  Be aware of the growing seasons in your area, and if you see some items that are not “in season”, you can ask questions about how fresh the produce is and whether or not it has been in food storage for awhile.
  2. The produce is not necessarily free of pesticides and herbicides.  It may look great and healthy, but if you want to be careful about ingesting poisons, do not let your guard down just because you aren’t at your local supermarket.  Ask questions!
  3. If buying organic is important to you, don’t assume that an open-air, seasonal farmers market is naturally organic.  Be aware that genetically-modified foods and chemically-fertilized produce is abundant at farmers markets, just like they are at your local grocer.  Again, ask questions!
  4. If buying “locally grown” is important to you, farmers markets do not necessarily promise this.  Many market vendors, in order to make a living, supplement their produce offerings with items that are grown elsewhere in order to offer a variety.  In the Dallas area, for example, many local farmers markets have products that come from 500 or 600 miles away in the Rio Grande Valley.  This is not to say we shouldn’t buy the products; it simply means that the products are not necessarily grown locally.   Nothing wrong with this, but it might be important to some shoppers to know.
  5. Many of the vendors at farmers markets are brokers, not the farmers themselves.  One of the good things about buying from local farmers markets is that you are at least one purchasing level closer to the people who grow the food.  However, many of the market vendors are broker-dealers and may not have much knowledge about how the food was grown and harvested.

When this season rolls around every year, I love my Saturday morning shopping trips to the local farmers markets.  But, through the years I have discovered that I am not always getting what I think I’m getting.  It’s not that I’ve been lied to or deceived.  Rather, it’s that I have brought along a load of naivete about the way the food and distribution system works.  Knowing this, I have become much more realistic about my expectations at these markets, and because I am better informed than before, I feel much better about the purchasing decisions I’ve made.  To better health!