Shopping for food is a huge part of our lives, occupying quite a bit of our time and budget. Yet with some straightforward organisation so that none of that time and budget is wasted, buying food that you know will contribute to the good health of your family as well as tasting great becomes a pleasure rather than a chore.
Make a list
Making a careful list of what you need before you go shopping can save you a lot of time, effort, and money. Check your cupboards and fridge before you write the list, not least because it’s easy to forget that you’ve got extra packets from “buy one, get one free” deals. It’s a good idea to have a thorough sort-out of your freezer every few weeks, too. Even better, keep a note of what’s been frozen and when, so you can see at a glance what needs to be eaten and what you need to stock up on. Internet shopping is great for bulky or heavy stuff as it takes away the hassle of lugging it all home, but you can also order from small suppliers who will send you top-quality foods.
Make it fun
If you love food and want your family to love it too, encourage your children to go with you to farmers’ markets, farm shops, bakeries, and well-stocked delicatessens so that they will see fresh produce and interesting varieties of food. The more they realize that there are differences in the quality of food you can buy, and that care goes into producing the meat, poultry, cheeses, fruit, vegetables, and other food on your table, the more inclined they will be to develop the habit of eating healthily for life. Let your children help you choose what to buy and talk about how you might cook it. Get them to help in the kitchen, too. It’s the best way to learn about food.
Timing is everything
Try to avoid going food shopping when you or your children are ravenously hungry – you will end up buying far more than you intended or needed, because so much of what’s on offer will look extra-tempting. Your children will probably be putting pressure on you to buy sweets or crisps and because you’re feeling unrelaxed you may be more inclined to give in. It’s a good idea to have some fruit or a bowl of soup before you head to the shops, then the whole outing will be much more enjoyable. The same goes for shopping on the Internet – if you’re feeling hungry, have a healthy snack before you log on so that you buy only what you need and can eat while it’s fresh.
Product packaging must list ingredients clearly, in descending order according to quantity by weight – so the first ingredient is the largest component.
Most pre-packed foods state the energy value and the amounts of the main nutrients plus salt. Allergy information and vegetarian suitability is also sometimes given.
The “use by” date on perishable goods is when it must be eaten by to be safe. The “best before” date shows when food is at its peak, but it will last longer.
Frozen and chilled foods state how long they can be kept in the freezer or fridge. Condiments will show if they need to be in the fridge once opened.
You may find details about preparation, and sometimes a serving suggestion. Readymeals give cooking times, often for both oven and microwave.
Looking at additives
Some additives are necessary in manufactured foods to prevent them from going off, changing colour, or losing texture. Antioxidants, natural colours, gelling agents, emulsifiers, and thickeners are commonly found and don’t affect us.
A few food colourings have been linked with child behaviour and concentration disorders: tartrazine (E102), quinoline yellow (E104), sunset yellow (E110), carmoisine (E122), ponceau 4R (E124), and allura red (E129). They are best avoided.
Sulphites (E220-228) and benzoates (E210-219) are used as food preservatives. Both can cause allergic reactions in people with asthma or eczema. Sulphites occur naturally in beer and wine; benzoates in fruit and honey.
Some flavour enhancers, such as the sweetener aspartame and MSG (monosodium glutamate), can cause allergic reactions in some people. Too much of some other sweeteners, such as sorbitol, can also cause tummy upsets.
Many everyday foods – such as some breakfast cereals, breads, non-dairy milks, margarine and other bread spreads, and orange juice – are fortified with vitamins and minerals that are lost in the refining process or may be lacking in the diet.
Complete Family Nutrition, by Jane Clarke, published by DK, £16.99, dk.com