Navigating the Grocery Store When Real Food is the Minority

I took this picture with my cell phone while I was shopping at my local Kroger grocery store. It’s just a regular grocery store aisle – not the junk food aisle, but rather it’s across from the cereals.

Honestly, what a bunch of junk.

My husband and I were talking about this yesterday. Was the food at grocery stores always so junky? I haven’t added it up, but it seems to me that a good portion of the food sold in grocery stores isn’t real food or even good for us, but instead the real food is definitely in the minority when compared to the processed junk food.

Case in point:

  • Cookies
  • Cake mixes
  • Brownie mixes
  • Most chips
  • Full-fat ice creams
  • Canned food full of sodium
  • Boxed meals
  • Sodas
  • Juices
  • Fruit chews for kids
  • Pop-Tarts and other “breakfast treats”

I understand the need for convenience, after all, we are all busy. But I get frustrated when I walk up and down the aisles and really look at what’s on the shelf. I, like most of you, always heard the recommendation to shop the “outside aisles” of the grocery store and avoid the endcaps. I never used to shop on the perimeter of the store because I loved all the “convenience” aka junky foods. I bought Oreo cereal for goodness sakes!

I don’t know why it struck me so intently this trip. I stopped after I took this picture and looked in my basket. My basket was full of enough food to feed the nine of us for a week without putting any junk into it. (I’m NOT perfect – we do eat junk on occasion, but even the little bit of junk we eat is unnecessary.)

When I think about how simple it is to make a salad, grill a piece of chicken and serve some fresh or frozen green beans that do not have any added sodium for dinner, I wonder how we as a society got so far away from simple, healthy foods. Was it when it huge factories and automation made it easy to mass produce food or was it due to our increasingly busy lifestyles? In any case, it doesn’t take a lot more time to make an easy meal than it does to bake a TV dinner in the oven or prepare a Hamburger Helper type meal.

It does take longer to shop in the grocery store when so much of the food is junk. Why? Because you have to look past the junk and nonfood and find the foods you really need.

Here are a few strategies I use:

1. Trained myself to put “blinders” on so I stopped focusing on the foods I craved. (Think Breyer’s ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, chips, and the entire candy aisle.) Part of that training was learning to skip some aisles completely.

2. Make a good list and stick with it.

3. Stick to the foods that are on the perimeter. Grocery stores usually place the produce, meat, and dairy along the outer areas of their stores.

4. Review your cart before you check out and put back any food that doesn’t move you forward in your weight loss efforts.

Am I the only one who notices this? How do you combat this?  Diane

7 thoughts on “Navigating the Grocery Store When Real Food is the Minority

  1. kwithme says:

    I definitely stick to the outer edge, though I have to venture down a few center aisles. My way of dealing is by having a list and wanting to get out of the store as fast as possible.

    What I have to go down the middle aisles for:
    – beans (dried or canned)
    – soup – I will do homemade for dinner but this is for when someone might be eating on their own.
    – cereal/oatmeal – even the low sugar non-color ones are down there.
    – peanut butter and jams
    – Some canned veggies. My daughter LOVES french cut green beans, even takes them to school for snacks.
    – pasta
    – baking supplies

    Beans are probably the only thing I buy almost weekly. I told my husband that if the store only stocked real food, it would be TINY. Plus, it would make getting through it much faster.

  2. Stacy says:

    I think part of it is that there are so many people that don’t know how to cook! I cook from scratch quite a bit, and try to stay out of the fast food drive thru’s. I use my crockpot a lot when the kids are in sports, and even then it is really hard to cook something healthy. Lots of meat and not a lot of veggies. I am always on the lookout for more veggies, though.

    The other issue, especially in poorer communities, is that they don’t have fresh produce to chose from at the grocery store. All they have is boxed and canned foods. Unfortunately, that is adding to the obesity issue in this country.

  3. Beth says:

    I have noticed this when I’m waiting in line to check out. Am I the only one who looks in other people’s carts? Most of them are filled with boxes and cans. It’s possible that people are buying their veggies and fruits at farmer’s markets or Costco I guess.

    I think a lot of people have a different view of what “staples” are at the grocery store. They think that brownie mix and canned frosting are staples that need to be kept on hand in the pantry. I like to cook and a cake mix for me is cheating both my health and my kitchen fun.

    Thanks for the interesting post!

  4. Leah (Goodnight, Cheese) says:

    I gotta disagree that all junk food is unnecessary. Sure, we don’t need it to live or function, but there’s nothing wrong with an occasional treat. For some, completely cutting out junk is a viable option, but that’s not how most people work. That’s like saying we can never watch a stupid movie or have a nonsensical conversation with friends.

  5. Kitty says:

    It does bother me and there are tons of foods I just don’t buy any more. I don’t buy cookies at the grocery store and avoid that aisle. On the other hand, I do go down the candy aisle sometimes because I buy dark chocolate (it takes me a week to eat a single bar since I eat such small amounts).

    I think there are a few factors driving this.

    First, many people are clueless. They honestly think that the food in the box or the can is just as nutritious and good for you as less processed foods. They think the processed version is just the same, but more convenient. I do eat some processed foods, but I always read the labels. For example, I don’t buy bread unless it is Ezekiel sprouted grain (or equivalent) or from Great Harvest (fresh bread). The breads on the bread aisles is largely full of additives and preservatives. Again, I do eat some processed foods but it is important to me what is on the label. My husband tries and even though I’ve talked to him he gets taken in by something that says it is wheat bread, for example. He takes that to mean 100% whole wheat when it really is just brown colored enriched refined flour.

    Second, the reality is that many people are pressed for time. My husband is retired and I now work part-time. So we have time to more leisurely prepare meals. When he and I were both working full-time and we had 3 kids at home, it wasn’t so easy. Time was at a premium so convenience foods that looked healthy (but were processed) were really attractive to us. I tried to pick healthy foods but it was way more processed than I would pick now.

  6. Kerstin says:

    I so agree with this! You highlight one of my challenges with life in the US because the reliance on boxed and highly processed foods is definitely a lot more prevalent over here compared to Germany where I grew up and where many people still do a lot of their grocery shopping at the farmer’s markets, for instance. I mostly use our food co-op because it’s a smaller store with mostly fresh local foods, kind of like a mini Wholefoods but not as expensive. My main challenge now is my 21-year old stepson who just moved in with us and who exists on all the junk food you listed above. That kid barely eats anything fresh and unprocessed and unfortunately my husbands let’s him buy that stuff and he is not listening to me. I am trying to lose 80+ lbs and decided that I will just do my own thing and the others can join me in my meals if they want. Thanks for this great post!

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