Grocery stores are packed with rows upon rows of frozen, canned and boxed foods, but how much of it is actually good for you? If you read the labels, you know the answer—not much of it. From chemical preservatives to other filler ingredients or unsavory production methods, it can be hard to find healthy items for your family if you don’t know where to look. Learning what to look for is the first step in creating healthy meals.
Understand the Basics of Food Technology
Although food technology has been around for decades, it didn’t become a hot topic among consumers until recently. As society becomes more health-conscious, shoppers want to know how their food is being processed and what those processes mean. For example, most people are fine with the pasteurizing processes, but are more reluctant to use foods processed with higher pressure treatment, a method that involves rapid heating and cooling of food before putting it into sterile containers. Once you know certain foods are processed and whether those processes hold any risk, you can remove certain items from your diet or find alternatives.
Learn How Your Food Is Graded
Before your groceries hit the shelf, they go through grading to ensure freshness and market value. Grading is done either by hand or via machinery. Each product uses its own system. For example, the United States Department of Agriculture grades beef in great detail that uses both human graders and technology. Each cut falls into one of eight categories with U.S. Canner being the lowest grade. Eggs are put under a bright light to inspect the quality of the inside. Each one in a carton can vary greatly in weight because it isn’t a measurement used for grading them.
Shop the Perimeter
You have probably heard that you should “shop the perimeter” of a store if you’re on a diet, but the same is true if you simply want to get the most for your money. Boxed and frozen meals often contain fillers that leave you feeling hungry again soon after eating. The edges of a store contain its produce, dairy, and fresh meats, all of which are important for optimal nutrition. When coupled with knowledge of grading processes and which grades are the best, you will be able to make informed and healthy decisions regarding your food.
Don’t Fall for Buzzwords
Just because something is organic, all-natural, gluten-free, or any of the dozens of other health food buzzwords circulating these days, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. It is still important for you to read the list of ingredients and check the nutrition information. Sugars and fats are sugars and fats, even if they aren’t laden with preservatives and other chemical fillers.
Don’t Deprive Yourself Completely, Though
When you never allow yourself to have a cookie or an ice cream cone, you are more likely to feel deprived and therefore more likely to pick up something gross—and probably not very tasty—at the gas station. Instead, look for companies that focus on using whole ingredients. One name garnering attention in the health food world is Hampton Creek Foods. Hampton Creek’s cookie dough and premade cookies use fresh ingredients that you can actually pronounce—and who can pass up and warm and gooey chocolate chip or peanut butter cookie?
Consider the Environment
Healthier foods don’t just mean a healthier you—they also mean a healthier planet. Some ingredients and processing methods are better for the environment than others are. Hampton Creek Foods products use sorghum instead of corn-based ingredients. The minor change doesn’t take away from taste, but it does use only a fraction of the water. Other companies are turning to better production methods as well. Search for products produced by companies using methods that require less oil and energy to help the environment.
Many people feel they can’t find healthy alternatives for their families because prices are too expensive, but this is no longer the case. More companies understand that families value affordability as much as sustainability and healthy living, so are looking for ways to provide great food at equally good prices. Planning ahead also helps with your budget. Create a meal plan and base your grocery list around that plan. You may need to tweak your budget, plan or list a few times, but as you do, you will find the happy medium you need to provide for a hungry family.