Maintaining your health - and your family's health - is among the most important jobs any of us will ever have in this life. In the current economic climate obtaining organics or premium health foods is becoming more difficult (and more costly), so here are tips you can use to get the most nutrition for your food dollars in your own neighborhood. Remember that if you go for the nutrients and put some effort into proper preparation, you'll find that your hunger is satisfied with less bulk (you'll put on fewer pounds), your energy levels will be higher and your susceptibility to disease will be lower.
1. Buy the freshest foods available
The fresher the food items you buy, the more nutritious they will be. Only fresh, firm produce, and the freshest meats. If it's past its prime, don't waste your money. In season, keep an eye out for those farm trucks on the side of the road, they often have the freshest of the fresh for pennies on the dollar you'd be spending at the grocery store.
2. Pick the leanest cuts of meat
When seeking the freshest meats in your grocer's meat coolers, you've already read the date labels. Now go for the cuts with the least fat. Toxins, artificial hormones and antibiotics accumulated by the animal will tend to settle in the adipose tissue, so cuts with a good deal of "juicy" fat will have more toxins than leaner cuts. Or you can purchase cuts with surrounding fat but not much marbling, and trim it when you get home. Just remember you're paying for the weight of that useless fat, so try to buy it already trimmed.
3. If the chicken was factory-farmed, don't eat the skin
If you don't have access to free range chickens, remove the skin from your cuts before cooking and serving. Cooking will destroy most bacterial contamination acquired during slaughter and processing, but do you really want to eat cooked salmonella? The skin also comes with a subcutaneous layer of fat that is high in all the artificial toxins and pharmaceuticals necessary to combat diseases in factory conditions. Don't eat them.
4. Fresh is better than frozen, frozen is better than canned
All preservation processing destroys some of the nutrients in fresh vegetables and fruits. Drying is preferable, but most groceries offer little in the way of dried foods. If you keep this rule in mind, you'll be getting the most nutrition you can from what vegetables and fruits you do buy. This alone stretches your food dollars.
5. Avoid highly processed foods
Boxed and canned foods (that aren't pasta) are the most devoid of nutrient value. They also come with a lot of unnecessary packaging that will take up room in a landfill. If you simply train yourself to avoid boxed foods along the aisles and go for fresh fruit and veggies instead, your body and your health care bills will thank you for it.
6. Compare prices on organics
Organics are making their way into the produce departments and onto shelves in more and more neighborhood grocery stores. Often there is little to no price difference between organics and non-organics of one variety, while there may be a large difference in others. If you find the price difference to be just a few pennies, buy the organics. The lack of toxins and increased nutrients will be well worth those pennies.
7. Ocean fish is better than farmed fish
Fish should not be a huge item in your diet for several reasons, as both wild and farmed fish have their issues with accumulated toxins. If you like small fish like sardines and anchovies, try to get them fresh. These small fish have fewer toxins generally than tuna, salmon or char. Fresh ocean-caught salmon is highly nutritional, but again beware of mercury content - don't eat it often. Most all the catfish and tilapia in the bin is farmed and high in toxin-loaded fat plus low in Omega-3.
8. Join a CSA
CSA - Community Supported Agriculture - is a system that's taking off like gangbusters all over the country. Most people have access to at least one participating farm in their immediate region. Check local newspaper ads and the bulletin board at your food co-op for participants. The way it works is you buy in to the coming season's crops ahead of time, bags and boxes of freshly harvested food come to you (or you can take the kids to the farm and pick it up). Some participants also offer free range chickens, eggs, honey and even sides of beef. No middleman, processing or cross-world transportation costs, so the prices are good.
9. Learn how to cook & prepare fresh foods
Too many people in our hectic modern world don't know how to prepare and cook food that doesn't come in a box or a bag from the local fast food joint. There are dozens of great cookbooks out there that specialize in fresh ingredients, and you may find you've a real talent! The food will taste better, go farther, and be much more highly nutritious if you buy it fresh and prepare it yourself. And leftovers make great lunches!
10. Plan your meals ahead of time
Saving time as well as saving money is a must if you want your nutrition project to succeed. If you do your major shopping one day a week - say, Saturday - you've got Saturday afternoon to plan the week's meals by what you've bought, and all day Sunday to do the prep. Sometimes you'll want to cook stews and make broths ahead of time and freeze, or you may wish to do the veggie prep first and add the meat when you get home from work. With planning and just a little effort you and your family can be eating fresher, healthier foods right away, and finding out just how tasty fresh, healthy foods are!