Tonight's Grocery Spoils of War
I am not a registered dietician. Please, consult a medical professional for medical advice. The following information is my own opinion and stems from years of experimentation, trial and error, countless hours reading ultra-boring studies, eating things that are unhealthy for the purpose of science, abstaining from those things after feeling like garbage, and trying every new diet because I geek out on training and nutrition.
Paleo. Gluten-free. Low-carb. No sugar. High-fat. Zone. High-calorie. Keto-genic. Vegan. Pescatarian. Vegetarian. Calorie-restricted. Meat and potatoes. Primal. Eat more protein. Bacon, bacon, bacon...
Confusing? All I heard was bacon...
Try this on for size: The Principle of Individualization essentially states that we are all different. SHOCKING! What works for one isn’t necessarily going to work for another. Therefore, you and I need to eat and fuel our bodies the way that is best for us as individuals. Just because your best friend seemingly thrives on guzzling 32oz hand cannons of coffee and housing pizza all the time while staying in shape, doesn’t mean you can or even should do that. Every eating preference listed above has value to someone, somewhere. Diversity in body composition, genetic make-up, energy output, stress mitigation, sleep practice, even upbringing can all play into determining what eating style we are most adept to operating and functioning our best. But we are not meant to put ourselves into perfect little boxes of prettiness that require no afterthought.
So before you trek off into the Wild West of greens fried in EVOO and side of canned wild caught sardines, bullet-proof coffee, bacon weave meatloaf, or shirk anything that starts with "red" and ends with "meat," lets have a discussion.
We all need nutrients - the substances that provide nourishment to our body for continued growth and maintenance of life. These come in the form of macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein, and fat), and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Additionally, we all need sufficient amounts of water. Things can immediately go awry here because although we all require the aforementioned nutrients, we may need varying levels of each depending on our individual characteristics and lifestyle. For now don't sweat this, you have easier things to focus on - keep reading!
Unfortunately, the current world we live in is not doing us any favors in facilitating our ability to garner the nutrients our bodies so crave. Pesticides, toxins in the air and water, soil mineral depletion from over-farming, processing, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, hydrogenation, genetically modified organisms, hormone- and antibiotic-ridden live stock, grain-fed fish, and other poor food production practices have grossly reduced the nutrient availability of our foods. Leaving us in a predicament. Even an individual valiantly attempting to eat mindfully and trying to maintain their own health by following conventional wisdom of eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and dairy is going to come up short.
No matter what eating preference you follow and no matter what macro-nutrient profile you fall under you need to eat quality foods that will provide quality nutrients to your body. That is what every body and everybody needs! The first place to start when orienting your eating toward a goal of health, is to develop awareness of the quality of food you are eating. A vegetable is not a vegetable, a chicken is not a chicken, and an apple is definitely not just an apple - not anymore at least.
I am not a proponent of throwing money away. In fact I like to spend as little as possible on food as I can. But food is a necessity, it is an investment in our family's and our future health. By health I mean perpetual ability to thrive while enjoying life actively and growing continuously. Therefore, I strongly, and by strongly I mean adamantly, advocate buying organic locally grown produce, grass-fed free-range, non-hormone, antibiotic free beef, free-range organic chicken, free range eggs, and wild caught fish.
How can I do this while maintaining a budget?
BE SMART ABOUT WHERE YOU SHOP
Stop grocery shopping and start shopping for your groceries. Availability is everything. If you visit your local grocer and the organic produce section has four items then your kind of hard-pressed. Fortunately, exposure, education, developing awareness, and rising popularity are opening up the availability of quality options throughout. However, you may need to visit two, three, or several different markets to track down a diverse selection of optimal choices.
Trader Joe's, Publix, Fresh Market and other major retailers typically now carry organic and natural foods at affordable costs. You can utilize online market options such as Thrive Market or Vitacost for pantry items like coconut flour, almond meal, nut butters, gluten-free items, canned goods, olive oil, avocado oil, non-dairy milks, and other staples. Even Amazon.com has a surprising amount of solid affordable options, and for convenience you can have them auto-shipped based on your rate of usage.
For bulk purchases Costco can be a resource for organic frozen vegetables and fruits, organic meats and poultry, coconut oil, or nuts and seeds. Also, utilize the bulk item bins found at your grocery store. Lentils, quinoa, beans, oats, nuts, seeds, all can be found at dramatically less and you can purchase exactly how much you need.
