Clean eating shopping guide
Deciding to love your body and only feed it healthy, clean food is one thing, doing it is another. Having made the decision, you might be wondering how to go about shopping for clean food and preparing it. Here’s where this little clean eating shopping guide comes in. 8 tips to help you with those first shopping trips, one step at a time.
Where do I get clean food?
Now, if are lucky enough to have a farmer’s market nearby, it should become your favorite shopping haunt. But for the majority of us, the supermarket is where we head to for our weekly groceries. So this guide has been drawn with this in mind.
We’ve learned to rely so much on convenience food for our everyday life, so going back to basics might need a little bit of organizing.
1. Preparing your menu is a must
When you cook from scratch, unless:
- you’re an awesome cook (which I have no doubt you are or are about to become), and
- you are able to go to the shops and can visualize the prepared meals just by looking at the fresh food, and
- you remember the actual recipe, and
- you know exactly what’s in your fridge/freezer/pantry…
Well, let’s just say it’s easier to pick recipes at home, check what you’ve got already and write down a shopping list…
Which takes us to the next important step…
2. Make a shopping list
The good ol’shopping list has many benefits:
- It makes sure you get ALL the ingredients needed for those scrumptious recipes
- It allows you to focus ONLY on those needed ingredients. So you’re less tempted to buy other less virtuous products, even if they’re on specials
- It ensures you can save as much money as possible by buying only the items you need, so none of it will get wasted. And because you’ll have picked the right recipes, by buying only items that are in season (cheaper), or keep well (bulk)
- It saves you time, and a lot of it (especially if you have to trawl the shops with the kids).
My mum used to have (still does) a notepad on the fridge where we would write down any household items that would have run out. She would top it up with recipe items right before the time, checking with us (sometimes) what we would like to eat. This way, only items that we needed appeared on the list.
3. Follow your shopping list
Unfortunately, processed foodstuff packaging and merchandising are where marketing companies make their money. Hence the sugar-, salt- or MSG-laden industrial products trying hard to lure you into buying them. And hence the attractive packaging, special offers, and displays to convince us they’re natural, healthy, and absolutely essential in our diet…
Think ahead of time about the meals you want to prepare, draw a list accordingly, and try and stick to it as religiously as possible. Your budget and your health will thank you for it.
The ultimate clean eating shopping list…
…is the one you’ll gradually build for yourself over time. Based on the type of food you and your family enjoy, what’s available locally, and what fits within your budget. You’ll find in my grocery tips some useful pointers to help you choose your products wisely and define your list.
You’ll soon figure out what your staples are. For example, I tend to know which brands of tinned chopped tomatoes (yes, I’m lazy like that) only contain tomatoes and salt. No sugar, thickeners or preservatives. So I’ll just stick with those.
4. Shop around the perimeter
In supermarkets, the central aisles are where the processed packaged foods are. Your fresh produce, butcher, fishmonger, and baker will find themselves on the perimeter of your supermarket. So start with the perimeter, and only pick from the central aisles the items that are left on your list (typically, dry goods, toiletries, household products).
And make sure you’re not hungry when you hit those central aisles. This is where the bulk of the special offers, snazzy packaging, and free tasters are.
5. Read the ingredients list
There is still some processed food you might want or need to buy, like wholegrain bread, whole wheat pasta, basic sauces, spices, and condiments etc.). Much of clean eating revolves around eliminating anything that was not part of the fresh produce as it left the farm. So the list of ingredients must be short and obvious.
If the “tomato” part of your tomato sauce is buried far down the list, forget about it. Ingredients are listed in order of importance, so your main ingredients must be right at the top of the list.
The ingredients list is also supposed to show the percentage of the food that the product claims to contain. So if that tomato sauce only contains 7% tomatoes, move along.
For more pointers as to which ingredients should be on your list, you can check my recommended grocery list.
6. Put your freezer to good use
The freezer will now become your best friend. Especially if you live in an area where organically-grown or unprocessed foodstuff is not available all year round. Or if you are lucky enough to be able to buy those in bulk.
So when you see clean food at a good price, buy in bulk and freeze. Most vegetables can be kept in the freezer, although some of them need blanching first.
