grocery shopping

grocery shopping: use all your senses!

Let’s talk about grocery shopping.

Do you shop in person or online? Trawl the aisles or opt for curbside pickup?

The world is experiencing a flare-up of Covid, and as I was preparing for this month’s virtual workshop, I was thinking about how the early, lockdown years of the pandemic changed a lot of people’s shopping habits.

squeeze the produce

I may be dating myself, but one of the funniest food movies I know is Tampopoperhaps best known as the original Ramen Western. (Haha—get it? Spaghetti Western, Ramen Western….)

The premise of the film is ridiculous, the situations preposterous. And yet, it works. Meaning that after watching it, the first thing you want to do is find a good bowl of ramen to eat.

One of the reasons it works is the wonderfully random subplots, my favorite of which is the little old lady who is constantly squeezing the produce to judge its ripeness.

I’ll be honest: I am that woman. I can’t delegate my grocery shopping (especially not the produce!) to some grocery store employee who knows all the PLU numbers but doesn’t have a clue how to pick a ripe piece of produce.

the best produce sellers

The finest produce seller I ever encountered was at the Torrance Farmers’ Market in Southern California. The organic vegetables at that farmstand were always gorgeous to look at and delicious to eat.

He didn’t speak much English, but he could pick the perfect melon, whether you wanted to eat it that day or three days from then.

The people who sell their produce directly to consumers are full of great information, from how to choose the ripest items to how to cook them.

(They’re also the kind of people who, when they see your four-year-old helping himself to the samples and you’re nowhere in sight, take him to the admin tent and have you paged. Because, yeah, I lost my child at that market. Ironically, the market manager handed him a lollipop, which was not exactly on brand for a farmers’ market … and only encouraged him to add one more stop to his browsing of the samples!)

It would be great if all the produce clerks at our stores knew as much about produce as our farmers do. Because over the past ten years of health coaching, I’ve learned that one barrier to clients learning to cook from scratch on a regular basis is that they simply don’t know how to choose the best ingredients within their budgets.

I haven’t done an in-person grocery tour since before the pandemic—and I’ve continued to do “virtual grocery store tours” every year. If you missed this month’s workshop, here’s a small peek at just one of the concepts I introduce.

use all 5 of your senses

When I take clients on a grocery store tour, I urge them to use all 5 of their senses in choosing their foods.

  • Most sighted people rely on their eyes to point them to the best produce—and that can be a mistake since gorgeous red strawberries in the Northern Hemisphere in January have almost no flavor.
  • The nose is a much better organ for searching out the best produce, especially fruit: peaches, melons, and pears just smell right when they’re ripe. And let’s not even talk about the fish counter, where your nose will definitely tell you if something’s not right.
  • How about tasting? Remember the good old days, when you could make an entire meal of the samples in Costco? The pandemic definitely put a stop to that! And yet, samples seem to be making a slow, shy comeback. My advice on tasting is, if the samples are displayed with all possible food safety precautions, go for it.
  • While we can’t poke and squeeze a lot of products, learning how to find ripe produce by touch is a great skill. Especially helpful in the avocado section….
  • And then there’s our hearing. I’ll admit, this is not the most useful sense in the realm of grocery shopping. Although it does come in handy when we (gently!) shake a box of dry goods to see whether the contents are, well, dry.

In March, we continue our exploration of the grocery store with a workshop on how to read labels and come out of the center aisles of the grocery store with the best foods that can be found there.

make the connection

Whether you shop for groceries IRL or online, it’s important to know how to choose the best foods from a nutrition perspective—and, especially if you’re privileged, to add in considerations about the environmental and social impact of your purchases. Want to learn more about your choices and about nutrition in general? Join me for my monthly virtual workshops and then for the monthly Fl!p Your K!tchen® session. You can find all my upcoming events and register for them right from my events page