She Bought Food
Among multiple groups of friends, I’m known as “the one with the allergies,” or “the one who can’t eat anything,” or “the one who doesn’t even like cheese what is wrong with her why are we even still friends?” As I mentioned in the chips post, I completely changed my diet after years of health issues. My main issues are gluten and dairy, but I also refrain from legumes (including soy), refined sugars, and most non-gluten grains most of the time. I’m the life of the party, what can I say? Aside from being “that person” when out to eat (I tip really well, I promise), this diet change has led to the best health I can remember.
Do I think this type of eating is necessary for everyone? Nope. Do I judge people for eating junk food? Nope. Has it changed my life? Yep. Do I want pizza? YES. YES I DO. (And don’t even start with the gluten-free, dairy-free excuses for pizza that’s not even close to the same thing and you know it.)
Recently, some friends have asked for tips on how I grocery shop. Making the change to a “real food”, “whole food”, or “paleo” diet can be a big undertaking and grocery stores are overwhelming in the first place (or is that just me? I capital H Hate grocery shopping.) But once you have your kitchen stocked and know what to look for, it’s relatively painless. Of course, keep in mind that I'm not a nutritionist or a doctor and this is all just what works for me.
First, some tips:
Shop The Perimeter
Basically everything you want is around the edges of the store. The aisles are the danger zone full of processed, packaged food that you don’t need (we’ll be making some quick stops there though). Since pretty much every grocery store is set up this way, I start with fresh produce, then work around to meat, eggs, and frozen produce.
If It Needs A Label, Get The Shortest One
If you’re shopping around the perimeter, most of what you pick up isn’t going to have/need a label. But for the few items you need that are packaged, look for one that has the fewest ingredients, all of which are normal words you can pronounce.
If buying organic food is something you care about and something your wallet can handle, consider the “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen” lists. The dirty dozen are foods that are more likely to have pesticide residue if non-organic and the clean fifteen are ones that are less likely. I’ll be honest here: I just go for whatever’s cheaper which almost always turns out to be the non-organics. Oops.
The Freezer Is Your Friend
My freezer is almost always full of frozen vegetables, home made broth and sauce, leftover soups, and uncooked meat. Get stuff when it’s cheap (look for the stickers on meat that is almost at it’s expiration - as long as you freeze or cook it as soon as you get home, it’s fine) and stock up. Same goes for cooking when you have the time. I have Fridays off so that tends to be my cooking day. I’ll make big batches of soups and stews to freeze and have on hand throughout the week.
Ok so what are my kitchen essentials?
Fruits and Vegetables - The obvious, I suppose, when you’re going for the real food thing. My current obsessions are Cara Cara oranges and sweet potatoes (always and forever my favorite). When considering vegetables and how to prepare them, don’t over think it. My ultimate favorite way to make almost any vegetable is to roast them. A little oil, salt, pepper, in the oven at 400 until they’re the desired consistency (depends on the vegetable) and perfecto. Have it on the side or as a snack. Also, put avocado on everything. Including on a fork and into your face. Just do it.
If you’re in the Boston area, check out Russo’s in Watertown. It’s a magical wonderland of inexpensive but really good produce that makes me giddy every time.
Meat - Another obvious one that I don’t have many tips for other than this perfect way to make chicken. Look for value or family packs to save money. When I get a huge pack of chicken breasts, I put them into ziplock bags in pairs so they’ll keep better in the freezer. A lot of my meals involve ground beef, turkey or pork so I always check the prices and grab a few pounds to freeze when it’s on sale. The quality of meat is up to you and your wallet. There aren’t many deli meats (including bacon) that don’t have additives and sugar. Remember the small-ingredients-list rule. Applegate Farms is a good brand to look for.
Eggs - The cheapest protein out there. Don’t even look at me if you insist on egg whites only. The yolk is where the nutrients are and most of what you think you know about cholesterol is probably wrong. Sorry.
Coconut Oil - say hello to your new best friend. There are about a bajillion and a half things you can do with coconut oil (including using it as moisturizer or hair conditioner) but what I use it most for is good ol’ cookin. Coconut oil is great for cooking due to something scientific that I don’t fully understand but just trust me on this one, ok? Something about not being oxidized while hot? Anyhoo, the general idea is to use coconut oil for cooking and olive oil for anything room temperature like dressing salads. There are two types of coconut oils to be on the lookout for - refined and unrefined. For the most part, you’re going to want refined. This has less of the health benefits, but also less of the coconut taste.
Stay away from vegetable, corn, soy, grapeseed and canola oils. These oils are highly processed and contain a lot of Polyunsaturated Fats, which are the ones you want to stay away from.
Coconut Milk - Careful here - what you’re looking for is in a can, usually with the asian foods, not in a carton with the dairy and dairy alternatives. The latter is actually “coconut milk beverage” and contains junk. Coconut milk (or coconut cream) can be used in place of dairy in recipes to make anything creamy. Get the full fat version, it won’t bite.