HomeGoods a store I only recently became familiar with has specialty items typically found at Whole Foods, but for one quarter of the cost. If for some reason, where you are residing does not afford you the liberty of accessing any of these options (then in your rural living outpost, you should grow a garden), most grocers are open to recommendations and are willing to listen to what their consumers want in-house. So step up and demand quality products.
USE A SHOPPING LIST
Head out on your foraging adventure of hunting and gathering with a plan. Know your budget. Know the price of every item that enters your cart and deduct it from your running total. I personally budget $500 a month for groceries to feed my family of four and grocery shop twice a month. We allot $100 for fruits and vegetables, $50 for meats, fish and poultry, and $100 for pantry staples. This takes practice and tweaking to get used to figuring out where to buy what items, and learning what you use frequently, infrequently, and routinely. But as you become more aware and purposeful with your decisions it becomes a habitual positive behavior. We now have a standard grocery list that rarely changes.
BUY LOCAL WHEN AVAILABLE
Local foods support your community and cost less because they are not shipped from anywhere. When you buy produce that comes from South America or even from across the country for that matter, you as the consumer pay the cost. An added benefit is that you are able to determine the practices and methods used by your local farmers to ensure quality.
Produce that is in-season, is much cheaper than when it is not and a rare commodity. Readily available high quantity fruits and vegetables need to be sold and prices reflect this. Additionally, I am a firm believer that your body is designed to thrive on the items that are available during each unique season. Winter stock is usually more hearty and filling so you stay warm and have plenty of energy to embrace the cold. Spring and summer options are typically light and cleansing, promoting activity and keeping you cooler for the rising heat.
LEARN WHAT TO EAT ORGANIC AND WHAT TO FOREGO
Have you ever heard of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen? Each is respectively, a list of produce that is absolutely essential to avoid or a list of what can be eaten without concern of residual pesticide exposure. Thanks to EWG.org you now know anything on the Dirty Dozen list should be 100% avoided or purchased as an organic option. The items on the Clean Fifteen list can be purchased anywhere, as they are, without raising any red flags. Download user-friendly guides to help you stay on top of this.
STAY AWAY FROM GMO's
Soy and corn, which are arguably in almost all processed foods are almost exclusively genetically modified crops in the United States. So any item you purchase that has soy or corn in its ingredient list and is not an organic or NON-GMO food, put it back on the shelf, back away slowly, and send me a dollar for saving your life. Remember the goal is quality. We want our nutrients!
EAT LESS MEAT
Some of you just cheered, others want to knock me upside the head because this is ludicrous. Organic meat and proteins are the most expensive items you will need to purchase. Eating only one serving a day and taking a couple days a week off from them won't kill you - it will however breathe some life into your wallet. Substitute with plant proteins. Lentils one of my newest staple and favorite foods, provides 18g protein in one cooked cup. That's equivalent to eating three eggs. Other great sources include white beans, navy beans, split peas, pretty much all beans, chia and hemp seeds, triticale, and millet.
RELY ON CHEAP FOODS THAT ARE HEALTH FOOD POWERHOUSES
We don't need to get crazy to regularly incorporate the following foods into our diet. Fortunately, they are accessible, cost-effective, and easily convertible into delicious meals. Red cabbage, kale, collards, spinach, brown rice, lentils, walnuts, broccoli, seaweed, sea salt, dried coconut flakes, steel-cut oats, flax seed, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds.
AVOID WASTING YOUR FOOD
It does no good to purchase a bunch of healthy items, let them sit because you don't know how to prepare them, and then lose them as they go bad. Research recipes for new vegetables you've never tried. I make it a practice to use vegan/vegetarian sites to learn new recipes (because they make delicious food) and then I just add meat. It is incredibly helpful to determine what foods your body operates best on and then make it a goal to prepare those foods in the most spectacular, diverse, and delicious ways possible.
Make a habit of preparing enough food for dinner, so that you always have a lunch the next day. This will save you money on eating out. It will save you time and effort in preparing something else to eat the next morning. And it will keep you accountable to eating meals that adhere to your specific eating preference.
Hopefully, somewhere in the mess of information you found something practical to your situation. My goal is not to promote any one source of eating preference. Nor am I able to determine the correct macronutrient ratio for everyone reading this post. However, I stand behind the fact that we each need quality nutrients to function, perform, look, feel, and operate our best. Be conscious of your choices, make informed decisions, and take care of yourself - you're worth it!