Just because you don’t want to buy industrial food, doesn’t mean you can’t make your own convenience food. Especially for those nights when cooking is the last thing you want to do, or those days when the fridge is desperately empty.
When cooking, double the quantities and freeze your left-overs in portions. So you can just take those ready-made meals out and ta-da! Food is ready!
7. Make bulk-cooking a weekly habit
You can push this concept further and prepare meals in bulk for freezing/refrigerating.
This ticks two important boxes:
- it saves you time later on, so you get the benefits of “convenience” food,
- …while still getting all the goodness of clean, natural ingredients.
Only meals involving raw or very lightly cooked food, like salads, juices, steamed veggies or stir-fries, are best done at the last minute. This way, you make sure you get as much of the vitamins as possible.
Over-cater on purpose
For the rest, I tend to “over-cater” every time. Admittedly, sometimes it’s so delicious that once we’ve all had seconds (or even thirds), well, there’s not much left to freeze or keep for tomorrow’s lunch… I just console myself by thinking that we just stuffed ourselves with healthy food!
I particularly like to double (or triple) my portions for stuff that keeps out of the fridge or freezer, like biscuits and cookies. I’m not much of a baker. But since I have to supply the school and the grandparents with suitable treats to give my kids, I bulk-bake and store much of it in tin boxes.
Admittedly, the cooking takes a while (I only have a small oven that can only take one small tray at a time). But I make sure I have 2 or 3 hours ahead of me when starting, and I make the most of the cooking time for reading or writing.
Get into family batch-cooking
Some folks I know spend one Sunday afternoon per month preparing and cooking their food in bulk as a family. They decide ahead of time what they want to prepare, shop for it on Saturday, and have themselves a big fat cooking Sunday.
The kids get involved in the menu planning, the preps, and the cooking. They told me they were looking forward to it, as they get to spend time with Mom and Dad and decide what they’re going to eat in the next few weeks. Then they freeze 4- or 2-people portions (for dinner or lunch), marking them as they go along.
OK, one needs a large chest freezer for this. But it’s a great way to save time and money, as you can buy in larger quantity stuff that is in season or at a reduced price.
8. Enroll the spouse and the kids in the process
Even if they are not as keen as you are to give up on industrial food, involving the rest of the family in your new eating clean habits will make your life easier. To ease them into it, you can start by replacing their favorite convenience meal with a home-cooked version. Then remind them of how much less sugar and other horrible stuff it contains after their taste buds have agreed that it does, indeed, taste at least as good as the “old” stuff.
They’ll then be more tempted to help you choose other recipes to swap, shop for the ingredients and prepare them, just to see. Starting with the family’s usual dishes and popular flavors first helps. Then you can move on to meals that are a bit different from what the family usually eat, just to see.
My husband likes to shop in bulk. “the bag of 10 pumpkins was barely more expensive than just 2 pumpkins”. Or the old favorite, “it’s far cheaper to buy 5kg of carrots than to buy just one kilogram at a time”. So, short of eating pumpkin mash or carrot soup every meal, one has to become creative and find recipes using those ingredients.
This is a good opportunity to get the family involved here too, taste new flavors and adopt new favorite dishes. I find online recipe sites and Pinterest useful: the kids can pick what “looks” good on picture. I can then check the ingredients and validate the recipe.
When it comes to the shopping itself, I enroll my kids in the shops. Their job is to:
- read the shopping list,
- locate the items,
- read the lists of ingredients
- and strike the items off the shopping list.
This distracts them from all the processed foodstuff on display everywhere.
I hope this clean eating shopping guide…
…will ease you into clean eating, one step at a time. Don’t get hang-up about only buying clean food at the beginning. Start with a couple of recipes and a shopping list. You’ll find that, soon, more recipes will beg to be tried and clean food will naturally find its way into your trolley.
If I’ve missed any tips or if you have more of them like these, feel free to add them in the comments below to share with everybody out there.
And if you need help figuring out what’s “clean” and what’s not in the shops, check my tips on grocery shopping. At this stage, you might also be keen on finding out which method is best to start clean eating.