The Daily Beet

14 Mar How to Become a Plant-Strong Shopping Rock Star!

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(this is how Rip walks into the grocery store)

Monday we learned all about how a shopping trip could end in tears and disaster. Today we’re going to start with the basics of how to shop, with out losing your mind.

Let’s start with lists. There are a few ways you can make a list, not every way is the right way, so see what works best for you.

First things first:

First figure out what you want to eat for the next few days. So let’s say you’d like to do something like this:

  • possible breakfast ideas: Big Bowl or oatmeal with fruit.
  • possible lunch ideas: A hummus wrap with vegetables, black beans and rice extravaganza, chili, sandwiches, hummus with pita and vegetables, big salad.
  • possible dinner ideas: shepherds pie, lasagna,  lentil soup, meatloaf
  • possible dessert ideas: blueberry dumpster cobbler

We also have a template to come up with your own meal plan.

Or, you could use our meal plans:

Meal plan: Week 1
Meal plan: Week 2
Meal plan: Week 3
Meal plan: Week 4

The next step is to go through your kitchen. You would be surprised how many times we go out and get a bunch of groceries, come home, start putting things away and realize we had a lot of ingredients on hand. Or, in some cases, we realize we could have substituted  an ingredient or 2 in order to make a dish.

Now it is time to make a list! There are lots of ways to make a grocery list. Recently, an E2er who participated in the 28 day challenge in Tampa, FL sent us her clever way of making a list, we really liked it and thought we’d share it with you:

Circle what you need list:

This way you can have a visual of every thing that you could need and then circle all of the things that you need to buy.

Four-square list: Cathy from Straight Up Food gave us this idea:

Take a sheet of paper, fold it four ways (so there are four squares). Next come up with 4 categories, Cathy uses: fruit, vegetables, bulk and other. Fill in the sections with the groceries you need.

Aisle by aisle list:

If you shop at the same store and know it pretty well, write a shopping list based on the aisles of the store. If you really want to get fancy, next time you are at the store write down the aisles or take pictures with your phone. When you make a list you can go up and down the aisle in your head and pick out the things you need.

So for instance:

  • Produce aisle:
  • Aisle 1: Pasta/grains/tomato sauce:
  • Aisle 2: Beans, Canned Vegetables:
  • Aisle 3: Cookies/Candy: this should be blank, unless they have made some kale cookies we do not know about.
  • Aisle 4: Cereal
  • Aisle 5: Frozen
  • Aisle 6: Bread

Keep going down the aisles noting what you need.

I have no time for a list, list:

There are really only 4 things you need to know about what you put in your shopping cart:

1. Is it a vegetable? Look closely at the food in front of you, does it look like a vegetable? Did they throw in non vegetable things to it (like oil/salt)? If it is a vegetable, put it in your cart!

Just so we are clear, this is NOT a vegetable, no matter what the government says:

2. Is it a fruit? Look at the food in front of you, does it look like a fruit? Did they mash it up, dry it up, add sugar and make it a fruit roll up?  *note, this, is NOT a fruit:

3. Is it a bean? This one can get tricky. There are some decent canned beans and some that are loaded with sodium. You want to get the canned beans with out any added salt or that say “low sodium”. Better yet, get whole beans, and you won’t have to worry either way.

Again, so we are clear, even though these technically have a bean in them, they should not go in your grocery cart:

4. Is it a whole grain? The easiest way to figure this out is to stick to things like brown rice and quinoa, that way there is no question. However for products like pasta/bread you want to make sure that the word “whole” is in front of the grain. You also want to be sure that they did not add any junk like sugar/oil/salt.

Just for the visual, these are NOT whole grains:

5. Does it meet the label reading rules? We could probably do a whole series on label reading, but instead we are going to make it really simple. Here is how to read a label:

  • Check for animal ingredients. No? Procede.
  • Check the fat. The fat should be around 20% or less. How do you check the fat? Determine how many calories per serving. Let’s say it is 100, next see the calories from fat, if the calories from fat is less than 20% you are in good shape, in this example, the calories from fat should be less than 20.
  • Check the sodium. Sodium is 1mg to 1 calorie. So if something has 100 calories, it should have no more than 100mg of sodium.
  • Check for sugar. If it says high fructose anything – put it back. Any other kind of sweetener should be one of the last things listed (like the 3rd/4th item on the ingredients list).

