March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Understanding food labels can help you shop for wellness and nutrition, but that's just part of your smart shopping strategy. Some practical tips can save you time, money and hassle on grocery store trips.
How can you get the most nutrition for those food dollars? Be an educated consumer and plan ahead. Know exactly what you need, and be aware of marketing ploys that may encourage you to buy beyond your shopping list.
- Keep a shopping list and stick to it! A list jogs your memory and saves time as you walk the supermarket aisles. With a list, you're less likely to spend money on items you really don't need.
For time management, keep a running list in your kitchen of items you need to replace. Organize by category to match the store layout — for example, produce department, dairy case, meat counter, deli, bakery, frozen and grocery shelves.
- Avoid extra shopping trips. If possible, shop just once or twice a week. You'll spend less on impulse items and save time and gasoline, too.
- Check supermarket specials printed in newspaper inserts. Then, plan your menus around them. If the store runs out of an item on special, ask for a rain check. Be aware that "limit" signs ("limit three per customer") and messages such as "two for $5.00" (not "$2.50 each") are marketing ploys to get consumers to buy more. Research shows they work!
- Clip or download coupons for items you really need. Be aware that items with coupons aren't always the best buy. Another brand or a similar food might be cheaper, even without a coupon.
- Try not to shop when you're hungry. You will be less likely to succumb to impulse items, including more expensive and less nutritious snack and dessert foods.
- Take advantage of seasonal produce. In season, the price for fresh fruit and vegetables may be lower, and the produce is more flavorful with more varietals. Depending on where you live you might even go directly to the farm where they grow or to a local farmers market.
- Buy the economy size or family packs only if you can use that much. There's no savings if food spoils and must be discarded. For foods that freeze, take time to repackage food into smaller amounts in freezer bags, then freeze for later use.