Another Key To Healthful Meals

When it comes to eating at home, your meals can only be as good as the food you have in your kitchen. Stock your kitchen with foods that help you eat well. Be sure you have plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains on hand so you translate your plan for healthful eating into enjoyable and nutritious meals.

A mental list may work, but a structured plan generally is more effective. A written list helps ensure that you select the ingredients and foods that you want rather than things you select on impulse. A checklist also can save time by avoiding the need to come back to pick up forgotten items.

Most Americans make one or more trips to the grocery store every week. Some people consider grocery shopping a form of entertainment, but others regard it as a chore. No matter how you feel about shopping, a few strategies can make your investment of time worthwhile.

  • Shop the perimeter—The freshest foods generally are located along the perimeter of the store. These include fresh fruits, vegetables, breads, dairy products, and meats. Choose whole-grain breads from the bakery, low-fat products from the dairy section, and lean cuts from the meat section.

Higher-fat foods often are stocked in the interior of the store. However, grains, legumes, pastas, and canned fruits and vegetables also are frequently located in the interior.

  • Shop from your list—A list helps ensure that you stick to your plan. Items purchased on impulse generally are more expensive and less nourishing than foods from a wellplanned shopping list.
  • Do not shop when hungry—If you go to the store with a growling stomach, you are apt to make purchases to satisfy your immediate hunger rather than what you will need in the days ahead. You also tend to buy more. Shopping on a full stomach helps you stick to your list and to keep your resolve.
  • Make bargains count—A bargain is only a bargain when you buy what you want rather than what someone else is trying to sell you. Select bargains that fit your menu, such as in-season fruits and vegetables or bulk quantities of rice, beans, and legumes. Use coupons to reduce the cost of foods that you intend to buy.

Understanding food labels helps you become a savvy shopper. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has established requirements for food labels in order to make nutrition information accurate, clear, consistent, and useful to consumers. Food labels provide four different types of information: nutrition facts, a list of ingredients, nutrients, and health claims.

Labels tell you almost everything you need to know about what is contained in the food. The Nutrition Facts panel tells you how many calories and how much fat, cholesterol, protein, and carbohydrate are in a single serving of the food.

It also tells you the fiber, vitamin (A and C), and mineral (sodium, potassium, calcium, and iron) contents of the food. This information allows you to compare the nutrients found in similar foods. For example, you can compare two yogurts for their calorie and fat content.

Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, with the first item listed being the predominant one in the food. By reading the label, you can tell which foods have added saturated fats or ingredients to which you may be intolerant.

Use the label to select the best choices—foods that are high in nutrients and low in calories and fat. To help you make the wisest choices, acquaint yourself with each of the components of the label.

Some foods, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and bulk items, do not have nutrition labels. The nutrition information for these foods generally either is on display nearby or is available elsewhere in the store as a handout. When in doubt, ask the store personnel for assistance.

In addition to the amounts of various nutrients and ingredients found in foods, food labels may carry other types of information. The label may state that the food is a “good source” of a given nutrient. Nutrient claims help guide you more quickly to certain products. Products also may claim that they benefit certain health conditions.

Health claims may suggest that eating a food alters your risk for certain diseases such as heart disease, cancer, or osteoporosis. The government regulates these claims so they are truthful and meet certain criteria. Manufacturers are not required by law to carry nutrient or health claims.