Avoid these pitfalls!

  • Just because it says “vegan” does not mean it is healthy.
  • Just because it says “organic” does not mean it is healthy.
  • Don’t buy ‘treats’. There are plenty of wonderfully satisfying foods to eat when you are plant-strong! If you start bargaining with treats, it can be a dangerous road to travel down.

We thought this was really telling, this is a warning label for ‘organic’ cigarrettes, we think that the same should be said for a lot of food that is labeled organic:

*sorry the picture is so small, this is what the text says:

“Organic tabacco does NOT mean a safer cigarette.”
“No additives in our tabacco does NOT mean a safer cigarette.”

Most of all, have a plan! Whatever your strategy is for shopping, be sure to have a plan before you go into the store. Make a list, or just know the plant-strong guidelines and become a shopping rock-star!

We’d love to hear from you. What is your shopping strategy? What would you tell someone just starting out on their plant-strong journey.

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Natala Constantine
  • Laura

    Thank you for the food guidelines, that makes things a lot easier! I am going to do that circle list, my problem has been, NO LIST! I go in thinking I’ll remember every thing, and I don’t remember anything and I end up buing way tooooo much!!!

    Thanks for this!

  • Deb

    Well I have 2 kids so having a list is really important, I also include them in on the shopping, they are both plant-strong! They get a copy of the list, the little one gets a copy but I try to put pictures so she can learn what things are.

    I try to make a game out of grocery shopping for them and they do pretty well. They know that candy is off the table but they are allowed to pick any fruit they want every trip and they really like that now, funny though my daughter insisted that she get a huge watermelon 3 weeks in a row, I changed the rule to one piece of small fruit, now she usually gets a kiwi.

    Good point about organic and vegan , I fell into that trap early on, I was very excited to find Earth Balance butter and then looked at the label! HOLY FAT BATMAN!

  • Dawn

    Why didn’t I see those meal plans before?! That is super helpful, I also like your list maker thing, I’m printing it out.

    I didn’t know about the fat from calories thing, so I guess we don’t look at the total fat? I think I remember reading that somewhere.

  • Chatavia

    I love the pictoral guidelines on what does (NOT!!!) constitute whole grains, fruits, etc. Btw, are you sure donuts are not considered whole grains (there are holes involved, hee hee.)?

  • Jodi Ellis

    This post is extremely valuable, thanks! I have basically been shopping a meal at a time because it did seem so overwhelming.
    Now for a question…I feel guilty to throw away all the “bad” food in our pantry but now after all the reading I’ve done in the last month, I think I feel just as guilty to donate “bad” food! What do you do with all the leftovers from old eating habits?

    • Engine 2 Team

      It might be time to just toss it – think of all of the healthy changes you’ve made and say goodbye to the old ones. It would be like someone who stopped smoking, we’d bet you would tell them to toss the cigarrettes and not think about it.

    • Jason

      that is a touchy question, I feel like the cigarette mentality doesnt quite fit in, I mean, with bad food, some of it is SOMEWHAT healthy in that it has vitamins and nutrients, I donated alot to my church, they have a “feeding the homeless” program and i figure id rather people eat bad food than not eat anything yaknow?

  • Kate

    after doing the plant-strong, vegan thing for three years now, I buy the same things all the time. I vary fruit and veggies by season. I might by some new ingredient to try out a new recipe. Basically, we eat the same stuff every day: tons of greens, beans, potatoes, yams, other veggies, whole intact grains, lots of fresh and frozen fruit especially apples, tons of hummus, salsa, and corn tortillas. However, these simple ingredients are turned into dozens of yummy dishes by altering herbs and spice.

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