Coconut Aminos - (sensing a theme?) this is the gluten free alternative to soy sauce that you’ll need if you want to give anything an asian flavah. They’re usually near the soy sauce, banished to the bottom shelf.
Almond butter - A super fantastic alternative to peanut butter. Here’s the thing though - a lot of almond butters on the market have sugars and other oils mixed in. Bleh. Look for one where the ONLY ingredient is almonds. Just almonds. What else do you need in almond butter? It’s smushed almonds. The 365 brand at Whole Foods is good, as is the Trader Joe’s brand. I spread this on apple slices or just snack on a spoon full.
Dry Roasted Nuts - Speaking of which, my go-to snack for when I’m craving salty-crunchy is dry roasted nuts. Again, you want to look for some that the only ingredient is nuts (and salt if you prefer.) NO OILS. This unfortunately eliminates a LOT of the nuts you’ll find at the grocery store as most of them are roasted in canola oil. I usually get mine at Trader Joe’s.
Frozen Vegetables - I always have at least a few bags of frozen vegetables in my freezer at any given point. Usually broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, peppers, and kale. Never, ever, ever frozen brussels sprouts. Don’t make that mistake. Why do they even attempt to sell frozen brussels spouts? It’s blasphemous. Make sure you’re getting just the veggies - not the bags with the sauce or seasoning included. Just get the cheapest ones (no need to spend the extra for the “steamable” bags.)
Canned Tomatoes - I tend to make a lot of dishes that involve tomatoes in some way. I think it’s a comfort food thing. When looking for canned tomatoes, you want to look for ones with no salt added. I like the Muir Glen brand which is usually in the “health foods” section of most big grocery stores rather than with the other tomato products.
Spices - If you weren’t a big cook to begin with, this will be the most expensive part of your pantry but also where you’ll have the most fun. All my meals are pretty basic vegetable-and-meat affairs but I can have a lot of variation just with the spices involved. My most used are garlic powder, tarragon, turmeric, and cumin. Spice blends are also great, just look for ones that don’t have salt. Gonna throw in onions and garlic here too. We always have a bowl full in our kitchen. If you used bottled minced garlic you are dead to me. Dead.
Sriracha or Frank’s Red Hot (Original) - Made something that is ok but just needs a little OOMPH? Here ya go. Both are made without any junk ingredients.
Kombucha - Because I can’t get probiotics from good sources of dairy, I drink kombucha daily. This is a fermented tea that I was terrified of at first. It doesn’t have a great reputation and it has a worse smell, I’ll admit it. Like feet. BUT just trust me on this one. Take a sip without smelling it. I PROMISE it’s not as gross as you think it is.
Baking Stuff - My cooking style is all very “a little of this” and “a handful of that” which does not translate well to baking. So, I don’t do it very much. But if you see “paleo” cupcakes in your future, pick up almond, coconut and arrowroot flour which are the most commonly used. Bob’s Red Mill is the most common brand and the only stuff I’ve used.
Raw Honey or Pure Maple Syrup - We all know that added sugar (as in, anything not naturally already in food) is bad for you and sugar=sugar no matter what it’s form, but these are on the more natural and unrefined side of things. Still, use sparingly. I’ve heard local raw honey is best, especially if you have seasonal allergies.
Dark Chocolate - You may take my donuts, but you can never take MY CHOCOLATE. A lot of dark chocolates have soy lecithin in them but…like…chocolate. So…..
My two favorite brands that DON’T have soy lecithin are Taza and Theo, but I haven’t met many dark chocolates I don’t like. (Attention: I accept bribes of Salted Almond discs from Taza.)
Lara Bars - These have the fewest ingredients out of all those snack bars you see in this aisle, and there’s so many yummy flavors. I keep one of these in my bag for emergency Hanger situations. My favorites are key lime and blueberry.
What I don’t buy:
Salad Dressing - Pretty much any salad dressing you pick up at the store is going to be made with crappy oils (because they’re cheaper). What’s much better for you (and more delicious) is using a good olive oil with either balsamic vinegar or salt, pepper, and some fresh lemon juice.
Gluten Free Packaged Food - When you first find out you’re gluten intolerant, a new world of packaged food opens up to you and at first it is very inviting. You can have almost-bread and almost-cookies and feel almost-human. To be fair, packaged GF food has improved in the relatively short time I’ve been in the market taste and texture-wise. But most of these products are filled with other grains and sugars. I’ll very occasionally have a burger on a GF bun (Udi’s is the best) and any of the Enjoy Life products are a safe bet, but for the most part I stay away.
I love talking about this stuff with people who are actually interested, and giving tough love to anyone who needs help making the switch. Let me know if you have any questions!