One of the more popular food tips out there these days is “shop the perimeter of the grocery store”. This makes sense on some level – most of the meat, vegetables, and dairy are on the perimeter of the store, while the not so great stuff like Cheez-Its, Oreos, boxed rice, canned soup, and additive riddled salad dressing are all in the aisles. But if you’ve read this blog before, you know nothing irritates me more than a nutrition platitude (like “drink 8 glasses of water a day” or “only eat the most colorful foods”, but I can go into why those are wrong another time), so I’m going to go ahead and debunk this one for two reasons:
1. There’s healthy stuff in the aisles
Now, I realize that the aisles are full of junk, and really the intended benefit of the “shop the perimeter” advice is to help shoppers get what they need without being tempted by what they don’t. But you can get to a lot of good stuff on the inside without walking past 18 flavors of Doritos and 10 different Oreo variations. Why? Well, usually the healthy stuff is down slightly less tempting aisles than the cookie/cracker and chip aisle. For example, coffee, tea, and nut butters are in the cereal aisle. Canned tuna is near the condiments and pickles. Olive oil is in the aisle with pasta and sauce. Beans are with canned vegetables. Usually last minute grab purchases are on the snack aisles (I have never passed a box of Barilla penne, canned string beans, or mayonnaise and thought “OOH that looks delicious I must buy it right now!” as I have done with Stacy’s Pita Chips or Ginger Snaps, or those sneaky chocolate covered everythings at Trader Joe’s). The point is, there is convenient, healthy stuff on the inside if you know where to find it.
2. There’s unhealthy stuff in the perimeter
Now, if you compared all things perimeter to all things aisle you’d probably win. But if I shop the perimeter at my local Star Market (the one in Porter Square), I can still buy:
- Fried chicken
- White baguette
- Tortilla chips
- French onion dip
- Flavored dairy creamer
- Cranberry cheese log
- Caramel dip for fruit
And, if we were in a state that doesn’t have silly laws about selling beer in the grocer store (or frequent Trader Joe’s), you’d also find beer on the perimeter. Now, I don’t remember this always being the case, so my guess is the food industry caught on to this little trend and started trying to tempt you out in the perimeter too. Either way, my point is this: sticking to the perimeter doesn’t remove temptation. And it’s not guaranteed that everything there is better for you.
The hands down BEST way to walk into the grocery store and walk out with bags full of healthy loot is to do the following:
1. Plan ahead – think of what you’d like to eat for the meals and snacks in the days between this and the next grocery shopping day.
2. Make a list of everything you need. Now, it’s fine if you just write “fruit” or “salad greens” and decide which kind at the store. It’s unlikely you’ll be standing in the produce section and find an unhealthy type of salad green. But if you just write “snacks” and wander down the snack aisle…well that’s another story.
3. Start with the stuff that takes deciding. For me this is usually the produce and anything that requires label reading. I find that patience runs low by the end of the grocery trip, and I like to just knock the last row of items off my list quickly without having to read 8 salad dressing labels (before deciding to google a recipe and make my own anyway). If you’re losing patience and have to read a lot of labels, it’s more likely you just pick up the first thing that looks good.
4. When you list is done, don’t think. Go pay the cashier and get out!
What’s your grocery shopping strategy?