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For some bachelors, the hardest part of eating healthy is going out and getting the food. A supermarket is a large, complex place, and it typically operates on a purely capitalist basis: cheap, scientifically engineered, focus-group-approved crap is given more shelf space and prime placement because the companies that make said crap have large budgets for ads and kickbacks.
Then there’s the fact that the food industry is almost entirely self-policing when it comes to labeling their products as “healthy” or “natural.” You can’t even trust the “Nutrition Facts,” which are facts only for the leprechauns likely to be satisfied with tiny portions.
Rather than push your cart aimlessly up and down the aisles while you’re assaulted by marketing, save time and money by making a grocery list beforehand. By using a simple system, you’ll always have a variety of food in your fridge, and you can avoid the lure of the garbage passing itself off as food.
Start With the Staples
A single man starting from ground zero will probably want to crib some basic starter pantry items from another shopping list. I’ve recommended these 21 staples from CorePerformance before, and they’re a good place to start. Another great idea is to look for items that always show up on “power foods” lists:
- Raw almonds or walnuts - a great snack loaded with good fats.
- Canned black or pinto beans – fiber and protein galore. A good side dish, or use in soups and Mexican recipes.
- Canned tomatoes – believe it or not, canned tomatoes contain more nutrients than fresh!
- Frozen vegetables and fruit – Frozen veggies can be easily steamed in the microwave as a side dish; fruit (berries are best) can be blended for smoothies.
- Oatmeal – even “old fashioned” oats microwave in about 2 minutes. Fiber and lower cholesterol, and you can even use it to make healthy pancakes.
- Olive oil – extra-virgin, please.
- Brown rice - goes with the beans. Also makes a great bread/potato replacement with eggs in the morning or steak at night. Cook it with broth or spice it for flavor.
- Canned tuna – versatile and good for you. Look for water-packed (or olive-oil-packed) and low sodium.
- Protein powder – find one with a flavor you really love.
Make sure you make a list of everything you bought, and hang on to it. We’re going to use it later.
The next thing to look for is meat. Stock up—you want to freeze most of it for later use. In order of nutrition:
- Fish – salmon in specific (wild caught for lower mercury), but anchovies, sardines, trout, herring and mackerel make good choices too.
- Chicken or turkey – fresh, free-range and local is better for you.
- Pork – some lean chops are a good source of protein. Again, look for pigs who got out a little. This will be harder than with beef or chicken.
- Beef – try to find grass-fed beef if possible, it’s much healthier for you (puts it right up there with the fish) and it was more humane for the cow.
Again, keep the list of what you bought.
Recipe for Success
Once you have your shelves stocked with non-perishables and your freezer packed with meat, it’s time to get to the nuts and bolts of your regular grocery list. Your first step is to figure out what you’re going to eat this week. How many meals? What do you visualize eating at those meals? Are you going to pack a lunch for work? Will you make a dish that you can eat over several days or freeze for future meals? Which colorful veggies will you be adding to your side dishes?
Oh, and don’t forget healthy snacks. What kind of fruits and vegetables would you like to gnaw on between meals? Maybe some low-sugar yogurt?
Then get your recipes together. Here’s where you start a system. Break down the ingredients and put every one on a list, even if you know you have it. Now go to your computer and open a text document. Enter everything from the list of staples, everything from the meats, and all the items you’ll need to make this week’s recipes. You might want to create multiple columns: one or two for non-perishable staples and freezable meats, one for fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy and meats for the week’s meals. Make sure to leave blank space.
Ready, Set, Shop
When you’ve got your list done, print a copy and put it on your refrigerator door. Now you’re going to make sure you’re still fine on the staples. If you need to replenish anything, circle it on your printed list. Use the blank space for anything you’ve forgotten, or other items like dish soap or toothpaste.
The trip to the store will now be easy: take the list and buy what’s circled. Done.
The real beauty of the list is what comes after that first weekly trip to the store. That’s when you go back and add anything you wrote in to the previous list. Now you have a master list of all the food you eat. Post the new version of the list on the fridge, and as the week goes by write in the new ingredients you’ll need and circle the items you ran out of. Repeat every week. This process will get faster and faster until you hardly think about it.
That’s not to say you won’t have to make special grocery runs from time to time—you might suddenly crave a new recipe or find yourself cooking for a date. Just remember to enter those items on your master list. Eventually you’ll know what’s a one-time-only ingredient, but until you’ve been with the system for a while, put everything on that list.
Hey, and while you’re at the supermarket, if you’ve finished your search-and-destroy mission on the grocery list, why not talk to a girl or two? She might be able to point you to a vegetable you haven’t tried, or you can warn her away from the Oreos.