Fill the large basket of your grocery cart with fresh produce and whole foods. That’s a good start to eating better and living well. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

If your personal wellness goals include eating healthier, and you’re still putting your game plan together, a good place to start is your grocery cart.

Let’s talk about what’s coming home from the store.

If your grocery cart contains all or primarily packaged and processed foods as well as sodas and sugary drinks, your goal of healthier eating is being overrun by preservatives, sodium, artificial ingredients, food dyes and sugar.

Make smarter decisions by using the space provided in your grocery cart to guide you.

The typical grocery cart contains three places to put your purchases: the main cart area, the bottom rack area by the wheels, and the small basket area by the handle.

Instead of randomly tossing items into the cart, you should:

  1. Use the main cart area for the majority of your fresh and healthy foods: fresh foods are often found in the perimeter of the store (fruit, vegetables, dairy, yogurt, lean meat/fish, eggs). In the aisles, choose whole or multigrain items (oats, cereal, bread, pasta, quinoa) and lentils/legumes. Frozen fruits and vegetables are great substitutes for fresh, especially if the fresh option is not available. Also, use the main basket for healthier packaged items such as low-sodium pasta sauce, canned low-sodium tuna or whole grain crackers.
  2. Use the bottom rack area by the wheels for paper, household supplies and cleaning products.
  3. Use the small basket area by the handle, which is smaller, for health and beauty items and those dreaded packaged or processed foods. This is where you would put the package of dark chocolate squares or other can’t-live-without snacks.

Another strategy is to use the small handheld basket and shop more often for fresh foods, putting only fresh foods in it. Many countries in Europe practice this purchasing strategy, partly due to limited storage and refrigerator space in their apartments or homes.

This strategy will reduce the amount of processed food that goes home (and into your belly). It will also ensure that the majority of your food choices are of the fresh and unprocessed variety.

Once you get your food home, recognize that eating habits are developed over time, introduced at infancy, and developed throughout our lives. You can change the way you eat. You can learn to cook healthy (and yummy) meals.

Make your home a healthier food environment that encourages healthy food prep and eating. You’ll end up creating a new cooking play space you’ll enjoy.

If you’re new to cooking and struggle with boiling water, try a cooking class. Check out a healthy eating cookbook or go online to allrecipes.com or the Food Network. Trying recipes can become part of your new and fun routine.

Follow these suggestions, and you’re well on your way to saving money, calories and maximizing nutrition for a healthier you.

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