Have you ever wondered about the contents of other shoppers' trolleys and just what a "healthy" trolley for a family looks like?
The chances are that you have and that you cringed inwardly at the check-out counter when comparing the contents of your trolley to that of others. There's no need to do so anymore, says leading dietetics consultant and nutrition coach, Megan Pentz-Kluyts.
"All it takes to develop sound 'trolley habits' is to recreate your shopping list under six key groups of food rather than randomly listing foodstuffs by item name," she says. "This will ensure that you quickly develop an awareness of what constitutes a balanced diet for your family."
The optimum trolley should contain a wide variety of foods and incorporate items from each of the groups listed below:
Group 1 – Starchy foods (high in carbohydrates):
These foods should be part of every meal and snack and therefore should make up a large proportion of your trolley.
- Whole-grain bread
- Whole-wheat pasta (durum wheat)
- Whole-grain biscuits
- Long-grain rice (e.g. Basmati, white and brown)
- Pumpkin or butternut
- Mealies / corn on the cob
- Maize meal
Group 2 – Fruit and vegetables:
Five servings of fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables should be eaten every day, so these should also make up a large proportion of your trolley:
- Fresh fruit
- Dried fruit (any, but in smaller portions)
- Fresh or frozen vegetables
- Fresh fruit juice (100% pure/unsweetened)
Preferably select fresh fruit and vegetables that are grown locally and in season. One fruit serving can be replaced with one serving of 100% pure unsweetened fruit juice (200ml).
When cooking these, choose methods that preserve the nutritional value, for instance steaming, baking or microwaving with a little water.
Group 3 – Chicken, meat, milk, fish and eggs (rich in protein):
Protein should be included in every meal or snack, in smaller amounts than starchy foods and fruit and vegetables. A serving is usually the size of the palm of your hand and the same thickness as your hand. Try to include fish twice a week, skinless chicken 2 – 3 times per week, and lean red meat 2 – 3 times per week.
- Oily fish varieties (e.g. salmon, trout, pilchards or sardines)
- Chicken breasts (skinless)
- Lean beef (e.g. beef stroganoff, mince meat, steaks or schnitzel without any visible fat)
- Ostrich meat
- Milk (2%, low-fat or fat-free varieties)
- Yoghurt (2%, low-fat or fat-free varieties)
- Cheese, unprocessed vs. processed varieties (low and medium fat; soft and hard cheeses like cottage cheese, ricotta, feta, mozzarella, and edam)
- Eggs (if you don't have any cholesterol problems, you can include an egg a day, as a replacement for meat/chicken/fish in a meal).
Group 4 – Legumes and soya:
Try to include either the dried or tinned versions of these in dishes at least once or twice a week. They're low in fat, provide fibre, are a source of plant protein and they're economical. Aim for at least one vegetarian main meal per week.
- Dried / split peas
- Beans (e.g. red kidney, sugar and baked beans)
- Soya (e.g. tofu)
Group 5: – Fats and oils:
Fats should be used sparingly. Choose soft tub margarine that's either low- or medium-fat, and higher in poly- and monounsaturated fats.
For the most benefit, buy extra-virgin olive oil to use sparingly as a salad dressing, as opposed to cooking with it. Should you need to "flash fry" food, use cooking spray or canola oil. It's always a good idea to invest in a good non-stick frying pan and to use a moderate heat setting to prevent sticking. This way, you need very little additional fats and oils when cooking.
Check the fat levels in sauces that you buy for pastas or other dishes. Cream-based sauces tend to be quite high in fat, so rather choose tomato-based ones.
Good fats to include are:
- Mixed nuts and seeds
- Vegetable oils (e.g. grapeseed, olive, canola, sesame and sunflower oils)
Group 6 – Treats (sugar and sweets):
Foods such as sugar, sweets, sugary fizzy drinks, honey and syrup are high in sugar and should be used sparingly. Your trolley shouldn't contain too many of these foods.
"Making a change and creating a shopping list that emphasises healthy choices and food options will work wonders for you and your family. It will change the way you think about food and could be a decisive step towards a healthier, more energetic future," Pentz-Kluyts says.
(Magna Carta, October 2009)
Read more: The parent's guide to food labels