The Daily Beet

04 Sep Adventures with Ami: Grocery Store Field Trip

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As a little girl I remembering zooming through the grocery store with my Mom.  Most of the time hanging off the end of the cart slowing down only to grab the items we needed.  As a Mom with a toddler in the cart myself years ago, I too hurried along to get what was on my list and get out of there.  The grocery store was never a destination for learning.

In an effort to improve my health and become plant-based, I made it a point to make a field trip out of going to the grocery store.  We all make time to go to the dentist or get our hair done, a manicure or other personal appointments.  I say, set aside an hour or two to take a tour of your grocery store.  Learning how to navigate your local market, especially when it comes to selecting the foods that make up your whole foods plant-based diet is as important as any other appointment that we make for ourselves.  Make an adventure out of the grocery store!

When planning your grocery store field trip, you can check with your favorite store to see if they offer any type of formal tour.  Here in the Midwest, Hy-vee stores have dietitians in each locale and Whole Foods Markets have Healthy Eating Specialists in their stores as well.  You can call and set up a store tour with them if you’d like some guidance.  Check with your local grocery store to see if this service is available to you.  You don’t have to have a tour guide though. It can be for informational purposes or you can make it a shopping trip for the items you need to prepare the foods that you will eat during the week.

One concept that I find useful is spending some time in a few departments to learn more about what you’ll find there.  You can also take with you, a list of items that you want to learn more about.  Perhaps look for a oil free salad dressing or salt-free spice blend, figure out where the lentils are or find a non-dairy milk to try. I also recommend taking along a notepad to take notes in case you come up with any questions for the Engine 2 Team while you are there.  I often learn something new every time I lead a grocery store tour with one of my students.  Products that may have once been E2 friendly can change their ingredients over time. You may want to do a field trip every 6 months or so just to see what’s new.

The Produce Department: This is where I do most of my shopping; however, you can also purchase frozen fruit or vegetables as well.  Take a look around the produce department.  Look for items you may want try.  Sometimes there are placards describing an item of produce, which can be really helpful.  Other times, I have been known to look up an item on my phone or just take it home and try it.  Whether you are feeling adventurous or picking the same four vegetables that you always have, it doesn’t really matter which variety of greens, veggies, potatoes etc. that you choose.

Also take time to tour the bulk department if your store has one.  Here you will find all kinds of beans, grains, nuts and seeds.  There are so many different types of grains and beans to choose from.  Look around and maybe take a few notes about what you see.  Sometimes the bulk department can be cheaper, other times, simple staples like rice or lentils may be less expensive in the general grocery aisles on sale.

In the main aisles of the grocery store, put your newly acquired label reading skills to work.  Look for a pasta sauce that meets the label reading rules.  Did you find one?  If not, look for crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes or tomato sauce with no salt added.  Find a whole wheat pasta too.  Do you know where the quinoa is?  What about the non-dairy milks?  Have you found the cereals used in Rip’s Big Bowl?  Spend some time with the condiments.  Find your favorites and read the labels.  Are there names you cannot pronounce in the ingredients?  Can you find a better ketchup?

Take your time and make your way through the store using the skills you learned from The Engine 2 Diet book, Forks Over Knives or the 2Forks Weekender that you attended.  If you can’t find something, just ask.  Grocery store clerks know better than anyone if they carry a product and where to find it.  Unsure of an product?  You can always take a photo of the nutrition facts to check when you get home if you have a cell phone with you.

As adults, we often spend many hours searching for a great doctor, orthodontist, hairstylist, mechanic etc.  We read reviews online, talk to our friends and do our homework before letting a contractor into our home.  Getting serious about our health and learning about sustaining a whole foods plant-based life warrants a field trip to your grocery store.  You may see it with brand new eyes.

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Ami Mackey for Engine 2
Ami Mackey

Ami Mackey is the Curator of Creative Content at Engine 2. She is also a food coach at Engine 2 and has been plant-strong since 2011. When she isn't attending to all things Engine 2, she is the Program Director at St Louis All City Boxing a nonprofit youth program. She has earned certificates from eCornell in Plant-Based Nutrition & Fitness Nutrition from NASM.

  • Mark
    Posted at 07:01h, 04 September

    When I dumped my cupboards and went Plant Strong, I began to look at trips to the grocery store (and there were many) as treasure hunts and would get excited every time I would find a new jewel to refill the pantry. I explored all of the available stores including places that you wouldn’t really think about like Big Lots and Ross. Just the other day I found low sodium organic beans @$1/can at Big Lots and have found various spice mixes and sauces in the housewares department of Ross Dress 4 Less, of all places..

    • Jennifer Gray Reimer
      Posted at 14:24h, 04 September

      I find many plant based/organic items at discount stores like Big Lot’s. That store is my secret weapon to saving lots of money on healthy things for my family. It’s not a fancy store, but don’t judge it. You might be surprised what you find and it’s different every week.

      • Ami Mackey
        Posted at 14:46h, 04 September

        I like Big Lots too! I haven’t been to one in ages since I moved, but I’ll check it out next time I see one, thanks for the tip!

        • Penny T.
          Posted at 18:44h, 04 September

          I’ve never considered looking at Big Lots for plant based food items. I guess I’ll have to give it a try. My once a week trip to Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods (with lunch there as my treat), Natural Food Warehouse and another health food store (all on the same highway, thankfully) is the highlight of my week. I actually look forward to grocery shopping now. Thanks for the great posts, Ami.

    • Ami Mackey
      Posted at 14:43h, 04 September

      I like checking Costplus World Market too. Always unexpected surprises there as well.

  • Cynthia Mckenna
    Posted at 09:10h, 04 September

    great suggestions!

  • Erica
    Posted at 13:06h, 04 September

    I went to a local chain Supermarket yesterday that I don’t usually go to because it is not the closest one and was surprised to see how many products they had. I bought farro and found all sorts of flours, like spelt, etc. They had nutritional yeast and other things that I was not expecting to see on the shelves and all at reasonable price. Very pleasantly surprised. I will return. They also opened a Whole Foods less than a mile from my house. I will look into getting a tour, as I find that store overwhelming!

    • Ami Mackey
      Posted at 14:42h, 04 September

      Yay! That’s awesome Erica. I love checking out new grocery stores. You never know what you may find.

  • Kathi Evans
    Posted at 08:04h, 05 September

    Ami, thanks you for the information and tips. I have just started the Engine 2 and I am still trying to get the hang of the plan. This helps me so much. Glad to have you with us.

  • plantbaseforever
    Posted at 11:12h, 11 September

    I had to shake my head one day standing line at the supermarket. The couple ahead of me was so exited in saving close to $100.00 dollars on their grocery bill using coupons, but if you saw the items purchased…sugary, processed, hi-fat, non-plant base foods. I dont like to judge people on their appearance, but it seems very likely her & her husband looked like they were headed down some major illness if they continued to eat that way. I wanted to jump in and give them a lesson in plant base eating, but would they have cared or just be happy they saved money.

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