Money Well Spent
Convenience is often worth the extra cost, especially when you're packing lunches or are trying to control portions. Ward relies on single-serve packages of precut apples and carrot sticks for food to go for her three young daughters.
"Anything that will get you and your family to eat more fruits and vegetables is worth the extra expense, especially when you consider there is no waste associated with washed and prepped produce," says Ward.
Nestle also recommends splurging in the produce aisle for the best fruits and vegetables.
Ward offers this checklist for making healthier food choices in every department of your supermarket:
- Produce. Spend the most time in the produce section, the first area you encounter in most grocery stores (and usually the largest). Choose a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables. The colors reflect the different vitamin, mineral, and phytonutrient content of each fruit or vegetable.
- Breads, Cereals, and Pasta. Choose the least processed foods that are made from whole grains. For example, regular oatmeal is preferable to instant oatmeal. But even instant oatmeal is a whole grain, and a good choice.
When choosing whole-grain cereals, aim for at least 4 grams of fiber per serving, and the less sugar, the better. Keep in mind that 1 level teaspoon of sugar equals 4 grams and let this guide your selections. Ward points out that cereals -- even those with added sugar -- make great vehicles for milk, yogurt, and/or fruit. Avoid granolas, even the low-fat variety; they tend to have more fat and sugar than other cereals.
Bread, pasta, rice, and grains offer more opportunities to work whole grains into your diet. Choose whole-wheat bread and pastas, brown rice, grain mixes, quinoa, bulgur, and barley. To help your family get used to whole grains, you can start out with whole-wheat blends and slowly transition to 100% whole-wheat pasta and breads.
- Meat, Fish, and Poultry. The American Heart Association recommends two servings of fish a week. Ward recommends salmon because people often like it, and it's widely available, affordable, not too fishy, and a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Be sure to choose lean cuts of meat (like round, top sirloin, and tenderloin), opt for skinless poultry, and watch your portion sizes.
- Dairy. Dairy foods are an excellent source of bone-building calcium and vitamin D. There are plenty of low-fat and nonfat options to help you get three servings a day, including drinkable and single-serve tube yogurts, and pre-portioned cheeses. If you enjoy higher-fat cheeses, no problem -- just keep your portions small.
- Frozen Foods. Frozen fruits and vegetables (without sauce) are a convenient way to help fill in the produce gap, especially in winter. Some of Ward's frozen favorites include whole-grain waffles for snacks or meals, portion-controlled bagels, 100% juices for marinades and beverages, and plain cheese pizza that she jazzes up with an extra dose of skim mozzarella cheese and a variety of veggies.
- Canned and Dried Foods. Keep a variety of canned vegetables, fruits, and beans on hand to toss into soups, salads, pasta, or rice dishes. Whenever possible, choose vegetables without added salt, and fruit packed in juice. Tuna packed in water, low-fat soups, nut butters, olive and canola oils, and assorted vinegars should be in every healthy pantry.