Organic food can mean fewer pesticides for your family, but there's no real evidence that it's more nutritious. If you're thinking about going organic — apples, peaches, lettuce, and spinach may be a good place to start. When they are grown conventionally, they can carry more pesticide residue than other produce. Worry less about produce with skin you don't eat, like oranges and avocados. Whether or not it's organic, make sure to wash produce well.
Whole grains are healthier than refined. They're usually better sources of fiber and keep you full longer. At least half your family's grains should be whole. Not used to the taste? Start by buying white whole wheat bread. And try familiar grains in whole form, like non-instant oatmeal and unbuttered popcorn. Next, buy whole wheat flour (replace half the white flour when baking) and pasta that's a blend of whole and refined grains.
You don't have to ban ice cream and candy from your house. Choose healthy indulgences: Fruit with a bit of dairy topping, a single serving of low-fat pudding or reduced-fat ice cream. A small portion of candy with nuts or fruit — like dark chocolate with raisins — can even add a few nutrients to your diet. Just keep the tempting, calorie-dense cakes and cookies to a minimum.
Products claiming “low-fat” on front labels may be tempting to put in your cart. But to pass your test, rely on the package's Nutrition Facts panel. Avoid foods high in sodium, sugar, fat, trans fats, saturated fats, and calories. At home, eat just one serving. What's that for ice cream? A 1/2 cup — the size of filling a typical ice cream scooper — once.
Nothing replaces the nutritional power of fresh or frozen fruit. But if your family wants juice, choose 100% fruit juices. Go for juices naturally lower in sugar — such as grapefruit or pomegranate. Keep drinks labeled “fruit juice drink” out of your cart. They're usually full of sugar and empty calories. At home, limit juice to a single 4- to 6-ounce glass a day because even 100% juice can add up in calories.
Mega-packages of food can be a great deal — unless they're big boxes of junk food, creating unhealthy temptations for your family. If you're going to buy in bulk, stock up on healthy pantry staples or frozen items that you use a lot. And to keep it a bargain, make sure you'll be able to finish items before they spoil.
To fend off pleas for candy, cookies, other impulse buys, give everyone a small snack before grocery shopping. While you're still at home, get kids involved in planning meals. In the aisles, teach kids how to read labels — what to look for (fiber), and what to avoid or limit (saturated and trans fats). Let kids choose healthy lunches and snacks. They're more likely to eat healthy food if they've helped select it.
Sometimes the cost of fresh fruits and veggies can be too high. Know that you can keep your family's health top priority and your pocketbook happy by buying less pricey frozen fruits and vegetables. They're frozen at peak ripeness — preserving their nutrients — making them as, or more, healthy than fresh. If you buy canned, rinse fruit and veggies before eating to cut back on added sugar and up to half the salt.
Dairy products provide calcium, protein, and vitamin D, but many also contain lots of fat, cholesterol, and calories. To reap the benefits of dairy without the downside, choose low-fat and fat-free milk, yogurt, and cheese like string cheese and part-skim mozzarella. (Only children under age 2 need whole-fat dairy products.) When shopping, compare yogurt labels and choose brands with less sugar per serving.
Lots of healthy foods — produce, low-fat dairy, and poultry — sit on the perimeter of a grocery store. But don't skip the middle aisles, otherwise you'll miss healthy pantry staples like canned tuna, beans, olive oil, and tomato sauces. Also buy vinegar, mustards, and spices to add healthy flavor to meals. But leave the mayonnaise, creamy sauces, and cheesy dips at the store.
Bagged lettuce and spinach cost more per ounce than the loose kinds, but if the convenience makes your family eat more, you'll waste less — and save money. Choose romaine and spinach for the healthiest salads and other uses. Add romaine to sandwiches, and add spinach to soups or omelets. Choose based on the latest “buy by” date. To keep greens fresh longer, keep your fridge at 40 degrees or colder.
Frozen foods have come a long way from the TV dinners of old. They can be healthy time-savers for you and your family if you choose wisely. Buy frozen entrees that include a lean protein, a vegetable, and a whole-grain item. Meals that are baked, grilled, steamed, or sautéed are healthier. Avoid fried frozen food and creamy casseroles. Read labels to help you keep fat and sodium in check.
Low-carb diets made pasta the enemy, but cutting carbs for growing bodies isn't wise. Instead, buy whole wheat pasta to increase fiber. Try adding low-fat cheese and low-fat milk from the dairy aisle to whole wheat macaroni or bow ties for healthier mac and cheese. Or put tomato-based sauce and vegetables, like mushrooms or zucchini, in your cart for another option.
Lean meat contains healthy nutrients like protein, iron, and zinc. The key is to only eat recommended amounts:
To get the right portions without the waste, you may need to buy smaller amounts or freeze extra. Use meat as a side dish in your family dinners, making veggies and whole grains the centerpiece of the meal.