There are many factors to consider when deciding what to buy at the supermarket. Nutrition, taste, convenience, cost and whether the rest of the family will eat it all enter into it. But it's important to rank nutrition high up the scale if you want a healthier, daily diet. Here's how to improve your eating habits right from the start - when you buy your food.
Shop with a list; it will save you time and money, plus prevent impulse buys. Keep a pad on your fridge or cupboard to jot down things as you run out.
Research shows you tend to buy more - particularly of those things that you really don't need - when you shop on an empty stomach.
Write down what you need in categories that mirror your supermarket aisles. This saves backtracking and keeps you out of aisles you don't need to visit. Some supermarkets actually have "maps" of their aisles and an index of what product is in which aisle. Make use of them!
Learn where to look for facts on confusing nutrition claims such as 97% fat free. The Nutrition Information Panel (NIP) is the table on the back of the pack that contains the amount of nutrients per serve and per 100 grams of the food. Read more here.
When you take the kids to the supermarket, be aware that supermarkets position children's brands of lollies, biscuits, muesli bars and toys at eye level to attract their attention. And, go for the confectionery-free checkouts to make that long wait less frazzled. Better still leave them with a friend while you do your shopping and then return the favour.
The smartest and cheapest way to reach your goal of eating two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables a day is to buy in season - seasonal produce will be the lowest price and at its peak for quality.
Every so often, take time to compare brands for the best in nutrition and to investigate new products on the shelves. Quietest times to shop are early in the week and late at night.
Steer clear of damaged packaging. You can't guarantee the safety of food in dented cans, leaking cartons or torn packaging. Keep this in mind and you can avoid being one of the 20 per cent of Australians who suffer food poisoning from poor food safety practices each year.
If you have food allergies, or simply want to know what's in your food, check the pack for food additives. Additives are found in the list of ingredients, stated by their function, say FOOD ACID, followed by either the chemical name, say CITRIC ACID or by a code number, 330. Read my post on why additives are used and how to find out the code numbers for them.
If you don't need food from a particular supermarket aisle, don't visit it. This especially applies to the confectionery and soft drink aisles. Simply pushing your trolley past them is enough to tempt you to buy items you don't need and that are probably no good for you.
Shop around the "edges" of the supermarket when you need a meal in a hurry. Here you'll find the meats, vegetables, salads, dairy case (for yoghurts, dairy desserts and cheese), deli, breads and chilled items like dips, juices and spreads.
Don't buy items from the freezer or refrigerated cabinet until the end of your shopping trip. This minimizes the time they will have to defrost and spoil. An insulated cooler bag is handy for storing frozen food in the car on the trip home.